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Black Panther Women, Power and Leadership

Info: 21107 words (84 pages) Dissertation
Published: 4th Jan 2022

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Tagged: LeadershipEquality


On October 15, 1966 two young and courageous college students, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party For Self Defence (BPP).[1] Bold, strong and armed, the BPP symbolised the revolutionary zeal that was spreading throughout the United States (U.S.). The revolutionary cadre emerged as part of the broader struggle for Black Power.[2] The call for Black Power first struck American society in 1966, however seeds of African American discontent and radicalism had much deeper roots in the Civil Rights Movement.[3] The slaughtering of peaceful civil rights protestors, economic inequality and the deprivation of human rights forced African Americans to seek justice and liberation.[4] Although the chains of slavery had been removed, African Americans remained shackled to the discriminating system of the U.S. government.[5] Armed with passion, rage and knowledge Seale and Newton established the first branch of the Party in Oakland, California.

The Black Panthers sought to dismantle the existing power structure in America that was viewed as inherently oppressive. Huey Newton asserted that the government was ‘illegitimate…because they fail to meet the needs of the people.’[6] Seale and Newton championed African American respect, pride and political consciousness as a new wave of self-determination. Party rhetoric and ideology was fluid. Throughout its existence from 1966 to 1982 the Party underwent radical changes and transformations.[7] Therefore, to understand historical significance of the BPP, it cannot be reduced to encompassing merely one political platform. The gender ideology and the role of women in the BPP were pertinent to the political development and legacy of the Organisation.[8] However, despite the Party’s multifaceted praxis and legacy, traditional narratives have rendered its historical significance to a mere violent, male dominated, gang.

The depiction of the male Black Panther standing tall, dressed in black leather jacket, dark black tinted glasses and a tilted black beret has resonated throughout traditional narratives examining the Party.[9] Traditional accounts of the Black Power movement have latched on to the violent representations of Black Panthers and criticise it as a male-centred, misogynist Party. Powerful male figures such as Malcolm X and Huey Newton inspired young black males to take up arms and reclaim their power, for example Bobby Seale described Newton as ‘the baddest motherfucker in the world.’[10] Furthermore, an article in the Black Panther newspaper stated that ‘These brothers are the cream of Black manhood. They are there for the protection and defense of our community.’[11] Indeed, David Horowitz and Peter Collier’s Destructive Generation emphasised that male Panthers were solely driven by their lust to reclaim their manhood.[12]

Horowitz and Collier presented Newton as a troubled, narcissistic male who abused women to feel empowered ‘Huey then opened her blouse and began kissing her breasts. When the women tried to push him way, he grabbed her arm and put out a cigarette on her flesh.’[13] Such studies seek to victimise Panther females and thus deny their agency as agents of change within the Party. In addition scholars who have emphasised the Party’s violence and masculinity have concealed the centrality of women to the development and success of the Organisation.

This dissertation seeks to argue that women were not only active participants in the Party, but also held high-ranking positions of authority and in some cases commanded leadership roles. The examination of gender dynamics within the BPP enriches the complexity of the Party, in particular how women were the torchbearers of the movement. Women, according to Cleaver made up ‘two-thirds of the Party’ and held prominent leadership positions and challenged sexist gender roles.[14] Therefore, by analysing the relationship between gender and the BBP the myriad of roles Panther women held and their influence on the Party are exposed.

This dissertation argues that one of the ways in which the traditional narrative of the BPP remains challenging and one-dimensional is through the demonisation of the Party. The Panthers promotion of armed resistance and their turbulent battles with the  U.S. authorities has resulted in a distorted vilification of the Party.[15]  Violence and bloodshed dominate traditional accounts that view the Party as a one-dimensional gang of thugs.[16] From the inception of the Party armed self-defence was an integral element of the ideology. The Ten Point Programme concisely outlined the Party’s ideology and rules.[17] The emphasis on armed self-defence is glaringly evident in the platform, ‘All Black people should be able to arm themselves for self-defence.’[18] However, this proclamation was far from a declaration of war that The New York Times emphasised in 1966.[19]

The media were captivated with the Panthers and in turn created a frenzy, which fuelled the negative stigmatisation of the Party.[20] The image and rhetoric of the gun came to define the Party and brand the Black Power movement as the ‘evil twin’ of the Civil Rights Movement.[21] At the forefront of the traditional narrative are scholars, David Horowitz and Hugh Pearson. Horowitz undermined the legitimacy of the BBP and its legacy and asserted that the Panthers represented nothing more than a ‘gang of ghetto thugs.’[22] What is more he argued that by 1974 the BBP’s internal politics were plagued with jagged fissures and fault lines.[23] Traditional scholarly work seeks to undermine and vilify the BPP by characterising it as unstable, dangerous and ineffective.

Such scholarly work not only underestimates the complexity of a developing political movement, but also reinforces hegemonic gender roles. Armed self-defence was represented as an unlawful male Panther’s weapon to wreak destruction on society.[24] However, this dissertation seeks to rebuke traditional gendered roles by demonstrating that Panther women were also highly skilled in wielding arms and protecting the community.[25] Panther women demonstrated that the concept of masculinity was fluid and transcended both sexes and power. This dissertation asserts that the relationship between female Panthers and armed self-defence challenges hegemonic constructs of masculinity rooted in the dominated ideology of patriarchy.

Recent historiography has attempted to dismantle the persona of the BPP that has suffocated the complexity and diversity of the Organisation. Until recently the role and influence of women within the BPP has been overshadowed by its masculine and violent perceptions. However, an upsurge of scholarly works focusing Panther women have sought to reconstruct the myths surrounding the BPP.

This dissertation views itself in concert with this crucial revisionist scholarship, framing women as leaders, armed revolutionaries and agents of change within the Party. Robyn Ceanne Spencer’s article, ‘Engendering the Black Freedom Struggle: Revolutionary Black Womanhood and the Black Panther Party in the Bay Area, California’ is an invaluable study examining how women influenced the Party.[26] She asserted that ‘Black women have fallen through the analytical cracks of the frameworks scholars have used to analyse gender and Black Power.’[27] Although women’s liberation was not a primary concern for the Panthers, gender encompassed internal politics and was intertwined in the experiences of Party members.[28] Kathleen Cleaver argued that the BPP empowered women to challenge sexism and ‘placed women in a position when such treatment occurred to contest it.’[29] Many female Panthers assumed prominent leadership positions and commanded a vast amount of power and respect. The work of Panthers such as Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver and Ericka Huggins is testament of the impact women had on the Party.[30]

This dissertation will recognise and applaud the strength and courage of women in the BPP who shaped the direction the Organisation would embark on. This study will build upon the work of Tracye A. Matthews who has argued that women were active agents of change within the Party ‘female Panthers often tested and stretched the boundaries of the largely masculinised Party structure.’[31] Figures such as Brown, Cleaver and Huggins had a vast array of responsibilities in the Party and were able to empower and create an environment that was more accepting of women’s liberation. For example women in the Party contested the sexist attitudes of Panther members towards birth control and were able to promote their reproduction rights. Women were challenged on all frontiers of Party life however, through their sacrifices and commitment to the Party they commanded respect.[32] This dissertation seeks not to vilify or romanticise the BPP, but instead situates women at the forefront of the analysis.

The BPP weekly newspaper, The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service contained a wealth of articles and images that are crucial in understanding the role of women in the Party. Firstly, the paper was an outlet of expression and ideas, unlike many mainstream newspapers the Black Panther gave its members an uncensored voice. Therefore, the newspaper articles enabled scholars to trace any transformations in BPP ideology and also illuminate how the Party wanted to portray the role of women.[33] Secondly, the newspaper also empowered women in the Party to disseminate ideas, raise awareness and promote women’s liberation to the members. Furthermore, drawings and images also promoted the role of women in the Party and helped to redefine gender roles and the concept of a revolutionary. The Black Panther therefore provided a wealth of valuable sources that in comparison to mainstream media depicted women as critical players in the Party.

Chapter one will explore three high-ranking Panther women, Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver and Ericka Huggins and how their experiences before and during the Party shaped their leadership. In addition, it will demonstrate how their dedication to the Party inspired many women and transformed the attitudes of many male members.

Chapter Two will examine how armed self-defence both reinforced and challenged hegemonic gender roles within the Party. The gun empowered women and redefined the concept of a revolutionary woman. Subsequently it will also demonstrate how female Panthers worked within the constraints of the hyper-masculine Organisation through assuming masculine traits and thus challenging the concept of hegemonic masculinity.

Finally Chapter Three will analyse how the role of women shaped the BPP’s praxis towards women’s liberation, more specifically reproduction rights and sexual abuse within the Organisation.

Chapter I: Black Panther Women, Power and Leadership

‘All Power to the People!’[34]

Power. The ability to assert authority, command and lead an organisation thirsty for drastic change and self-determination demanded an immense amount of internal and external power. Throughout the history of African Americans, during Slavery, the Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement people of African descent were castrated not only of their freedom and lives but also of their power.[35] The Black Panther Party (BBP) symbolised the notions of change, African American liberation, and Black Power.[36]  The Party’s slogan ‘All Power to the People’ aimed to energise, politicise and empower African American communities.[37] However, the extent to which this power permeated through the ranks of the Party has been the subject of ongoing scholarly debate.

The traditional narrative characterised figureheads such as Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver as symbols of power and change.[38] Whether male leaders of the Black Power movement were vilified as thugs or glorified as leaders their influence consumed the studies of traditional narratives.[39] Yet, such an overly naïve narrative of the African American struggle against racism neglects the role of women as leaders and symbols of power. The role of women as agents of change within the BPP has received little scholarly attention. Instead they are rendered helpless and portrayed as little more than background noise in the call for the revolution.[40]

Moreover, such a basic understanding of women in the BPP ignores the complex relationship between power dynamics and gender within the Organisation. Therefore, we must push beyond the idea that male Panthers possessed the power in the Party and instead recognise and applaud the power of female Panther leaders.[41] Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver and Ericka Huggins held prominent positions within the Party and proved critical to the liberation of Panther women.

