Black HERstory: Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown (b. March 2nd, 1943- )

Today’s feature is on former Black Panther Party member Elaine Brown. In her younger years Elaine experienced the best, and worst, of both worlds. The North Philadelphia native grew up in the ghetto in a single mother household, went to a private school with pre-dominantly white friends and wore “nice clothes”. Elaine may seem like a social paradox but behind the scenes her many privileges were a result of her mother’s hard work ethic.

Then again, the contradictions don’t stop there. After leaving Temple University and migrating to Los Angeles, Elaine was first introduced to politics and the civil rights movement by Jay Kennedy, a patron of the strip club at which she waited tables. The two soon became lovers and even after their separation Elaine social conscious mind remained active.

“After this pivotal relationship, Brown’s involvement in politics grew and she began working for the radical newspaper Harambee. Soon after, Brown became the first representative of the Black Student Alliance to the Black Congress in California. In April 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., she attended her first meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party.”

Brown started contributing almost immediately. She helped the Party set up its first Free Breakfast for Children program in Los Angeles, as well as the Party’s initial Free Busing to Prisons Program and Free Legal Aid Program. The Party even asked her to record her songs (She took music lesson when she young), resulting the album “Seize the Time” & “Until We Are Free”.

She also, at the behest of Huey P. Newton, unsuccessfully ran for Oakland City Council, both in 1973 and 1975.

In 1974, upon Newton fleeing to Cuba, Newton appointed Brown as his replacement thus making her the first woman chairman of the Black Panther Party. Elaine said of the challenging experience:

“A woman in the Black Power movement was considered, at best, irrelevant. A woman asserting herself was a pariah. If a black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the black race. She was an enemy of the black people…. I knew I had to muster something mighty to manage the Black Panther Party.”

After a 3 year tenure and the return of Huey in 1977, Elaine stepped down from the position and disbanded from the Party when Newton condoned the beating of Regina Davis, one of Brown’s valued officers in the Party. “This incident was the point at which Brown could no longer tolerate the sexism and patriarchy of the Black Panther Party”

Over the span of the 25 years after her departure from the Panthers, Elaine interaction with black liberation and social change has been off and on (mostly on). Most recently she’s been tied to the Green Party. In March of 2007 she announced her bid to be the 2008 Green Party presidential nominee.

“Brown felt that a campaign was necessary to promote the interests of those not represented by the major political parties, especially the interests of women under 30 and African-Americans. Her platform focused on the needs of working-class families, promoting living wages for all, free health care, more funding for public education, more affordable housing, removal of troops from Iraq, improving the environment, and promoting equality.”

But she soon parted ways with the Green Party, she felt that the party had “no intention of using the ballot to actualize real social progress, and will aggressively repel attempts to do so.”

The movement found Elaine and in a strange way Elaine found the movement. Since then the two have been in separable.

Here she is speaking on the issue of New Age Racism: