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.
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