Elaine Brown’s promotion to Chairwoman and leader of the BPP in 1974 symbolised two influential turning points for the Party.[42] Firstly, her leadership marked a drastic change in Panther tactics, a move away from overt violence and guns to a more stable community based movement.[43] Secondly, as a female Panther member her ascendance to the role of Chairwoman of one of the most militant male stigmatised black power organisations, represented the growing sphere of influence women assumed in the movement.[44] Brown’s role as leader of the BPP heralded a new phase of women’s liberation within the Party and with that came the appointment of many women to high-ranking positions in the Organisation.[45]

Elaine Brown’s memoir A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story provides a riveting insight into the development of her political activism and eventual leadership of the BPP. Brown encountered many experiences that challenged her psychologically, mentally and physically.[46] Brown’s political ingenuity and passion stemmed from her challenging childhood growing up in the ghetto of North Philadelphia where the ‘darkness and its smells of industrial dirt and poverty permeated and overwhelmed everything.’[47] Despite her mother’s insistence that ‘she was the most beautiful girl in the world’ Brown suddenly understood that she would have to ‘work, to fight, to become something other than nothing.’[48] Therefore, even before she developed a complex political and gendered consciousness she sought to challenge traditional gender roles that stigmatised women as passive onlookers. The gender ideology and consciousness of the BBP was a gradual transformation as Kathleen Cleaver asserts that ‘the concept of gender discrimination was not fully developed in the 1960s.’[49]

Elaine Brown’s engagement in armed self-defence and her fierce punishments as Party chairwoman challenged traditional gender roles and can be traced to her childhood. Brown recalled a military style poem that she would march home to ‘We are rough! We are tough! We are the girls. Who don’t take no stuff!’[50] From an early age Elaine was immersed in the art of self-defence and challenged the conventional concept of masculinity. Brown captivated many African American women with her strength and resilience against the external repression from racist American society and the internal opposition from sexist male Panthers.[51] For example an article by Roberta Alexander argued that ‘The sisters are more and more taking a leadership role.’[52] It is evident that her strength and courage to fight was harnessed not only through her experience as a Panther but also through enduring these issues her entire life. Elaine Brown’s gender consciousness was nurtured through her childhood experiences and relationship. Notwithstanding her gender, Brown was a resilient, audacious and inspirational Black Panther.

Brown’s early life indicates seeds of militancy and activism that blossomed during her time as a Panther. Her powerful attitude and ability to command the Panthers was influenced by her family upbringing and structure. Brown’s mother Dorothy Clark symbolised a figure of strength and courage she was ‘a strong, protective being. Much of her strength was manifested in heavy hands and muscular arms.’[53] Dorothy Clark was a brave and independent woman, whom undoubtedly shaped Elaine Brown’s future career as the Chairwoman of the BPP. Moreover, Brown’s ability to assert herself and provide protection to the community with the running of the survival programmes could be rooted to the absence of a protective male father figure, she asserted ‘We both know I have no father.’[54] Brown was nurtured and taught by her mother who was responsible for financially providing for her family and ‘sole protector’ of the family preventing any ills and harms.[55] Brown’s exposure to powerful women throughout her childhood, undoubtedly influenced her gendered consciousness and most likely fuelled her drive for women’s liberation.

Throughout her time in the BPP Elaine Brown was confronted with intolerance, bigotry and sexism.[56] On a business trip to Las Vegas with her colleague and lover Jay Kennedy, Brown experienced overt racism from a beauty salon employee who upon seeing that she was an African American female decided that they were ‘booked solid for the rest of the afternoon.’[57] Despite her strong and unwavering exterior her eyes filled with tears as she held her head high.[58] Such experiences illustrated that African American men were not the sole recipients of racism and that women too were victims of the same discrimination that drove them to the BPP.[59]

Additionally, Brown’s memoir recalled a haunting attack she endured that was fuelled by male dominance, misogyny and hatred. Brown discussed how a casual relationship with the leader of the Southern California’s Underground, Steve, turned into a brutal and unremitting assault.[60] Brown described how Steve filled with rage and aggression as he exploded with a series of accusations ‘did you fuck him, bitch!’[61] Her heart wrenching account goes on:

Now came streams of blows, along with constant vituperation, his sweat dripping onto my face. His large fits alternately pummelled my temples and ears and the back of my head, and my kidneys, as he turned my listless body to accommodate him. It was a serious careful beating, the kind in which he was obviously expert, the kind designed to do serious damage without leaving a visible mark.[62]

Brown endured both physical and psychological abuse ‘I tried to faint, thinking that might end it. No, my brain commanded. I had to be conscious to survive. I had to hold on.’[63] Here, Brown harnessed her inner courage, strength and desire to survive which she had fought for her entire life. Steve’s viscous attack demonstrated his desire to assert his power and control over Elaine. Gender discrimination in the BPP was driven by patriarchy, dominance and insecurity the same factors that fuelled the assault on Brown.[64] However, instead of depicting Elaine Brown as a helpless victim, her bravery and hunger for survival required an immense amount of strength and is testament to her powerful command in the Party. Brown’s elevation to the most powerful position in the BPP was due to her strength, courage and ability to inspire people to fight and survive, all of which were shaped by her life experiences.

Fierce, effective and bold women held influential positions throughout a number of different BPP chapters. These women were not only on the ground organising and mobilising the community but they possessed the ability to operate and lead Panthers whom often challenge their capabilities.[65] Seattle Panther, Michael Dixon stated that the denunciation of misogynistic ideals in the Party was gradual as ‘drug habits and sexual habits and ideas about women were the same. There was no metamorphosis.’[66] It was these women who were instrumental in gradually transforming gender dynamics in the BPP that opened up a new sphere of influence for women to navigate in.[67]

Kathleen Neal Cleaver was a symbol of revolutionary womanhood in the BPP. The image of her brandishing a gun in the Black Panther circulated throughout the Organisation, and challenged any predisposed ideas about traditional gender roles.[68] However, her invaluable work in the Party is often overshadowed by her turbulent relationship with the Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver.[69] Furthermore, despite Cleaver’s influence in the Party, articles still referred to her as the wife of Eldridge Cleaver. For example an article in Jet Magazine only referred to Kathleen Cleaver as ‘Mrs Cleaver.’[70] The association between the two figures distorts Kathleen Cleavers’ work achieved in the Party in relation to both racism and gender. Kathleen Cleaver had a history of activism before she joined the Panthers.

Her desire and thirst to combat repression in the U.S. began in 1966 when she joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in New York.[71] Kathleen Cleaver was attracted to the BPP because she ‘sought to eliminate the legal, social, psychological, economic, and political limitations still being imposed on our human rights, and on our rights as citizens.’[72] Many Panther women viewed the struggle against the capitalist oppressor as their main priority.[73] Therefore, even though members of the Party acknowledged that gender discrimination was rife Kathleen Cleaver stated that ‘the first order of business was not how to advance our cause as women but how to empower the community of which we were a part, and how to protect our lives in the process.’[74] Kathleen Cleaver worked throughout the Party and achieved a senior level of authority in the BPP that not only enabled her to contest her own gendered barriers but also raise awareness of similar issues of sexism within the Party. [75]

Kathleen Cleaver was instrumental in organizing and leading the Black Panther Campaign to free Huey Newton in 1967.[76] Newton was the figurehead of the BPP, he embodied a young, strong, African American man who sought the self-determination of blacks in the U.S. [77] However, it was through the campaign headed by Kathleen Cleaver that the hysteria around Huey Newton engulfed the media and attracted support for the BPP. Furthermore, the popularity of the case elevated Newton into a revolutionary icon.[78] Jeffery Ogbar attributed the resurgence of the BPP to the dedication and work of Kathleen Cleaver.[79] He argued that in 1967 ‘it appeared that the Black Panther Party would be simply a historical footnote… however the efforts of Kathleen Cleaver revitalized the struggling organisation.’[80] Cleaver remarked how she was deeply involved in the organisation of the campaign to release Huey Newton from prison:

I know that the first demonstration that we held at the courthouse for Huey Newton which I was very instrumental in organising, the first time we went out on the soundtracks, I was on the soundtracks, the first leaflet we put out, I wrote, the first demonstration, I made up the pamphlets.[81]

Cleaver’s involvement and leadership of the ‘Free Huey’ campaign during a very critical stage in the evolution of the BPP highlighted the important role women played in the Party.  Furthermore, Cleaver contributed many articles to the Black Panther Newspaper, that were important in shaping and raising awareness of women in the Party. The role allowed her to slowly mould the Party’s rhetoric and manage the Panthers’ official policies on political and gendered issues.[82]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, traditional narratives assume that Panther males such as Bobby Seale and Huey Newton held sole responsibility for decision making in the Party. However, it is evident that Panther women held important roles and shaped the Party’s political and gender praxis. The Central Committee acted as a dominant body for the BPP that discussed and made policy decisions.[83] Women such as Kathleen Cleaver, Ericka Huggins and June Seale held seats on the Committee and constructively contributed and led discussions.[84] The prominence of women in high-ranking positions not only shaped a space for gender equality to be gradually woven into the Party’s rhetoric, but also these bold figures inspired women throughout all ranks of the Party.

Ericka Huggins was amongst the strong and courageous Black Panthers and helped to create a sphere in which women could challenge hegemonic gender roles and immerse themselves in the revolution. Born in Washington D.C. Huggins developed into a powerful and inspirational Black Panther woman.[85] Huggins was not only a black power activist but also a mother, the founder and leader of the New Haven Chapter, the director of the Oakland Community School and a political prisoner.[86] It was through these roles that Ericka Huggins was portrayed as a strong, bold revolutionary figure and redefined the perceptions of women in the Party.

The BPP could not escape the tight grasp of police corruption and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Counterintelligence Division, COINTELPRO.[87] Ericka Huggins was fully aware of the threats and risks that association with the Party brought, Elaine Brown stated that Ericka said ‘revolution was not beautiful… It was guns and bloodshed.’[88] John Huggins, Ericka’s husband and Minister of Information was murdered in an orchestrated police plot along with fellow Party member Bunchy Carter.[89]  On January 17, 1969, Ericka Huggins was made a widow and single mother.[90] Members of the BPP dedicated their time, resources and sometimes lives to the revolution.

The challenges and obstacles that Ericka Huggins overcame shaped her revolutionary understanding of race and gender. Remarkably, Ericka Huggins continued her mission for self-determination and freedom in New Haven, Connecticut. An article entitled ‘The Consequences of Panthermania’ in The New York Magazine, detailed the arrival of Huggins to New Haven, ‘New Haven had never seen anything like her. People wanted to mourn for John Huggins’ brave widow. Ericka Huggins wanted to wake them up.[91] Huggins’ commitment to the Party is starkly exemplified in her willingness and persistence to carry on in the revolution. The dedication and sacrifices of many Panther women are often overlooked in traditional accounts of the Party.

The establishment of the New Haven Black Panther Chapter was testament of Ericka Huggins courage and influence in the Party. Grievances and protests of African Americans throughout the city were mounting up and in 1967 rioting forced the city to the ground.[92] By April 1969 Ericka Huggins was able to build the Black Panther Chapter in New Haven due to the increasing establishment of the politicised black citizens in the community.[93] Furthermore, the chapter implemented a number of survival programmes based on the Oakland model, for example a free breakfast programme was established with the assistance of local residents.[94] Additionally, Huggins wanted to educate the local youth, who were seen by the Panthers as the future torchbearers of the revolution.[95] Huggins was able to rally up support from students from Yale University and the community residents to create a liberation school along with political education classes that she organized and ran.[96] The community survival programmes, developed an environment for African American youths to explore the history of the U.S. and the struggles their ancestors overcame.  The Black Panthers and local residents in New Haven were mobilised by the work and leadership of Ericka Huggins.

