2016: Kathleen Cleaver Talks Black Panthers, Afeni Shakur And Warrior Women


Kathleen Cleaver

(AllHipHop Features) The year 2016 will forever be infamous. There was widespread, blatant acts of injustice that harken back to a day many thought was dead. Black People quietly celebrated with pride the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party. Tragically, Afeni Shakur, one of the well-known members of the party, died suddenly, causing mass sympathies.

Kathleen Cleaver has weathered many, many storms as a revolutionary and one-time communications secretary for the Black Panther Party. The first female decision-maker in the party, Cleaver was extremely courageous at a time when the Panthers were targeted by an illegal, clandestine governmental force called COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram). The 71-year old continues to fight the powers through speaking engagements, scholastic efforts and building bridges with younger activists, among other endeavors. Chuck Creekmur briefly talked to Kathleen Cleaver at a New York-based dedication to Afreni Shakur earlier this year. Here is the conversation.

AllHipHop: Can you speak on Afeni Shakur, what she meant to the Panther Movement and your personal relationship to her?

Kathleen Cleaver: We were in the Panther Party at different times and different parts of the country. I was in the Panther Party in the beginning in California. And Afeni pointed out that they started a couple years later in New York. They kind of knew what to expect when the crash came. We didn’t. (Laughs)

My contact with Afeni was very limited when I was in the United States, because I left in ’69 to go to Algeria, where Eldridge was (Eldridge Cleaver was one of the leaders of the BPP). Panthers New York didn’t start until about that time. But we had close ties after the party was split. Algeria and New York were on the same side. And so, the connection between the New York Party and the Algeria section, put me and Afeni in contact. And then, years after the party, Afeni and I were getting together with a group of women – retreats for Panther women.

AllHipHop: What would you say her legacy is?

You can’t separate her legacy from the Panther Party, from the trial of the New York 21, from being woman leader, from being a very beautiful woman. She was extremely dark and challenged these notions about who could be a leader, who could be beautiful. Which she was both. And we knew that, but that wasn’t how society would have portrayed her. She was a path-breaker in that sense. She was a parent. She was a very intelligent and sensitive person who was also a revolutionary. She also had a lot of personal issues that she had to resolve.

And so, she had a lot on her plate. She had a brilliant mind. And she was an extraordinary person.

AllHipHop: You guys came from such a strong lineage of warrior women. How do you feel about the movement today, as it relates to today?

The era in which we were warrior women was an era of war. It was the era of Viet Nam. We were not in a position to advocate for peace, because we were under attack. It was no dispute that we were under attack and the United States was in a very, very vicious war in Viet Nam. That is no longer the case. And so the movements here may take positions and have policies that we would not have used because our time, they wouldn’t have helped us.

AllHipHop: I want to say I thank you for all that you’ve done for Black people and I salute you.

Thank you.