1. The Women Of The Black Panther Party
While the image of the Black Panther Party often conjures one of a man in the signature beret carrying a gun, women were right there alongside the men of the party, making up an estimated 50 percent of membership. Women played roles at every level of the party, from press secretaries, editors to chairwomen. Check out some of the Party’s most notable female members.
2. Kathleen Cleaver
Highly educated and well-traveled, Cleaver was the first woman in a major position of power in the BPP. Their National Communications Secretary, she is famous for articulating the Party’s message nationwide. She was married to Eldridge Cleaver, with whom she lived in exile for years after confrontations with police. Upon return, she got her law degree from Yale and became a lawyer, scholar and activist.
3. Elaine Brown
Elaine Brown is one of the most well-known female members of the party. She joined the party in 1968 and helped establish some of the first Free Breakfast programs. She rose through the ranks to serve as Chairwoman of the BPP from ’74-’77. She eventually left the party over sexism and has been an outspoken advocate for women. She is a celebrated author, activist, even mulling a Green Party presidential run in ’08.
4. Fredricka Newton
Fredricka Newton, widow of co-founder Huey Newton, joined the Black Panther Party in 1969. Since her late husband’s death in 1989, she has worked tirelessly to spread the message of his work and the work of the party.
5. Angela Davis
An activist, scholar, author and musician, Davis was an active member of the Communist Party and worked closely with the BPP in the 1960s and 70s. She was accused of several crimes in a courtroom standoff that left four dead. She spent time in jail, but was later acquitted of all charges. She maintains her innocence and has been an outspoken advocate for prisoners, as well as an author and scholar, ever since.
6. Barbara Easley-Cox
Easley-Cox was a member of the BPP and wife of Don Cox. Together, they ran the Oakland chapter of the party. In the 1970s, she traveled abroad to North Korea and Algeria to promote the African liberation movement. In 1973, upon her return to the States, she moved back to her hometown of Philadelphia. There, she became a social worker and community activist. She is also a teacher and literacy advocate.
7. Afeni Shakur
Shakur is best known for her son, Tupac Shakur’s, fame, but she herself is an incredible artist, poet, actress and activist. At 19, she met Malcolm X, who inspired her life of activism. She joined the BPP in ’64 and was an active member, writing articles for the party newsletter. She was later accused of taking part in several bombings plots in NYC. Her case went to trial in ’71, where she famously defended herself.
8. Assata Shakur
One of the most controversial Panthers, Assata Shakur (Joanne Chesimard) was accused of killing a NJ State Policeman following a shootout that left her wounded and Black Liberation Army member Zayd Malik Shakur dead. She was incarcerated in the 1970s before escaping and fleeing to Cuba in 1979. While she is decried by government officials, she is a celebrated author, activist and freedom fighter.
9. Safiya Bukhari
Safiya Bukhari joined the party in 1969, working out of the Harlem office. She was in charge of Information and Communications for the East Coast branch of the Panthers, acting as a sort of publicist for the Party. She was arrested in 75 and imprisoned until 1983 for a case related to her connection with the Black Liberation Army. She went on to be an advocate for prisoners and author before her death in 2003.