Ericka Huggins also held a prominent role in the organizing and directing of the Oakland Community School (OCS) in 1974 until 1983.[97] The development of youths was imperative to the BPP’s success; therefore commanding a leading position in the school was an extremely important and valuable role. For example, an article in the Black Panther asserted that ‘We are teaching the young brothers and sisters what “power to the people” means…and that youth makes the revolution.’[98] The position of Director at the OCS not only indicated that Huggins had the ability and skills to take on such responsibility, but also highlighted the evolving gender roles within the Party. The establishment of the OCS signified a gradual transformation within the BBP.[99] Ericka Huggins emphasised that ‘No duty was beyond any person… Whoever had the skill or ability to do it, did.’[100] The prominence of women who commanded high-ranking positions in the OSC it demonstrated to the BPP members but also the youths in the movement that women’s activism and leadership was critical in ending oppression and securing the Party’s success.[101]

Despite Ericka Huggins unwavering dedication and leadership roles in the BPP, it was not until she was incarcerated that her value and importance was recognised. The incarceration of Huggins alongside Party Chairman Bobby Seale and twelve other Panthers created mass hysteria throughout the Party.[102] The trials of the Party members received a vast amount of media attention that served to vilify the Panthers as mere criminals.[103] However, the impact of the arrests on Party rhetoric and structure, more specifically gender dynamics has remained largely neglected. The arrest of Ericka Huggins vastly influenced the opinions of many Panther members about women and gender roles, including Eldrige Cleaver and Bobby Seale.[104] Bobby Seale commented ‘I think since the pig structure has been trying to kill Ericka Huggins, brothers have begun to see that the sisters can get arrested too, just the same as the brothers.’[105]

In May 1969, there began a series of criminal prosecutions against members of the New Haven Panther Chapter in relation to the murder of Alex Rackley, an alleged police informant whose corpse was found ‘slain on a bank of the Coginchaug River.’[106] Huggins was suspected of being complicit in the torture and interrogation of Rackley that lasted two days, however Huey Newton maintained that ‘Ericka should never have spent one day in jail.’[107] What is interesting however, is not the trial or the police corruption, rather the way in which the Black Panther supported and glorified Ericka Huggins throughout her incarceration.

Through numerous articles, images and poems in the Black Panther Ericka Huggins is depicted as a valiant, strong and courageous Black Panther woman. As female Panthers were increasing feeling the wrath of the authorities and were subjected to torture and incarceration, it became progressively incomprehensible for men in the Party to undermine the critical roles played by women. In an article entitled ‘Elaine Brown Presents A Letter From Sister Ericka Huggins’, her determination and strength is exemplified in a statement that reads: ‘…no matter how they kick ass, beat us, kill us, or jail us, the people, we will carry on.’[108] Moreover she asserts that a revolution is not a desire but instead a necessity ‘We can no longer allow the senselessness of anarchy and arbitrary destruction.’[109]

Such powerful, emotive and inspirational language demonstrated to many within the Party that women could fight, tortured and be imprisoned just the same as men. A letter written by Ericka Huggins whilst she was imprisoned was published in the newspaper. The article ‘Letter from Ericka: Political Prisoner’ contained a photo of Ericka fiercely demonstrating the black power salute.[110] The use of images and photographs displaying strong and courageous figures, such as Huggins in the Black Panther lionized and generated support for the prisoners. Moreover the generated image helped to dismantle gender stereotypes within the Party, as Ericka Huggins was perceived to be a tough, powerful and independent Panther woman.

Ericka Huggins committed her life to the BPP and it was due to her dedication, leadership and courage that attitudes towards women in the Party began to shift. Panther women began to highlight the role of women in the Party and in part attributed the gradual shift in gender roles to Huggins. One Panther woman stated:

The brothers had to look on Ericka with a new light because she had been thru a lot of things that some brothers hadn’t even been thru. The sisters looked up to her and we all saw what we had to do. The sisters have to pick up guns just like brothers.[111]

Women’s liberation within the BPP was continuously evolving, however, the leadership and strength of Ericka Huggins supported female Panther’s assertion that they were revolutionary women. The position of Eldrige Cleaver on women’s involvement in the movement was drastically influenced by the actions of Ericka Huggins. An article entitled ‘Message to Sister Erica Huggins of the Black Panther Party’ written by Eldrige Cleaver, applauded and recognised the important work the women in the party contributed, ‘we must understand that our women are suffering strongly and enthusiastically as we are participating in the struggle.’[112]

Furthermore, he commended Ericka Huggins by emphasizing that she was ‘a shinning example of a revolutionary woman whose been meted out the same kind of injustice from the pig power structure that a revolutionary man receives.’[113] Her time as a political prisoner served to demonstrate to members of the BPP that women were fully committed to the revolution and were targeted and punished just the same as leading male members. During her incarceration Ericka Huggins was portrayed as a strong, bold Black Panther and it was this image that inspired many women to assert themselves in the Party.

The strong and powerful leadership of women in the BPP serves to demonstrate their importance and centrality in the Party. The traditional narrative of the BPP has severely neglected the role of women in authoritative positions, thus relegating them to subordinate accomplices of Panther men.  Women such as Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver and Ericka Huggins challenged traditional gender roles and the sexist impositions placed on them, by commanding powerful positions and exerting a vast amount of influence in the Party. Their presence and work in the BPP also inspired and empowered women throughout the ranks to become active agents of change. The next chapter will demonstrate how women continued to challenge hegemonic gender roles through their evolved construction of masculinity and armed self-defence within the Party. Women in the BBP commanded respect, power and were central to the evolution of Party ideology.

Chapter II: Reframing Armed Self-Defence and Masculinity in the Black Panther Party

‘Well then, believe it my friend

That this silence will end

We’ll just have to get guns

And be men.’

-Elaine Brown[114]

The rhetoric of the gun and the call for armed self-defence manifested a masculine hysteria that characterised the Black Panther Party (BBP). As it was demonstrated in the previous chapter traditional narrative have depicted male figures such as Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale as symbols of black power and the reclamation of black manhood.[115] The BPP’s popular image championed a hyper masculine male, wielding a large gun or weapon.[116] In sharp contrast, Panther women have been branded as feeble and dependent victims. Such distortions serve to severely obscure the agency of revolutionary Panther women. Both the popular media and the BPP cultivated the militant and aggressive persona, which was portrayed as a stark departure with the non-violent Civil Rights Movement.[117]

The media vilification of the Party constructed an arena in which Panther women were forced to the sidelines of the struggle. An article entitled ‘Panthers Viewed as Ineffectual: But House Unit Warns of ‘Gun-Barrel Politics’ in The New York Times, 1971 described the BPP as a ‘subversive criminal group using the facade of politics and Marxist-Leninist ideology as a cover for crimes of violence and extortion.’[118] Such depictions stigmatised the Panther’s revolutionary rhetoric as hyper masculine and thus reinforced the idea that the Party represented no more than a misogynistic organisation. For example Chicago Panther Marion Stamps recalled that many black people ‘initially were very very afraid of the Black Panther Party.’[119]

To assert that the BPP was merely a violent, militant organisation would be to ignore the valuable work of scholars who have sought to dismantle the one-dimensional portrayal of the Party. For example, Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams’ book, In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement provides a collection of articles and essays that demonstrate the multifaceted nature of the Party.[120]   However, these studies do not ignore the persistence of hyper masculine ideals and images within and outside the Party. Women in the BPP challenged hegemonic gender constructs, which asserted that gender roles are innate and therefore indisputable.

Firstly, high-ranking female Panthers redefined the concept of masculinity that was so entrenched in the Party’s revolution. Secondly, many women in the Party were enthralled by the concept of self-defence and alongside their male comrades fought to protect their communities.

The association between the gun and internalised strength empowered women to challenge traditional gender roles that sought to confine them. As Angela D. LeBlan- Ernest suggests the determination and courage displayed by women in the throes of government tyranny shaped the gender ideology of the BPP.[121] Gendered discrimination was not viewed as a separate struggle; instead issues were interwoven with the dynamic ideas of class and racism.[122]

Black Panther women such as Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown and Ericka Huggins operated within a hyper masculine Party and were forced to adopt a more militant posture in an effort to combat chauvinist understandings of women.[123] Female Panthers that held prominent leadership positions at both local and national level had to embody a more assertive and aggressive form of command in order to exert authority over males in Party who continued to question their ability.[124] The adoption of more masculine traits can be seen in the way that Black Panther women commanded their chapters, the language they used to assert authority over their male comrades and the physical punishment they instructed to affirm their strength. Scholar Matthews brilliantly states that:

Black women’s presumption of a style, actions, and words associated with male prerogative potentially undermined the notion of men’s inherent aggressiveness or innate leadership abilities that were the basis of masculinist gender ideologies, including some of the BPP’s earlier formulations.[125]

Female Panthers were instrumental in dismantling traditional gendered roles and displayed traits similar to their male comrades that were generally defined as masculine. Women were able to foster a new sense of authority and respect in the Party.

The manner in which female BBP leaders managed and led their respective chapters indicated that they were largely influenced by the desire to gain respect and authority over their comrades. Furthermore, such examination highlights that the emergence of gendered thinking was not confined to the BPP’s headquarters in Oakland. Historian Abu-Jamal asserted that the East Coast chapter led by Safiya Bukhari was managed  ‘with all the tenderness of drill sergeant.’[126] Moreover, he notes that Bukhari firmly ordered male Panthers to ‘drop down and give me twenty—give me a real push up.’[127] Black Panther women often portrayed more masculine traits in an attempt to counteract the entrenched sexism in the Party.

Similarly, when Elaine Brown was propelled to the Chairwoman of the Party in 1974 she announced to the Oakland Chapter that ‘I’m telling you this because it’s possible some of you may balk at a woman as the leader of the BPP… If this is your attitude, you’d better get out of the BPP. Now.’[128] The tone of both Bukhari and Brown demanded respect, something that women had been previously denied in the Party. Female leaders gained admiration from their Party members for example Michael Dixon one of the cofounders and leaders of the Seattle Chapter states that ‘women were prominent in our leadership.’[129]

Similarly Black Panther female leaders utilised language as a mechanism of power. The ability to use language to convey a particular message and to foster a specific response was evident in many of the slogans used by the BPP.[130] For example the BBP’s most popular slogan ‘Power to the People’ was utilised to provoke a wave of passion and support for the Party.[131] Powerful women in the Party such as Elaine Brown understood the close relationship between rhetoric and power. The use of dominant language sought to dismantle traditional gender assumptions that predominately men used aggressive language. In response to male Party members in Oakland who stated that ‘I hear we can’t call them bitches no more’ Elaine Brown forcefully responded ‘No motherfucker…you may not call them bitches no more.’[132] Moreover in a heated dispute between Elaine Brown and Party member, Steve who had in the past physically abused her she asserted:

I am the leading member of this party and if I tell you or your daddy to come to Oakland, to stay in Oakland, to live and fucking die in Oakland, you will do it, or you will be gone from this party. Is that clear enough?![133]

The use of powerful, sharp and abusive language demonstrated how Brown affirmed her power when she was confronted with an opposition. Furthermore, Brown’s forceful temperament as Chairwoman of the BPP was evident in the physical punishment she ordered. ‘“I’m through, Larry.” Big Bob reached over, lifted Steve from the couch, and slammed his solid body to the floor… Steve struggled for survival under the many feet stomping him…Blood was everywhere. Steve’s face disappeared.’[134] The use of physical punishment as a tactic to maintain control over an organisation and incite fear is not uncommon in revolutionary parties. However, women leaders in the BPP adopted masculine traits and violent tactics to legitimise their role in the Party.[135] What’s more, they sought to dismantle the perception that males were strong and the protectors and females were weak.[136] Women in leadership roles were able to utilise the gendered constraints placed upon them in the Party and redefine traditional constructs of masculinity and womanhood.

