This year, the Black Panther Party commemorates its 50th anniversary. The iconic activist group’s has been in the news a lot lately, due in part to Beyonce‘s Super Bowl halftime show. Bey and her dancers dressed Black Panther-style paying tribute. Even after 50 years, there’s still many misconceptions about the party, and critics still claim they were a hate group.
Tuesday night, the Stanley Nelson documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, aired on PBS, and trending number one on Twitter. The acclaimed doc uncovered several known and unknown facts about the Black Panthers. For starters the film debunked the common myth men were the only leaders in the party. But women played key leadership roles.
Here’s some key things you may not know about women and Black Panther Party!
One of the most well-known activists of the Civil Rights Movement was Angela Davis. For years, many have said she was a Black Panther, but that’s not true. However, she did work closely with the party. She founded her own organization Critical Resistance, which worked to abolish the prison-industrial complex.
Elaine Brown joined the Black Panther Party in 1968, beginning as a rank-and-file member who sold the Black Panther Party newspapers and cleaned guns. She helped organize the Free Breakfast for Children program in Los Angeles as well as the Initial Free Busing to Prisons Program and Free Legal Aid Program.
Brown recorded two albums, one in 1968 called Seize the Time and another in 1973, Until We’re Free. She replaced Eldridge Cleaver as the Party’s Central Committee Minister of Information. In 1974, when national party founder, Huey Newton fled to Cuba due to facing murder charges, he appointed Brown to lead the party and she did from 1974 to 1977.
She wrote about her experience with the Black Panthers in her 1992 memoir, A Taste of Power, where she said, “A woman in the Black Power movement was considered, at best, irrelevant. A woman asserting herself was a pariah. If a Black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding Black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the Black race. She was an enemy of the Black people…. I knew I had to muster something mighty to manage the Black Panther Party.”
Assata Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party as well as the Black Liberation Army. Throughout her life, she’s been accused of multiple crimes, even causing a manhunt across several states. The most notable was the May 1973 New Jersey Turnpike shootout, where Shakur was accused of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and assaulting trooper James Harper. Shakur fled to Cuba in 1984 due to the country granting her political asylum and it’s where she currently resides.
Aside from being known as the mother to famed late rapper, Tupac Shakur, Afeni Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party. While a member, she was accused of taking part in numerous bombings and acted as her own criminal defense attorney. Today, she is the founder of the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which provides art programs for young people.
Kathleen Cleaver became a member of the Black Panther Party in 1967 after meeting the Party’s minister of information, Eldridge Cleaver, during a student conference at Fisk University. She became the communications secretary and the first female member of the Party’s decision-making body and organized a national campaign to free minister of defense, Huey Newton, who was in jail. In 1968, the Cleaver’s apartment was raided before a Black Panther rally by the San Francisco Tactical Squad on the suspicion they were hiding guns and ammunition.
Ericka Huggins joined the Black Panther Party in 1967 and became leader of the Los Angeles chapter. Soon afterwards, she lead the Party chapter in New Haven, Conn. alongside Brown and Cleaver. Her husband, John Huggins, was fatally shot by a rival black nationalist group which was fueled by the FBI.
In 1970, members of the New Haven Black Panthers tortured and murdered Alex Rackley, due to them suspecting him of being an informant. Huggins was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy along with Party co-founder, Bobby Seale. She was recorded on tape speaking of Rackley’s interrogation, which played during the trial. The trial sparked protests throughout the country and the jury selection was the longest in Connecticut history. Eventually, in May 1971, the jury deadlocked 10 to 2 for Huggins’ acquittal.
Free Breakfast for School Children Program
The Free Breakfast for School Children Program was one of the Black Panther Party’s most prominent community service programs. The Panthers cooked and served food for poor inner city youth. It became so popular, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10, 000 kids before they went to school.
Barbara Easley-Cox began working with the Black Panther Party while a student at San Francisco State University. She became more closely affiliated with the Party due to her husband, Donald Cox, helping the Party advance its goals in the 1960s. The couple became leaders of the Party’s Oakland Chapter and worked with the New York and Philadelphia chapters. Easley-Cox also took the message of the Black Panthers overseas to Korea and Algeria.