Elaine Brown Reflects on Her Life as a Black Power Leader

by Neisha Washington This Black History Month we take time to celebrate the black women who pave...


by Neisha Washington


This Black History Month we take time to celebrate the black women who paved the way. A recent DOOBOP interview with the revolutionary Elaine Brown—author, activist, and only woman to hold the title of Chairwoman of the Black Panther Party—breathes new life into the accounts of Civil Rights era leaders. Chronicling her transition from an “unconscious silly girl” who wasn’t even sure of her blackness to an undeniable militant force, Brown’s story blends beauty with exotification, privilege with poverty, and radical politics with a disregard for the mainstream feminist ideas of the time. Here are some of our best takeaways from the interview.


Love is the Basis for Revolution

“You fight because you love, not because you hate,” the always outspoken activist explains. Fighting for Brown stemmed from the unraveling of self-hate. This reeducation of her own value outside of oppression grew into a full-fledge conviction to fight for what’s right. Elaine goes on to add, “You love your children, so you fight because you’re not going to let anyone hurt them.” In the end, it was her foresight and hope for the future that motivated her move for change.

Be Your Own Kind of Woman

Although Brown broke clear of the gender roles of the day, she was quick to brush off feminism as a groundbreaking idea. In her eyes, “Feminism was about, ‘I’m not going to cook for my husband.’ That wasn’t revolutionary for us.” Instead, Brown and her compatriots played to their strengths, using their good looks and fashion as a means of publicity. In a time of rigid respectability, the revolutionary speaks openly of love affairs, life as a dancer, and passionate sex. Whatever her perspective on feminism, Brown’s openness and unashamed telling of her personal life allows for an honesty often missing from history books.

Tell the Whole Story

A complex and riveting figure, Elaine Brown shies away from a sanitized version of events, but rather embraces the full breadth and depth of her own humanity. The author and political force admits to living much of her life in emotional pain, but found transformation through therapy and self-awareness. At her prime, she proclaims, “I can look in the mirror and be alright with me. That’s success.” The revolutionary’s authentic tale gives others room to be stunningly brilliant and deeply flawed at once.

This February we must remember trailblazers like Coretta, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Dorothy Height—all of whom championed freedom valiantly under threat of great danger. By the same token we must not forget the Elaine Browns who chose to rage against a broken system. Her story is not the “kumbaya” Civil Rights tale meant to reinforce nonviolent response to oppression or assuage white guilt about the past. No, Elaine Brown gets into the nitty gritty, unpretty side of life as a black woman at the center of resistance. And perhaps we can all learn a thing or two about continuing the struggle.


Watch Elaine Brown speak on what she feels the movement needs today!




Neisha Washington is a DePauw University graduate, current graduate student, and regular contributor to ForHarriet.

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