Many women in the BPP were bold, dauntless and courageous armed revolutionaries. The promotion of armed self-defence not only empowered women against the repression of the police, but also energised that attack on sexism and misogyny in the Party. The Party provided African Americans an opportunity to defend their pride, communities and lives. Traditional narratives have characterised male Panthers as protectors and warriors, therefore denying the agency of armed Black Panther women.  Women’s dedication to the Party as Elaine Brown expressed ‘meant that we had to surrender up something of ourselves, our own lives, because we believed the struggle…would take our lives.’[137] The strength and power of the BPP did not originate neither from gender or maleness. Instead, it was through commitment, dedication and courage that the Panthers were viewed as bold and defiant. Female Panthers were able to mould the Party’s gender ideology and promotion of women’s liberation by gaining respect as revolutionaries.

One way in which Black Panther women were able to assert themselves in the Party was through their ability to arm themselves and be entrenched in the struggle. For example Elaine Brown stated that ‘we saw ourselves, as a solider in the army that was about, bringing about revolution…’[138]Tarika Lewis joined the BPP in 1967, when she put down her ‘violin and picked up a gun’.[139] Lewis’ formidable courage to join an all male organisation set the precedent for future Black Panther women whose participation in the Party blossomed. Many women were enthralled with the ideology and armed resistance of the BPP. Before joining the Party Regina Jennings, like many Black Panthers, had gained experience with armed defence and knew ‘how to handle weapons.’[140] For some Black Panther women militancy and their commitment to an armed revolution was simply an evolution of their earlier experiences.  Jennings epitomises the desire of some Black Panther women to bear arms, as her enduring experience of racism had driven created a ‘personal directive to kill White people.’[141] Angela D. Le Blan-Ernest similarly identifies the militancy of women in the BPP to be rooted African American female activists such as Fannie Lou Harmer and Ella Baker who were ‘torch-bearers to the women in the BPP.’[142]

Black Panther men were glorified for their acts of defiance against white oppressors and dedication to the struggle. Male Panthers such as Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Fred Hampton symbolised prowess and strength. One of the most symbolic posters relating to the Black Power era portrays Newton ‘seated in a torn-like wicker chair, gun in one hand and spear in the other.’[143]  However, the role of women as protectors of the community has been largely neglected. Women in the Party worked just as hard as men, they could shoot as well as men and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the liberation just like their male comrades.[144] One of the earliest displays of the Party’s armed self-defence was in the storming of the Sacramento State Capitol steps on May 2, 1967.[145]

Led by Bobby Seale the BPP sought to firstly assert their constitutional right to bear arms and to disable the Mulford bill.[146] The California legislation was designed to retract a law, which permitted the public to carry a loaded firearm, the result of which would ban the Panthers armed patrols in the community.[147] The protest received mass media attention, the Sacramento Bee published an article entitled ‘The Capitol Invaded’ which pictured several African American men dressed in leather brandishing rifles and pistols.[148] Once again, the popular narrative and media depiction of militant events marginalized the bravery and efforts of the six female Panthers who clutched on to their weapons and boldly paraded through Sacramento.[149]

The role of Black Panther women as political prisoners also helped to promote gender equality and rebuke traditional gender roles in the Party. The police repression, torment and incarceration that the female Panthers endured forced their male comrades to respect and view them as soldiers in the struggle.[150] For example Belva Butcher asserted that ‘the racism did not frighten me, it made me strong and made me want to fight back.’[151] On November 26, 1970, in New Orleans sister Betty Powell was entangled in a police raid in which she was hit by a bullet in a shootout.[152] In an interview conducted by Charles E. Jones she recalls that ‘They shackled my left arm to the bed- I was shot in the right arm- and also shackled my legs to the bed.’[153]

Black Panther women were equal victims of repression from the police and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as their male counterparts. Moreover, an article in the Black Panther demonstrated female Panthers’ courage in the midst of the ‘fascist pigs.’[154] The full page spread detailed an attack on Black Panther members Gail Spillard, Sharla Hampton and Harold Holmes from the San Francisco Branch. Sharla Holmes. The article describes how Gail endured physical abuse when an officer ‘grabbed Gail’s arm and pushed her into the terminal…’ moreover, Sharla experienced psychological torment as the detective asked if ‘Sharla was a girl or a boy.’[155] Black Panther women were fully dedicated to the struggle, they endured torture and incarceration and sacrificed their lives to the revolution, therefore Lynn French’s assertion that ‘women who are unsung heroes in the Party’ is extremely plausible.[156] The brutal nature of these attacks demonstrate that the police did not perceive revolutionary activity through gendered lines instead Black Panther women were subjected to the same torment of repression as their males comrades.

The BPP created a sphere in which the paradigms of masculinity and femininity within the Party were fluid and diverse. The Black Panther emerged as a hub of expression where articles utilised language and images to challenge traditional gendered roles and remould the definitions of a revolutionary.[157] The newspaper’s illustrations by Black Panther artist Emory Douglas and Tarika Lewis (Matilaba) were designed to challenge traditional notions of womanhood and to redefine women in the Party as militaries in the revolution.[158] Women were increasingly being portrayed as heroines of resistance and revolutionary warriors.[159] A cartoon in 1968 by Lewis, powerfully portrayed a mother wielding a gun and teaching her son to shoot with the caption ‘Am I doin it right mama.’[160]

Similarly a revolutionary poster by Emory depicted a tall women grasping on to her rifle.[161] Images of women and mothers carrying guns distorted the perception that armed self defence was only equated to men. A common thread between the illustrations of women in the Black Panther was that they depicted militant mothers. For example a cartoon in the Black Panther portrayed a mother grasping on to her gun as she protects her child from vermin in their house.[162] Such images were used to inspire and empower women to protect their children, who were deemed the future of the revolution, from danger.

To some extent, these images reinforced women as materialistic careers as they were forced to take up arms to protect their children. Furthermore, portraying the militant women as mothers may have made the images more tolerable to the male members in the Party as women were not driven by their desire to obtain dominance but rather to protect their children.[163] Although the graphics reinforced the materialistic predisposition women possessed, it also created a new image of a revolutionary woman. The drawings illustrated that the Party’s public rhetoric of a revolutionary transcended hegemonic gender barriers.

Articles and poems written by militant Black Panther women further reinforced that they adopted the characteristics and roles prescribed to males, therefore their experiences closely paralleled those of their male comrades.[164] Elaine Brown’s song The End of Silence, truly exemplifies the complex nature of the BPP rhetoric, in that the use of the expression ‘men’ encompasses both males and females.[165] Brown’s line ‘We’ll just have to get guns. And be men,’ highlighted how women manipulated the ingrained association between guns and black revolutionary identity into a source of power.[166] Therefore, the Panthers’ overt advocacy of armed self-defense should be situated in a more complex social construct, in which the rhetoric of the gun is not only used as a mechanism to shadow women, but also can be used as a tool of empowerment for women.[167]

The depiction of strong, bold revolutionary Black Panther women contributed to the increasing masculinity of women who were often deprived of their femininity. Gender representation in the Black Panther largely shaped the perception of revolutionary women in the BPP. For example an article entitled ‘Black Woman By a Black Revolutionary’ asserted that

It is now time for the black woman to use her own imagination and style. She must create and maintain an active image that her men and children can relate to.[168]

Indeed, such depictions also influenced the way in which women viewed themselves in the Party. For example, Elaine Brown asserted that, ‘Black Panther women were stripped of the pretty things, the bourgeois sweetness that could have made them glamorous women…’[169] For some women such as Brown, her role as a revolutionary activist contradicted her own femininity. Such contradiction between the traditional characteristics of femininity and her commitment to the Party caused internalised confusion for Brown. Her insecurities were heightened during Brown’s unstable relationship with Huey Newton  ‘I really wanted to be Huey’s “woman” in the old sense, the non-revolutionary, get married, down and dirty street sense.’[170] Furthermore, she commented that ‘under my revolutionary façade, however clinging like a cancer was a woman with fairy-tale, teenage dreams.’[171] Women in the Party were forced to build a new identity for revolutionary women that enabled them to be engaged in the struggle for African American liberation.[172] However, in doing so Black Panther women were deprived of their femininity.

Women increasingly voiced their strength, power and commitment to the struggle in the Black Panther. In an article entitled ‘Message To Revolutionary Women’ Black Panther Candi Robinson stressed that women were ‘The other half of our revolutionary men. We are their equal halves, may it be with gun in hand, or battling in streets…’[173] Aaron Dixon from the Seattle chapter of the BPP asserted that Panther women ‘demanded and pushed themselves to the forefront, they demanded to be treated with respect.’[174] The Black Panther emboldened female Panthers, who proclaimed their authority through the media and drew attention to the sexism and male chauvinism that sought to mute their agency.

Until recently armed-self defence, assertiveness and power were all components that symbolised hyper-masculine Black Panther males. However, this dissertation has argued that such elements empowered Black Panther women to redefine the paradigms of gender roles and the concept of masculinity. The masculine posturing and leadership of prominent female Black Panthers illustrated women were not overcome by sexist barriers, but instead utilised them as a mechanism of empowerment. The Black Panther’s depiction of women as armed-revolutionaries was hugely influential in redefining the role of women within the Party. Moreover, articles and images in the newspaper challenge traditional gender roles, as they portrayed women as protectors of community. Women were deeply entrenched in the revolutionary struggle just as their male comrades. Many Black Panther women sacrificed their lives and their loved ones for the revolution and yet their courage and strength has been omitted from popular assumptions of the BPP.  Women in the Party pushed the parameters in the BPP that sought to bind them to traditional gendered roles. Their commitment to both the BPP and to women’s liberation gradually eroded misogynistic barriers within the Party.

Chapter III: Transforming the Party

We were feminists. We did all kinds of things to break down barriers within the Black Panther Party, gender barriers…[175]

As female Black Panthers nurtured their growing political consciousness and forged a new identity for women in the Party, their influence gradually addressed women’s issues as a facet of the broader struggle. As we have seen in the previous two chapters, Panther women such as Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver and Ericka Huggins helped to interconnect women’s issues and racism.[176] Reproduction rights and rhetoric about physical and sexual abuse of women were two issues that were intrinsically linked and were extremely pertinent to the liberation of Panther females. The Black Panther Party (BPP) empowered women to challenge sexist injustices and promote their liberation.   Female members of the BPP strove for control. Control over their bodies. Control over male domination in the Party. Control over their choices.

