Icons: Women of the Black Panther Party

Image courtesy of thestrugglefortheworld.wordpress

Kathleen Clever stands next to the Black Panther’s co-founder Bobby Seale. Image courtesy of thestrugglefortheworld.wordpress

The voices of those in the Black Panther movement had to be strong, loud, and relentless if they were going to go against the power of a government backed by a nation so engrained in racism.  Some of the strongest, loudest, and most relentless people in this movement were the women. They had to be, not only to survive the daily struggle of being a woman of color in a white man’s world, but to also combat the sexism within their own movement.

Kathleen Cleaver had an uncommon upbringing for being a black woman in the mid-century. Both of her parents were college educated, and due to the nature of her father’s profession, she lived abroad in several different countries. She was highly educated, and used that background when she became the first active decision-making woman in the Black Panther Party central committee as their National Communications Secretary.

She and her husband, Eldridge Cleaver, lived in exile for many years as a result of several Black Panther related incidents that left Eldridge in trouble with the police. Upon their arrival back in the United States, Kathleen eventually enrolled in and received her law degree from Yale. Throughout the 1980’s Clever worked with prestigious lawmakers and judges and currently lectures at her alma mater, Yale. You should read her pivotal text Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy.

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Barbara Easley shares a laugh with Angela Davis and Kwame Ture. Photograph taken by Howard L. Bingham.

Barbara Easley-Cox is another female activist whose husbands role in the Black Panther Party somewhat overshadows her own work, an unfortunate effect of trying to create change while battling various layers of oppression. She and her husband, Don Cox, were leaders of the Oakland chapter of the BPP, and also worked with the New York and Philadelphia chapters, and internationally upon a move to Algeria. She spent time in North Korea, and although she wasn’t going as a Black Panther, she spread the word and promoted African liberation movements in Korea. In 1973, she moved back to her hometown of Philadelphia and worked as a social worker. She retired in 2003, but spends her time as a social worker also advocating for community development, poverty, and social justice. Since her retirement, she has been a teacher and advocate for literacy.

Charlotte Hill O’Neal and her husband, Pete O’Neal were active members of the Panthers. Although her work is often overshadowed by the leadership role her husband took within the Kansas City Black Panthers as the chapters chairman, she was a vigorous activist within the party. The O’Neals fled to Algeria to live in exile after Pete O’Neal was arrested for transporting a gun across state lines. They eventually moved to Tanzania, and have since founded the United African Alliance Community Center which is based out of the village Imbaseni.  The UAACC is dedicated to community based programs to bring art, culture, and strong communit relationships to Tanzania. Charlotte is now a published poet, visual artist, and musician and continues her activist roots in Tanzania.

By Angie Carpio

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6 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on LivingInColorBlindness.

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  2. Juan Vasquez

     /  April 3, 2014

    As an individual who credits the awakening of my political consciousness on Huey P. Newton’s, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, autobiographical work titled, “Revolutionary Suicide,” I always felt some sense of obligation to share with my peers the importance of this book, and share with anyone interested in social change or revolutionary struggle, about why it was essential to read Huey’s work. I was fascinated through my engagement with the book, not only to have been able read about his upbringing, adolescence, and experiences as an organizer of one of the most important and notable organizations of the Black Power movement, but to discover about the existence of many great revolutionaries who fought for social radical change throughout Africa, Latin American, and Indochina. I learned about their philosophies, ideas, and commitment to the revolutionary struggle. Prior to having read “Revolutionary Suicide,” I only knew through an image, about Che Guevara, but did not clearly know or understood the causes that he stood for. I did not know however about other great revolutionaries such as Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. I learned about many extraordinary and committed Black Panther Party members, such as Fred Hampton, Bobby Hutton, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur, who offered their lives and freedom in exchange for the liberation of the African and oppressed people. I always understood the greatness of the Black Panther Party and what they represented to the black community & other minority groups. I was not however possessive of a more expansive perspective on the consequential role many of the black women activists played in the Black Panther Party and the Black Power movement. Reading this post about Kathleen Cleaver, Barbara Easley-Cox, and Charlotte Hill O’Neal, gives me a greater understanding about the importance of women in the Party. It furthermore solidifies my belief that the Black Panther Party was an organization that came together in a time of need and desperation in the fight against racial and social oppression, which brought the most extraordinary minds, which simultaneously combined theory and practice. More importantly, the extraordinary life’s of the aforementioned Black Panther Party women, gives me an understanding, that great revolutionaries are not always known, and many great revolutionary women, remain and will perhaps forever, remain in anonymity. Fundamentally, revolutionary women, as is stated by Angie Carpio, very much like Barbara Easley-Cox, even within their movements, have suffered from, “an unfortunate effect of trying to create change while battling various layers of oppression.

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  3. Kelsey Evans

     /  April 4, 2014

    “They had to be, not only to survive the daily struggle of being a woman of color in a white man’s world, but to also combat the sexism within their own movement.” Unfortunate but true…even today. The intersections of a woman’s existence are challenging, but I would argue they are also what makes her stronger. I did not know about these powerful, courageous women, and I can only imagine what they had to fight with on a daily basis. Angie, thank you for this write-up and thank you Kathleen Cleaver, Barbara Easley-Cox, Charlotte Hill O’Neal.

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  4. juan843

     /  April 7, 2014

    As an individual who credits the awakening of my political consciousness on Huey P. Newton’s, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, autobiographical work titled, “Revolutionary Suicide,” I always felt some sense of obligation to share with my peers about the importance of this book, and share with anyone interested in social change or revolutionary struggle, about why it was essential to actively engage with Huey’s work. I was fascinated through my engagement with the book, not only to have been able read about his adolescence, upbringing, and experiences as an organizer of one of the most important and notable organizations of the Black Power movement, but to discover about the existence of many other great revolutionaries who came before him, and who fought for the same causes; social radical change throughout Africa, Latin American, and Indochina. I learned about their philosophies, ideas, and commitment to the revolutionary struggle. Prior to having read “Revolutionary Suicide,” I only knew through an image, about Che Guevara, but did not clearly know or understood the causes, which he stood for. Moreover, I did not know about other great revolutionaries such as Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. I learned about many extraordinary and committed Black Panther Party members, such as Fred Hampton, Bobby Hutton, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur, who offered their lives and freedom in exchange for the liberation of the African and oppressed people. I always understood the greatness of the Black Panther Party and what they represented to the black community & other minority groups. I was not however possessive of a more expansive perspective on the consequential role many of the black women activists played in the Black Panther Party and the Black Power movement. Reading this post about Kathleen Cleaver, Barbara Easley-Cox, and Charlotte Hill O’Neal, gives me a greater understanding about the importance of women in the Party. It furthermore solidifies my belief that the Black Panther Party was an organization that came together in a time of need and great desperation in the fight against racial and social oppression, which brought the most extraordinary minds together, which simultaneously, combined theory and practice. More importantly, the extraordinary life’s of the aforementioned Black Panther Party women, gives me an understanding, that great revolutionaries are not always known, and many great revolutionary women, remain and will perhaps forever, remain in anonymity. Unfortunately, many revolutionary women, as is stated by Angie Carpio, very much like Barbara Easley-Cox, even within their movements, have suffered from, “an unfortunate effect of trying to create change while battling various layers of oppression. More attention should be brought to the women in the Black Panther Party, who played an equal role in the activities of the Party but which however, remain anonymous to many.

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  1. Icons: Women of the Black Panther Party | Moorbey'z Blog
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