10 Things To Know About Black Panther Party’s Elaine Brown

10 Things To Know About Black Panther Party’s Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown
10 Things To Know About Black Panther Party’s Elaine Brown. Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown and founder Huey Newton (center) stand atop a ticket counter at San Francisco International Airport to address a large crowd gathered to greet Newton on July 4, 1977. With Newton is his wife Gwen, left. The man on the right is unidentified. (Jim Palmer/AP)

Elaine Brown, the only woman to lead the Black Panther Party, was its chairwoman from 1974 to 1977. She attended her first Black Panther party meeting in April 1968 and become a member of the Los Angeles chapter. Brown helped establish the party’s first Free Breakfast for Children program outside of Oakland. In 1971 she became editor of the party newspaper The Black Panther and not long after was elected the first female member of the Panther Central Committee. 

Here are 10 things you should know about Brown.

Panther & politics

While she was a Black Panther member, Brown ran (and lost) twice for a position on the City Council of Oakland, California. Black Panther Party Chairman Huey Newton encouraged Brown to make her first run for Oakland City Council in 1973, in tandem with Panther Bobby Seale’s mayoral bid, according to Black Past. Although neither Brown nor Seale was elected, their campaigns helped boost Pather membership. Brown ran again in 1975.

Pianist in the projects

Born in the predominantly Black and impoverished North Philadelphia neighborhood in 1943, Brown attended a predominantly white experimental elementary school. There she studied ballet and classical piano. She left Temple University before the end of her first year and moved to L.A. where she gave piano lessons in a Watts housing project in the summer of 1967, according to Black Past.

Chosen to lead

In 1974, Newton ousted Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale from the party and two days later elevated Brown to the position of chairwoman, Black Past reported. When Newton fled to Cuba to avoid charges of killing a 17-year-old prostitute, Brown took over full leadership.

When Newton returned from exile, Brown, who was getting push-back from the male-dominated Party, left the organization and Oakland in 1977.

Woman of action

When she was chosen to lead, Brown made a memorable speech to the Party. 

“Surrounded on stage that day by the Panthers’ security squad, Brown, who had been Newton’s lover, looked out into the audience of party members and with two succinct sentences, took her place in history,” The Washington Post reported:

“I have all the guns and the money. I can withstand challenge from without and from within.”

Elaine Brown addressing the Black Panther Party upon taking leadership, from her 1992 memoir, “A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story.”

In the same speech, Brown told party members, “I haven’t called you together to make threats, Comrades. I’ve called this meeting simply to let you know the realities of our situation. The fact is, Comrade Huey is in exile. The other fact is, I’m taking his place until we make it possible for him to return.”

A Panther is…

When asked what it meant to be a Black Panther, Brown said it was life commitment.

“Well, as an individual, and I assume that’s what you mean, it meant, you really, it meant committing your life. I mean, that’s how we saw it. It meant that we had to surrender up something of ourselves, our own lives. Because we believed that the struggle that we were involved in, which we thought of as a socialist revolution, would take our lives. And so we had to surrender that,” she said in an interview for the Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

She continued, ”We had to make a kind of commitment. Now whether we realistically thought we would die, most of us, I think, did, after a time. So it meant surrendering our lives to something greater, which was the notion of getting rid of oppression and all the things that oppression meant and mean in this country for Black people.

“It meant really seeing yourself as part of a whole and part of an entire process, and that you were a soldier in the army. And that’s how we saw ourselves, as a soldier in the army, and an army that was about bringing about revolution, a vanguard army, as we considered ourselves, to introduce socialist revolution into the United States of America.”

A party of men

The Panther party was dominated by men at first.

“No point in talking too much about the women, because there weren’t a lot of women in the party,” Brown said in the Washington University interview. “There were a lot of women, but there weren’t a lot of women …. It was a male-dominated organization in terms of attitude and everything, and the paramilitary … atmosphere and so forth,” she said.

Challenging stereotypes

Brown said she was denounced by some of the women’s groups.

“The question of feminism seemed to not allow for this element,” she explained in the Washington University interview.  

Men involved in activism were contradicting the image society prompted of the Black man.

“Here were men who were saying, ‘Listen, we are willing to take charge of our lives. We are willing to stand up … there was the appeal that Malcolm had in many ways, and it was the appeal that other people have had, but, but for me, the Black Panthers were the ultimate. And so it was the men that I saw and the sense of being part of them and being so happy to see that they cared about me, and I, as a child who had no father at home — that had a certain subjective appeal to my psyche and to my emotional need. To say yes, there were men in this world who cared — Black men who cared about the community and wanted to do something and were willing to, to take it to the last degree.”

Life after the Panthers

Brown wrote books including “A Taste of Power” and “The Condemnation of Little B.” She also recorded two albums with pianist Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, “Seize the Time” (1969) and “Elaine Brown” (1973). In Atlanta, Brown launched the nonprofit Field of Flowers in 1996, designed to build a model education center for impoverished children. She also co-founded two other organizations — Mothers Advocating Juvenile Justice and the National Alliance for Radical Prison Reform.

Run for president  

In March 2007, Brown announced her candidacy for the Green Party nomination for president of the United States.

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Life to film

In 2017, it was announced that Brown’s memoir will be adapted for filmShadow and Act reported. The rights to “A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story,” (Anchor, 1994) were acquired by The Firm, a film and TV production and talent management company based in Santa Monica, California.

The film still seems to be in the works. A director was selected in 2019. Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu will helm the upcoming film, Colorlines reported. Chukwu’s incarceration drama, “Clemency,” premiered to a standing ovation at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.