Women in the Party played an instrumental role in shaping how Party ideology on reproduction rights and fertility control evolved throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The ways in which the BPP viewed such issues as birth control and abortion are crucial in understanding the gender dynamics within the Party. For some women in the Party, professional and a correct method of birth control was a mechanism of power and choice over their body. Writer, activist and African American woman Toni Cade Bambara asserted that self-determination and control over her reproductive rights were vital.[177] Traditional narratives of the BPP taint and stigmatise the Party for upholding sexist and chauvinistic views on all methods of reproductive control such as the contraceptive pill and sterilisations.[178] Far from romanticising the Panthers stance on birth control this study recognises the male-dominated ideals that formed the basis of opinion on reproductive rights. However, it is critical to not over simplify Panther rhetoric, instead one must also recognise the BBP’s gradual acceptance and promotion of women’s liberation and the influential role women played in shaping the change.

The ideology and rhetoric of the BPP in the early stages of development to reproductive rights of women were severely limited and clouded by chauvinistic thoughts.[179] The Party believed that fertility control was an element of a greater plot to wage a ‘genocidal war against all Blacks.’[180] Party rhetoric towards any method of birth control was considered counter-revolutionary and an aide to the ‘anti-human practices of the fascist, racist United States government and their genocidal war effort.’[181] Members of the New York Black Panther chapter remarked that ‘Panthers worried about population controlled imposing birth control and abortions on black women.’[182] Moreover, the attitudes towards birth control were driven by the desire to protect the youth were viewed as the seeds of the revolution:

Just as we broke the chains that bound us mentally to this oppressive State so will our children, our future, go forth and put an end to the oppressive machinery that holds the people of the world enslaved.[183]

Furthermore, an article entitled ‘Birth Control’ in the Black Panther emphasised that the U.S. Government’s promotion of methods of birth control was merely a façade to conceal the oppression of African Americans.[184] During the early 1970’s the Panthers believed that the advancement of reproductive control was detrimental to the freedom of African Americans, as it was a deemed a tool of deception to ‘channel concern away from the people being shot down in the street.’[185] Angela Davis attributes the Party’s stance against birth control to the male supremacist trends and desire to reassert and claim any source of power.[186] In doing so Davis asserted that some men tried to force women into the background, depriving them of their autonomy.[187]

Similarly an article entitled ‘Birth Control and the Negro Women’ written in 1968 in Ebony Magazine asserted that ‘…men feel insecure about a wife who uses birth control…they feel that “The Pill” puts the wife on an equal sexual plane with them…’[188] However, such thinking was not confined to the Panther Party but assumed by other Black Power such as The Nation of Islam (NOI).[189] Furthermore, it was not until the 1965 Supreme Court ruling that the American societal landscape began to recognise the importance of reproductive rights.[190] Throughout the initial phases of the BBP reproductive rights of women were not only ignored but were more importantly deemed as an attack on the Panther revolution and an aide of the U.S. government.

The traditional narrative focuses on the early period of the BPP and does not acknowledge the evolution of the Party that was largely influenced by the growing impetus of female Panthers.[191] Women in the BPP were not mere victims of the sexist ideals and barriers; instead many were active proponents of women’s liberation. With the notable exception of Jenifer Nelson, most historians examining the Black Panthers have failed to engage with women’s issues within the Party. Nelson emphasised that the opposition to birth control from Black Nationalist groups such as the BPP ‘shifted their rhetoric away from the genocide argument to focus on the importance of health care and safe, legal abortions provision…’[192] Indeed, attitudes in the Party toward reproductive control were not static or unanimous, but were rather flexible and controversial.

The advancement of women’s rights in the Party was not welcomed like issues pertaining to the economic injustices or racial discrimination. The debate over reproductive rights in the Party disturbed the authority of men and in some cases met with violence. For example, male Black Panthers endeavoured to disable two reproduction planning centres in New Orleans and Pittsburgh.[193] Such opposition was fuelled by insecurity and the fear that African American women were emasculating African American males, in the same manner the capitalist white society did.[194] Panther women who were proponents of women’s liberation were often chastised as a ‘man-hating lesbian, feminist bitch.’[195] In response to such vulgar and sexist stereotypes Elaine Brown asserted that she would be ‘the most radical of them [women activists].’[196] Therefore for women, especially those of African American descent, any step, no matter how small or insignificant was instrumental in gaining a choice and the gradual dismantling of sexist male-dominated ideals.

Women in the Party were largely influential in directing and transforming attitudes towards women’s issues, in particular birth control and abortions.[197] Elaine Brown’s commitment to upholding the rights of African Americans and in particular women ushered a new wave of feminist thinking. Brown declared that:

I would support every assertion of human rights by women- from the right to abortion to the right of equality with men as labourers and leaders. I would declare that the agenda of the BPP and our revolution to free black people from oppression specifically included black women.[198]

Brown’s emphasis on the community programmes and in particular the health clinics gave Panther women the opportunity to have a choice and some form of control over their reproductive rights. For Panther women, the health clinics provided a haven for private and safe medical discussions and procedures pertaining to reproduction and women’s health.[199] The Berkley chapter organised a clinic every week that attended to and supported women and their health requirements.[200] The Woman, Infant, Children (WIC) programme in Berkeley was established to assist pregnant women and mothers and to ‘provide free, comprehensive quality medical care for Black and other poor people.’[201] Furthermore, the BPP encouraged self-help reproductive health practices based on the work of women’s health centres.[202]

Healthcare clinics and practices not only provided women with lifesaving advice and procedures, it also signalled a transformation in the way women’s reproductive rights were perceived in the Party.  The healthcare clinics that specialised in attending to the issues of women’s health were not widespread across every chapter; however, their existence highlighted that women in the Party were achieving real gains.[203] The establishment of programmes tailored to the needs of primarily women suggested that there was a shifting opinion away from the sexist genocide argument amongst the Black Panthers.

Education and raised awareness was a tool of Panther women to progress women’s reproductive rights within the Party. Information was a weapon in which women could arm themselves with and hence defend and protect their rights.[204] For example, highlighting the inadequacies of the existing medical system helped to promote safe and legal methods of birth control. In a two page article entitled ‘Health Care- Pig Style’ the Black Panther exposed the medical misconduct in the San Francisco General Hospital maternity clinic.[205] The article described the ordeal of a pregnant woman who experienced prolonged delays in appointments and unprofessional and racist assistance.[206] The African American female patient stated that the doctor made an inappropriate assumption that was driven by their racist attitude, ‘The doctor thinks you wouldn’t possibly want another kid for the state to support so he tells you how to go about getting a therapeutic abortion.’[207]

Moreover, the woman explained that before receiving further medical advice she would have to contact social services and endure an evasive home check ‘she pokes around, checking to see if the house is clean, and if you can handle your kids ok.’[208] African American women suffered dehumanising, humiliating and unprofessional medical assistance from state hospitals.[209] Through articles documenting such degrading and unethical medical care the BBP asserted that ‘Our people are dying from medical miscare, we must all work to make Peoples’ Health Clinics a reality.’[210] Therefore, women’s liberation, in particular reproductive and maternal rights were framed as part of the broader struggle against African American oppression. Insufficient medical care and hospital facilities were viewed as another attack on African American’s constitutional rights as American citizens.[211] As a result disseminating ideas and information throughout the Party empowered Panther women to demand a choice over their bodies and the medical care they could receive.

Through raising awareness about unsafe illegal abortions and forced sterilisations, women in the Party were able to stress the urgency and need of obtaining their reproductive rights as part of the larger struggle for liberation. The BPP began to understand and educate its readers on the illegal and extremely dangerous medical extremes Panther women resorted to due to the lack of reproduction choices given to them. Many poor African American women before the late 1970’s resorted to undergoing dangerous illegal abortions that often left them traumatised, wounded or in some cases deceased.[212] The denunciation of methods of birth control in the Party often left Panther women, pregnant without the resources, support and wellbeing to raise a child, therefore many were forced to seek illegal and unsafe terminations.[213] However, as the Party began to transform, especially under the leadership of Elaine Brown, articles emerged that promoted women’s right to dictate what happened to their body.

An article written in 1975, one year after Elaine Brown was appointed chairwoman of the Party, entitled ‘Boston Abortion Witchunt Convicts Black Doctor’ emphasised women’s right to abortion. The article focuses on prosecution ‘Dr. Kenneth Edelin, a 36-year old Black Obstetrician…’ for the conduction of legal abortions on African American women.[214] Dr. Edelin from Boston City Hospitals asserted that ‘I believe very strongly in a woman’s right to determine what happens to her own body.’[215]In addition, he suggested that ‘You cannot legislate abortion out of the picture…If its going to exist they ought to at least make it safe.’[216] The phrase ‘abortion witchhunt’ in the title of the article suggests that the author believed the charge unjustifiable and wrong. The article raised awareness of another choice available to Panther women ‘When birth control fails, a woman has a right to have her pregnancy terminated in a safe and professional manner.’[217] Educating members of the Party on the traumas and dangers Panther women suffered due to the lack of available contraceptive controls gradually began to transform the perception of reproductive rights of women.

A huge barrier to obtaining reproductive rights in the BBP was the misogynist perceptions of fertility control and abortions that were ingrained into Party ideology. Women were able to disseminate information about different methods of contraception and brief descriptions of the risks and benefits of using birth control. Therefore, women were able to rebuke any incorrect and inaccurate perceptions about different forms birth control that were stigmatised as counterrevolutionary. The Black Panther was one mechanism, which Panther women used to distribute and spread ideas on women’s liberation throughout the Party. An article published in 1974, in the Black Panther openly discussed the contraceptive pill, which stated that it was ‘the most effective contraceptive currently available.’[218]

The article also thoroughly detailed the potential side effects of the medication from minor problems to ‘The major medical problem related to taking the pill as birth control method is blood clotting in the lungs or brain.’[219] The gradual acceptance of women’s reproductive rights did not simply mean the promotion of contraceptive devices. Instead, it aimed to empower women, and provide the resources and support to enable them to make their own well-informed choice about their body.[220] Therefore, whilst chauvinistic attitudes did form barriers against women’s liberation in the Party, it also gave female Panthers a space in which they could combat such ideas as part of the broader struggle for freedom. Many attacks and criticisms of birth control made by men in the BPP emphasised the lack of information and the dangers about the medication.[221] Therefore, by educating the Party about the medical information of contraceptive pills, Panther women were able to generate support for and gradually progress their reproductive rights. Other Black newspapers also raised awareness about birth control; Ebony Magazine estimated that in 1968 ‘twelve million women in the U.S. use birth control.’[222] Indeed, the advancement of African American women’s reproductive rights was gradually viewed as another facet of the struggle against oppression in the U.S.

The actions of Panther women were crucial in the gradual transformation of Party rhetoric and the acceptance of women’s equality. The change within the Party was by no means fast, however, the promotion of women’s contraception and the denunciation of forced sterilisation signalled progression towards liberation. Coerced sterilisation of African American women was not only a huge violation of their reproductive rights, but was also viewed as another attack on their liberation and freedom.[223] For example an article in the Black Panther highlighted that in Aiken, South Carolina ‘girls aged from 17 and up have been sterilised and that even one girl at age 14 were given the operation.’[224] African American women in the Party were vulnerable to involuntary medical treatments for example the article stated that ‘of the 18 mothers, 17 are Black and ten are under 25 years of age.’[225] Forced sterilisation was an impingement on the human rights of women and also a practice that the BPP fully came to denounce.

The BPP’s recognition of women’s liberation was evident in their coalition with feminist organisations. Feminism as a political movement and ideology was a term that the Black Panthers were initially cautious about aligning with.[226] However, Panther women challenged male chauvinism and boldly proclaimed their rights as females, mothers and revolutionaries. Panther women did not label themselves as feminists, however as Ericka Huggins asserted ‘We were feminists. We did all kinds of things to break down barriers within the Black Panther Party, gender barriers…’[227] Similarly a ‘Statement To The Press From Woman’s Liberation’ in the Black Panther emphasised that ‘We unite with our brothers and sisters of the Black Panther Party, knowing that together in strength, we will be able to combat the attacks of the oppressors.’[228] The partnership and coalition between women’s liberation organisation and the BPP illustrated that the Panthers were not wholly misogynistic and that their rhetoric gradually transformed to understand the importance of women’s liberation. Therefore, the influence of Panther women was invaluable and their glaring impact on the BPP cannot be dulled or ignored.

Revolutionary women within the BPP commanded respect and with that were empowered to assert their dominance. However, physical abuse and violence were elements from which the Panthers could not escape and in the initial stages were consumed by.[229] Therefore, it is not surprising that violence and abuse seeped into internal Party life particularly through the interactions of Panther women and men.[230] Abuse within the Party was largely omitted from discussion within the Party newspaper, although memoirs and accounts of Panther members highlighted that such issues penetrated Party dynamics. However, it is not to suggest that abuse of Panther women was rampant within the Party, nor did all male members advocate such treatment of women.

For example, Panther Afeni Shakur expressed that ‘it was the first time in my life that I ever met men who didn’t abuse women.’[231] Although cases of abuse against women in the Party were sporadic across various chapters, one can definitely confirm that females confronted and rebuked such actions. Therefore, women should not be stigmatised as mere victims, instead many women challenged advances and demands from the offending males. Furthermore, the growing impetus of women within the Party and their continued demonstration of bravery and commitment gradually shaped the Organisations’ doctrine on the role of Black Panther women.

Abuse against Panther women existed within the Party, Elaine Brown in the film The Black Panthers Vanguard of The Revolution admits that ‘The Black Panther Party certainly had a chauvinist tone. And so we tried to change some of the clear gender roles… As I like to say we didn’t get these brothers from revolutionary heaven.’[232] The BPP did not emerge in a society that promoted gender equality, as Kathleen Cleaver states ‘the world was extremely misogynist and authoritarian.’[233] Therefore, despite some male Panthers revolutionary call for liberation this did not wholly extend to women’s liberation and equality.  Historian Hugh Pearson’s Shadow of the Panther paints the Party’s treatment of women as aggressive and coercive. For example, he asserted that former Panther Landon Williams ‘and many other men in the party would lay guilt trips on the women they desired, coercing them to bed…’[234] Moreover, Pearson relegated strong Panther women to ‘impressionable teenage girls’ whom were at the disposal of male Panthers, in particular high ranking individuals.[235]

Pearson’s perception of the Black Panthers, in particular the male Party members is cynical and rather one-dimensional, however does give a valuable insight into some of the internalised debates within the Party. Furthermore, Eldrigde Cleaver’s Soul On Ice, published in 1968, buttressed abuse against women within the Party. In a deeply disturbing fragment of the book Eldrige Cleaver asserts that, ‘I became a rapist. To refine my technique and modus operandi, I started out by practicing on black girls.’[236] Huey P. Newton reinforced that dominance and physical abuse towards women was fuelled by the need to maintain control and power in the relationship ‘sometimes our first instinct is to…want to hit the woman or shut her up because we are afraid that she might castrate us…’[237] The attitude of the leading members in the Party towards women greatly influenced how rank and file members treated their female comrades in the Party.[238] However, such acts of physical and sexual abuse were not universal and cannot solely define the BPP. Therefore, through recognising that women were not simply as Pearson states ‘impressionable teenage girls’ a more complex portrayal of the Party arises.

The Black Panther did not openly discuss abuse of women within the Party, however the paper did condemn and denounce acts of sexual and physical violence against women outside of the Organisation. For example an article published in the Black Panther in 1974 entitled ‘Women’s Rights A Long Way To Go’illustrated women’s persistence for change.[239] The article details a female’s constitutional right under the law and how the ‘archaic, chauvinistic laws regarding American women in the state of Texas’ distorted them.[240] Moreover, the passage detailed a rape case of Inez Garcia and the disturbing thoughts of a male juror who said that ‘women have no right to self defence in any rape case because the man is only “giving her a good time.”[241]

Although this is a clear indication that gendered oppression and the denial of women’s rights surpassed local level and was ingrained in state authorities, it more importantly highlighted that women actively condemned such attitudes and fought to assert their rights. The publication of the article in the Black Panther illustrated the growing concern for women’s rights outside of the Party, which was largely propelled by increasing influence of Panther women. Indeed, there was a hope that such concerns coupled with the growing power of Panther women would transform the actions of males in the Party.

As more women in the BPP held prominent leadership positions, engaged in armed resistance, and influenced the Party newspaper they demanded respect and would not tolerate oppression or abuse within or outside of the Organisation. Tracye A. Matthews elevated women in the Party to a position of authority and posits them as strong and powerful as they defied the unwanted advances of Panther males.[242] Janet Cyril, a founding member of the Brooklyn Panther branch, exemplified that Panther women were brave and confronted forms of abuse within the Party.[243] Cyril was expelled from the Brooklyn branch for refusing to engage in intercourse with a high-ranking male Party member ‘“[He] thought he was gon’ sleep in my bed with me. And uh, that was not happening. And I was given several direct orders which I disobeyed quite directly…’[244]

Chairwoman Elaine Brown echoes the strength and defiance demonstrated by many Panther women against abuse within the Party, she asserted that ‘There would be no further impositions on me by men, including black men, including Black Panther men.’[245] The courage and power of women who opposed abuse within the BPP gradually shaped the Party’s praxis on physical and sexual violence. These women were not only symbols of the BPP but also symbols of women’s liberation and change.

The BPP’s ideology was not composed of a single, defined set of theories. The Party’s gendered consciousness was gradually shaped by the critical and courageous work of Black Panther women who framed women’s liberation not as a separate struggle but in conjunction with race and class. Women within the BPP contested hegemonic gender roles through their participation as leaders and armed revolutionaries. Panther women were also agents of change. Black Panther women were instrumental in debunking the myths that chastised reproductive control and were able to facilitate the establishment of health clinics that supported women’s health issues. Women within the BPP were also critical in shaping the Party’s prohibition of abuse against women.  The BPP did not diminish or weaken the strength and courage of women, who strove for equality, control and liberation. Narratives of the BPP should recognise and applaud the work of women that was central to the development of the Party.


This study has sought to redefine the role of women with the BPP that has until recently been neglected in the traditional narrative of the Party.  Black Panther women, it has been argued, were leaders, armed-revolutionaries and agents of change. The centrality and significance of women in the Party shaped its ideology and gender consciousness. This project has also argued that women in the Party were not confined by gendered roles, but instead contested them and as a result redefined the role of revolutionary women.  By analysing the BPP through both racial and gender lines, a more complex and accurate portrayal of the Party arises.

The examination of power within the BPP has highlighted how women were involved with and shaped Party politics at highest levels. Elaine Brown’s leadership is crucial in understanding the ways in which women adapted to the gendered barriers within the BPP and rose to prominence.  Furthermore, the leadership of Kathleen Cleaver and Ericka Huggins reshaped the perception of women within the Party. They were no longer viewed as mere assistants or lovers for their male comrades. Instead they commanded respect, power and control and would not allow the sexist and misogynistic attitudes to define them. The study of such women emphasises the important role of women in the Party, but also demonstrates the extensive and multidimensional nature of the Organisation. The strength and determination of Brown, Cleaver and Huggins inspired women throughout the Party to combat sexism as another facet in the struggle for liberation.

Violence and armed self-defence has been central to the dominant narratives of the BPP.  However, many scholars fail to recognise the importance of armed militant Black Panther women.  Women in the BBP were not exempt from violence and bloodshed. Black Panther women fought, struggled and sacrificed just the same as their male comrades. This study has reinforced that armed self-defence was also a tool of empowerment. Not only did the depiction of women yielding weapons challenge hegemonic gender roles, but also established admiration between comrades. For example, Black Panther member Tarika Lewis has argued that her ability to use firearms and engage in armed battles legitimised her role in the Party and earned her respect and comradeship from male members.[246] Similarly high-ranking Black Panther women adopted a more overt masculine posture to maintain control and respect from their comrades. Black Panther women cleverly adapted to the gendered barriers that confronted them, and as a result challenged the concept of masculinity and redefined traditional gender roles within the Party.

The BPP was largely shaped by the influence of women within the Party. This dissertation explored only two of the ways in which women created change in the Party.  Reproduction rights and abuse were two issues that were integral to women’s liberation in the BPP. Propaganda and inaccurate information fostered a sense of distrust and dislike towards methods of birth control and abortion within the Party.  This dissertation has sought to emphasise that it was not simply the denouncement of such methods of fertility control that deprived Black Panther women of their rights but instead the lack of choice and control women commanded over their bodies. Partly due to the prominence and importance of women, the BPP gradually shifted its stance on fertility control. Such development highlighted the influence of women in the Party as agents of change.

The analysis of the leadership roles of Black Panther women has highlighted the diversity of the BBP that deserves further investigation. Women’s involvement in the Party surpassed the national headquarters in Oakland. Local and grassroots studies of individual BBP chapters would highlight the role of women who commanded position of authority. Such research would build upon the work of Jakobi Williams but have a more focused emphasis of the importance of women in the Party.[247] To push the analysis beyond the Oakland Chapter would enable scholars to understand the ways in which Black Power and gender interacted. In addition it would also illuminate the comparison between the rhetoric of the BPP and the experiences of women throughout the ranks of the Party.

The Black Panther was a crucial source for unravelling the depictions of women in the Party rhetoric. Moreover, the newspaper was an outlet for women to express an uncensored voice. Building upon this work, other areas for research could further address the role of the media in shaping the depictions of Black Panther women. For example, an in depth comparative study between mainstream media such as the New York Times and Black magazines such as Ebony and Jet and finally Black Power newspapers such as Black Panther would demonstrate how the media was instrumental in shaping the depictions of revolutionary women.  Furthermore, it would be interesting to examine whether such depictions were in concert with or challenged the experiences of women within the BPP.

Black Panther women were agents of change and torchbearers in the BPP. Their influence and importance has revealed another facet of the diverse and fascinating BPP.

[1] Charles E. Jones, ‘Reconsidering Panther History: The Untold Story,’ in The Black Panther Party Reconsidered, ed. by Charles E. Jones (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998), pp. 1-25 (p. 2).

[2] Peniel Joseph, ‘The Black Power Movement: The State of the Field,’ Journal of American History, 96 (2009), 751-776 (p. 762).

[3] Komozi Woodard,A Nation Within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), p. 18.

[4] Robert F. Williams, ‘Black Power and the roots of African American Freedom Struggle,’ Journal of American History, 85 (1998), 540-570 (p. 541).

[5] Rhonda Y. Williams, Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (New York: Routledge, 2015), p. 58.

[6] Huey Newton, ‘The Black Panthers,’ Ebony, August 1969, p. 106.

[7] Matthews, Tracye A. ‘“No One Ever Asks What a Man’s Role in Revolution Is”: Gender Politics and Leadership in the Black Panther Party, 1966-71,’ in Sisters in the Struggle : African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, ed. by Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin (London: New York University Press, 2001), pp. 230-256 (p. 234).

[8] Ibid, p. 231.

[9] Jeffrey Ogbar, Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004), p. 118.

[10]Bobby Seale, Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1991), p. 9.

[11] ‘Armed Black Brothers in Richmond Community,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 25 April 1967, p. 5.

[12] Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2006), p. 142.

[13] Ibid, p. 160.

[14] Kathleen Cleaver, ‘Women, Power and Revolution,’ in ‪Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Black Panthers and their Legacy‬, ed. by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas (New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 123-127 (p. 125)‬‬‬.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

[15] Charles E. Jones and Judson Jeffries, ‘Don’t Believe the Hype: Debunking the Panther Mythology,’ in The Black Panther Party Reconsidered, ed. by Charles E. Jones (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998), pp. 25- 57 (p. 27).

[16] Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and The Price of Black Power in America (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1994), p. 175.

[17] Robert O. Self, ‘The Black Panther Party and the Long Civil Rights Era,’ in In Search of the Black Panther: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, ed. by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams (London: Duke University Press, 2006), pp. 15-59 (p. 29).

[18] Huey P. Newton, To Die For The People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton, ed. by Toni Morrison (New York: Writers and Readers Pub, 1995), p. 5.

[19] Gene Roberts, ‘Why the Cry for Black Power,’ New York Times, 8 July 1966, p. 89.

[20] Jones and Jeffries, p. 41.

[21] Joseph, ‘The Black Power Movement: The State of the Field,’ p. 752.

[22] Collier and Horowitz, p. 15.

[23] Ibid.

[24] John A. Courtright, ‘Rhetoric of the Gun: An Analysis of the Rhetorical Modifications of the Black Panther Party,’ Journal of Black Studies, 4 (March 1974), 249-267 (p. 253).

[25] Robyn Ceanne Spencer, ‘Engendering the Black Freedom Struggle: Revolutionary Black Womanhood and Black Panther Party in the Bay Area, California,’ Journal of Women’s History, 20 (2008), 90-113 (p. 96).

[26] Ibid, p. 90.

[27] Ibid, p. 91.

[28] Matthews, p. 234.

[29] Cleaver, ‘Women, Power and Revolution,’ p. 126.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

[30] Angela D. LeBlan-Ernest, ‘The Most Qualified Person to Handle The Job: Black Panther Party Women, 1966-1982’, in The Black Panther Party Reconsidered, ed. by Charles E. Jones (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998), pp. 305-337 (p. 310).

[31] Matthews, p. 244.

[32] LeBlan-Ernest, p. 308.

[33] Linda Lumsden, ‘Good Mothers with Guns: Framing Black Womanhood in the Black Panther 1968-1980,’ Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 86 (2009), 900-922 (p. 900).

[34] Faith C. Christmas, ‘Hampton’s Brother Tell Audience, “Maintain Peace”,’ Chicago Daily Defender, 8 December 1969, p. 3.

[35] Williams, ‘Black Power and the Roots of African American Freedom Struggle,’ p. 544.

[36] Mumia Abu-Jamal, We Want Freedom: A Life in The Black Panther Party (Cambridge: South End Press, 2004), p. 109.

[37] Jones and Jeffries, p. 39.

[38] Peniel Joseph, ‘Introduction: Toward a Historiography of the Black Power Movement,’ in The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era, ed. by Peniel Joseph (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 1-27 (p. 24).

[39] Ibid.

[40] Madalynn C. Rucker and JoNina M. Abron, ‘”Comrade Sisters”: Two Women of the Black Panther Party,’ in Unrelated Kin: Race and Gender in Women’s Personal Narratives, ed. by Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis and Michele Foster (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 139-169 (p. 139).

[41] Spencer, ‘Engendering the Black Freedom Struggle,’ p. 108.

[42] Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of The Black Panther Party (Berkley: University of California Press, 2013), p. 383.

[43] Abu-Jamal, We Want Freedom p. 241.

[44] Spencer, ‘Engendering the Black Freedom Struggle,’ p. 108.

[45] Donna Jean Murch, Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of The Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), p. 221.

[46] Margo V. Perkins, Autobiography as Activism: Three Black Women of the Sixties (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000), p. 122.

[47] Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), p. 18.

[48] Ibid, p. 51.

[49] Cleaver, ‘Women, Power and Revolution,’ p. 124.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

[50] Brown, p. 34.

[51] Joel P. Rhodes and Judson L. Jeffries, ‘Motor City Panthers,’ in On the Ground: The Black Panther Party in Communities across American, ed. by Judson L. Jeffries (University of Mississippi Press, 2010), pp. 125-186 (p. 162).

[52] Roberta Alexander, ‘Black Panther Tell It Like It Is,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 2 August 1969, p. 7.

[53] Brown, p. 21.

[54] Ibid, p. 62.

[55] Ibid, p. 47.

[56] Robyn C. Spencer, The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party in Oakland (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 95.

[57] Brown, p. 87.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Jennifer Nelson, Women of Colour and the Reproductive Rights Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2003), p. 58.

[60] Abu-Jamal, We Want Freedom, p. 167.

[61] Brown, p. 307.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid, p. 308.

[64] Spencer, The Revolution Has Come, p. 95.

[65] Matthews, p. 250.

[66] Janet Jones, Michael Dixon: Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (Segment 1), online video recording, Seattle Civil Rights and Labour History Project, 3 November 2016, <http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/michael_dixon.htm> [accessed 16 March 2016].

[67] Spencer, The Revolution Has Come, p. 97.

[68] ‘1968: Ballot or the Bullet,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 5 October 1968, p. 22.

[69] Joy James, ‘Framing the Panther: Assata Shakur and Black Female Agency,’ in Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle, ed. by Day F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard (London: New York University Press, 2009), pp. 138-161 (p. 140).

[70] ‘Mrs. Cleaver Denies Eldrige Beat Her; Calls Newton “Lying Dog”,’ Jet, 8 April 1971, p. 47.

[71] LeBlan-Ernest, p. 308.

[72] Cleaver, ‘Women, Power and the Revolution,’ p. 128.

[73]Blackside, Inc. Interview With Deborah Johnson, Interview transcript, Eyes on the Prize Interviews, 19 October 1998, < http://digital.wustl.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=eop;cc=eop;rgn=main;view=text;idno=joh5427.0255.082> [accessed 12 March 2017]

[74] Cleaver, ‘Women, Power and the Revolution,’ p. 124.

[75] Ibid, p. 126.

[76] Robyn C. Spencer, The Revolution Has Come, p. 59.

[77] Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 229.

[78] Ogbar, Black Power: Radical Politics, p. 88.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Sister Julia Herve, ‘Black Scholar Interviews Kathleen Cleaver,’ The Black Scholar, 3 December 1971, p. 56.

[82] Austin, p. 39.

[83] Austin, p. 36.

[84] LeBlan-Ernest, p. 332.

[85] Mary Phillips, ‘The Power of the First-Person Narrative: Ericka Huggins and the Black Panther Party,’ Women’s Studies Quarterly, 43 (2015), 33-51 (p. 35).

[86]LeBlan-Ernest, p. 332.

[87] Ward Churchill and Jim Vanderwall, Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and Indian Movement (Cambridge: South End Press, 2002), p. 43.

[88] Brown, p. 136.

[89] Kathleen Neal Cleaver, ‘Remembering King’s Assassination,’ in Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Black Panthers and Their Legacy ed. by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsaificas (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 227-229 (p. 227).

[90] Churchill and Vanderwall, p. 99.

[91] Gail Sheehy, ‘Consequences of Panthermania,’ New York Magazine, 23 November 1970, p. 48.

[92] Sheehy, p. 47.

[93] Sheehy, p. 47.

[94] LeBlan-Ernest, p. 311.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Ibid.

[97]Ibid. p. 322.

[98] Kathy Burfict, ‘Liberation School,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 7 February 1970, p. 7.

[99] Ericka Huggins and Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, ‘Revolutionary Women, Revolutionary Education: The Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School,’ in Want to Start A Revolution? Radical Women in The Black Freedom Struggle, ed. by Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard (London: New York University Press, 2009), pp.161-184 (p. 168).

[100] Ibid, p. 172.

[101] Ibid, p. 166.

[102] Edward P. Morgan, ‘Media Culture and the Public Memory of the Black Panther Party,’ in In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, ed. by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams (London: Duke University Press, 2006), pp. 324-375 (p. 345).

[103] Ibid.

[104] Phillips, ‘The Power of the First-Person Narrative,’ p. 34.

[105] Seale, p. 398.

[106] Lesley Oelsner ‘Charges Dropped in the Seal Case; ‘Publicity’ Citied: Judge Finds it ‘Impossible’ to Retry Panther Leader and Mrs. Huggins Fairly,’ New York Times, 26 May 1971, p. 1.

[107] Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide (London: Wildwood House, 1974), p. 29.

[108] Ericka Huggins and Elaine Brown, ‘Elaine Brown Presents A Letter From Sister Ericka Huggins,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 2 August 1969, p. 5.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Ericka Huggins, ‘Letter From Ericka: Political Prisoner,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 19 July 1969, p. 20.

[111] ‘Sisters,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 13 September 1969, p. 12.

[112] Eldrige Cleaver, ‘Message to Sister Erica Huggins of the Black Panther Party,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 5 July 1969, pp. 12-13.

[113] Ibid.

[114] Regina Jennings, ‘Poetry of the Black Panther Party: Metaphors of Militancy,’ Journal of Black Studies, 29 (September, 1998), 106-129 (p. 122).

[115] Robyn C. Spencer, The Revolution Has Come, p. 41.

[116] Courtright, p. 260.

[117]Jones and Jeffries, p. 41.

[118] ‘Panthers Viewed as Ineffectual: But House Unit Warns of ‘Gun-Barrel Politics,’ New York Times, 24 August 1971, p. 25.

[119] Blackside, Inc. Interview With Marion Stamps, Interview transcript, Eyes on the Prize Interviews, 3 June 1989, < http://digital.wustl.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=eop;cc=eop;rgn=main;view=text;idno=sta5427.0681.154> [accessed 12 March 2017]

[120] Lazerow and Williams, p.183.

[121] LeBlan-Ernest, p. 312.

[122] Matthews, p. 233.

[123] Ibid, p. 243.

[124] Nelson, Women of Colour and the Reproductive Rights Movement, p. 59.

[125] Matthews, pp. 243-244.

[126] Abu-Jamal, We Want Freedom, p. 181.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Brown, p. 4.

[129] Janet Jones, Michael Dixon: Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (Segment 1), online video recording, Seattle Civil Rights and Labour History Project, 3 November 2016, <http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/michael_dixon.htm> [accessed 16 March 2016].

[130] Morgan, p. 344.

[131] Bloom and Martin, p. 241.

[132] Brown, p. 363.

[133] Ibid, p. 370.

[134] Ibid, p. 371.

[135] Spencer, ‘Engendering the Black Freedom Struggle,’ p. 95.

[136] Matthews, p. 245.

[137] Steve Fayer, Henry Hampton and Sarah Flynn, Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement From the 1950s Through the 1980s (New York: Bantam Books, 1990), p. 371.

[138] Blackside, Inc. Interview With Elaine Brown, Interview transcript, Eyes on the Prize Interviews, 14 October 1988, < http://digital.wustl.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=eop;cc=eop;rgn=main;view=text;idno=bro5427.0311.022> [accessed 12 March 2017]

[139] University of California, Voices of Black Panther Women, online video recording, Online Archive, 26 October 1990, <https://archive.org/details/cabemrc_000016> [accessed 16 March 2017].

[140] Regina Jennings, ‘Why I joined the Party: An Africana Womanist Reflection,’ in The Black Panther Party Reconsidered, ed. by Charles E. Jones (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998), pp. 257-264 (p. 258).

[141] Ibid, p. 259.

[142] LeBlan-Ernest, p. 306.

[143] Maxine Leeds Craig, Ain’t I a Beauty Queen?: Black Women, Beauty and the Politics of Race (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p .96.

[144] Mary Phillips, ‘The Feminist Leadership of Ericka Huggins in the Black Panther Party,’ Black Dispora Review, 1 (2014), 187-221 (p. 207).

[145] Bloom and Martin, p. 79.

[146] Ogbar, Black Power: Radical Politics, p. 87.

[147] Ibid.

[148] Donald Tibbs, From Black Power to Prison Power: The Making of Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners’ Labor Union (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), p. 30.

[149] Laura Browder, Her Best Shot: Women and Guns in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), p.147.

[150] Seale, Seize the Time, p. 398.

[151] University of California, Voices of Black Panther Women, online video recording, Internet Archive, 26 October 1990, < https://archive.org/details/cabemrc_000016> [accessed 27 March 2017].

[152] Charles E. Jones, ‘An Interview With Comrade Sister Betty Powell,’ Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men, 5 (2016), 163-175 (p. 166)

[153] Ibid, p. 167.

[154] ‘Fascist Pigs Deny Freedom of the Press,’ The Black Panther [Microfilm] (August 16, 1969), p. 13.

[155] Ibid.

[156] Jakobi Williams, From the Bullet to the Ballot: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), p. 115.

[157] Lumsden, p. 901.

[158] Cleaver, ‘Women Power and Revolution, p. 125.

[159] Lumsden, p. 908.

[160] Matilaba, [illustration], Black Panther [microfilm], 7 December 1968, p. 14.

[161] Emory Douglas, ‘Revolutionary Literature,’ [illustration], Black Panther [microfilm], 16 March 1968, p. 24.

[162] Emory Douglas, [illustration], Black Panther [microfilm], 12 July 1969, p. 8.

[163] Lumsden, p. 908.

[164] Matthews, p. 245.

[165] Jennings, ‘Poetry of the Black Panther Party,’ p. 122.

[166] Ibid.

[167] Bridgette Baldwin, ‘In the Shadow of the Gun: The Black Panther Party, the Ninth Amendment, and Discourses of Self-Defense,’ in The Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, ed. by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams (London: Duke University Press, 2006), pp. 67-97 (p. 68).

[168] ‘Black Woman By a Black Revolutionary,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 14 September 1968, p. 6.

[169] Brown, p. 260.

[170] Ibid, p. 258.

[171] Ibid, p. 259.

[172] LeBlan-Ernest, p. 245.

[173] Candi Robinson, ‘Message to Revolutionary Women,’ The Black Panther [microfilm] 9 August 1969, p. 23.

[174] Janet Jones, Trevor Griffey, and Alex Morrow, Aaron Dixon: Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (Segment 1), online video recording, Seattle Civil Rights and Labour History Project, 3 November 2016, < http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/aaron_dixon.htm> [accessed on 16 March 2017].

[175] Phillips, ‘The Feminist Leadership of Ericka Huggins,’ p. 198.

[176] Antwanisha Alameen-Shavers, ‘The Woman Question: Gender Dynamics Within The Black Panther Party,’ Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men, 5, (2016), 33-62 (p. 45).

[177] Toni Cade, ‘The Pill: Genocide or Liberation?’ in The Black Woman: an Anthology, ed. by Toni Cade Bambara (New York: Washington Square Press, 2005), pp. 203-213 (p. 208).

[178] Simon M. Carson, ‘Birth Control and the Black Community in the 1960s: Genocide or Power Politics,’ Journal of Social History, 31 (1998), 545-569 (p. 547).

[179] Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (London: University of Minneapolis Press, 2011), p. 76.

[180] ‘Concerning Birth Control,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 31 May 1970, p. 5.

[181] Ibid.

[182] Nelson, Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, p. 102.

[183] ‘Birth Control,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 7 February 1970, p. 7.

[184] Ibid.

[185] Ibid.

[186] Loretta J. Ross, ‘African-American Woman and Abortion: 1800-1970,’ in Theorising Black Feminisms: The Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women, ed. by Stanlie M. James and Abena P. A. Busia (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 141-159 (p. 154).

[187] Ibid.

[188] Mary Smith, ‘Birth Control and the Negro Woman,’ Ebony, March 1968, p. 29.

[189] Stephen Ward, ‘The Third World Women’s Alliance, Black Feminist Radicalism and Black Power Politics,’ in The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights- Black Power Era, ed. by Peniel E. Joseph (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 119-145 (p. 125).

[190] Nelson, Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, p. 40.

[191] Rebecca M. Kluchin, Fit to be Tied: Sterilisation and Reproductive Rights in America 1950-1980 (London: Rutgers University Press, 2009), p. 179.

[192] Nelson, Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, p. 108.

[193] Thomas Littlewood, The Politics of Population Control (London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977), p. 97.

[194] Ross, p. 154.

[195] Brown, p. 368.

[196] Ibid.

[197] Kluchin, p. 179.

[198] Brown, p. 368.

[199] Nelson, Body and Soul, p. 89.

[200] Rhonda Y. Williams, Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (New York: Routledge, 2015), p. 246.

[201] ‘People’s Free Health Clinic Helps Meet Community’s Nutritional Needs,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 16 November 1974, p. 20.

[202] Nelson, Body and Soul, p. 89.

[203] Ibid.

[204] LeBlan-Ernest, p. 320.

[205] Health Care Pig Style, Black Panther [microfilm], 7 February 1970, p. 9.

[206] Ibid.

[207] Ibid.

[208] Ibid.

[209] Nelson, Body and Soul, p. 9.

[210] Health Care Pig Style, Black Panther [microfilm], 7 February 1970, p. 9.

[211]Baldwin, p. 83.

[212] Anne M. Valk, Radical Sisters: Second- Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D. C. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008), p. 94.

[213] Williams, Concrete Demands, p. 246.

[214] ‘Boston Abortion Witch Hunt Convicts Black Doctor,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 11 August 1973, p. 5.

[215] Ibid.

[216] Ibid.

[217] Ibid, p. 13.

[218]  ‘Our Health: The Pill’, Black Panther [microfilm], 19 October 1974, p. 10.

[219] Ibid.

[220] Cade, p. 209.

[221] Carson, p. 547.

[222] Mary Smith, ‘Birth Control and the Negro Woman,’ Ebony, March 1968, p. 34.

[223] Kimberly Springer, Black Feminists Respond to Black Power Masculinism in The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights- Black Power Era, ed. by Peniel Joseph (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 105-119 (p. 117).

[224] ‘Doctors Defend Sterilizations,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 11 August 1973, p. 5.

[225] Ibid.

[226] Matthews p. 241.

[227] Phillips, ‘The Feminist Leadership of Ericka Huggins,’ p. 198.

[228] ‘Statement To The Press From Woman’s Liberation,’ Black Panther [microfilm], 24 October 1970, p. 8.

[229] Spencer, The Revolution Has Come, p. 44.

[230] Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, ‘Brown Power to Brown People: Radical Ethnic Nationalism, the Black Panthers, and Latino Radicalism, 1967-1973,’ in In Search of the Black Panther: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, ed. by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams (London: Duke University Press, 2006), pp. 252-289 (p. 276).

[231] Afeni Shakur, Kuwasi Balagoon and others, Look For Me In The Whirlwind, The Collective Autobiography of the New York 21, (New York: Random House, 1971), p. 292.

[232] The Black Panthers Vanguard of the Revolution, dir. by Stanley Nelson (Public Broadcasting Service, 2015).

[233] Cleaver, ‘Women, Power and Revolution,’ p. 5.‬‬‬

[234] Pearson, p. 179.

[235] Pearson, p. 196.

[236] Eldrige Cleaver, Soul On Ice (London: Cape, 1969), p. 26.

[237] Newton, HueyP. The Huey P. Newton Reader, ed. by David Hilliard and Donald Weise(New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), p. 157.

[238] Mumia Abu-Jamal, ‘A Life in The Party: An Historical and Retrospective Examination of the Projections and Legacies of the Black Panther Party,’ in  ‪Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Black Panthers and their Legacy‬, ed. by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 40-51 (p. 44).‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

[239] ‘Editorial: Women’s Rights – A Long Way to Go’, The Black Panther [microfilm], 9 November 1974, p. 2.

[240] Ibid.

[241] Matthews, p. 245.

[242] Ibid, p.246.

[243] Ibid.

[244] Ibid.

[245] Brown, p. 368.

[246] University of California, Voices of Black Panther Women, online video recording, Online Archive, 26 October 1990, <https://archive.org/details/cabemrc_000016> [accessed 16 March 2017].

[247] Williams, From the Bullet to the Ballot, pp. 111- 122.

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