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Elaine Brown (born March 2, 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker) is an Americanmarker prison activist, writer, and singer; she is a former chairperson of the Black Panther Party. Brown briefly ran for the Green Party presidential nomination in 2008. She currently lives in Atlanta, Georgiamarker and is a founder of Mothers Advocating Juvenile Justice.

On December 28, 2007, Elaine Brown renounced her affiliation with the Green Party and her bid for Presidency.

Early life

Brown grew up in the ghetto of North Philadelphia, with a single, working mother and an absent father. Despite desperate poverty, Brown’s mother worked to provide for Elaine’s private schooling, music lessons, and nice clothing. As a young woman, Elaine had few African-American friends and spent most of her time as a crosstown student with mostly white friends. After graduating from Philadelphia High School for Girls, she studied at Temple Universitymarker for a brief time. As a decent student with little interest in her studies, Brown felt alienated and decided to withdraw from Temple and move to Los Angeles, California to try being a professional songwriter (A Taste of Power, 70-72).

Upon arriving in California with little money and few contacts, Brown got work as a cocktail waitress at the strip club The Pink Pussycat. While working at the Pink Pussycat she met Jay Kennedy, a married white fiction writer, who soon became her lover. Kennedy was the first person to politicize and radicalize Brown. Because of the thorough education on the Civil Rights Movement, Capitalism, and Communism, that Kennedy gave her, Brown began to think deeply about the Black Liberation Movement. After living together for a brief time in the Hollywood Hills Hotel, the pair parted ways . After this pivotal relationship, Brown's involvement in politics grew and she began working for the radical newspaper Harambee. Soon after, Brown became the first representative of the Black Student Alliance to the Black Congress in California. In April 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior, she attended her first meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Involvement with the Black Panther Party

In 1968, Brown joined the Black Panther Party as a rank-and-file member, studying revolutionary literature, selling Black Panther Party newspapers, and cleaning guns, among other tasks. Brown soon helped the Party set up its first Free Breakfast for Children program in Los Angeles, as well as the Party’s initial Free Busing to Prisons Program and Free Legal Aid Program.

In 1968, Brown was commissioned by David Hilliard, the current Chairman of the Party, to record her songs, a request resulting in the album "Seize the Time". She eventually assumed the role of editor of the Black Panther publication in the Southern California Branch of the Party. In 1971, Brown became a member of the Party's Central Committee as Minister of Information, replacing the expelled Eldridge Cleaver. In 1973, Brown was commissioned to record more songs by national party Chairman, Party founder, and Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton. These songs resulted in the album "Until We're Free."

As part of a directive by Black Panther Party Chairman Huey Newton, Brown unsuccessfully ran for the Oaklandmarker city council in 1973, getting 30 percent of the vote. Brown ran again in 1975, losing again with 44 percent of the vote.

When Newton fled to Cuba in 1974 in the face of murder charges, he appointed Brown as his replacement. The first woman Chairman of the party, Elaine Brown was the Chairman of the Black Panther Party from 1974 until 1977. In her 1992 memoir A Taste of Power, she wrote about the experience:

"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."

During Brown's leadership of the Black Panther Party, she focused on radical electoral politics and community service. Brown attempted to seize assets in California and redirect the profits to the poor. In 1977, she managed Lionel Wilson’s victorious campaign to become Oakland’s first black mayor . Also, Brown developed the Panther's Liberation School, which was recognized by the state of California as a model school.

Brown stepped down from Chairwoman of the Black Panther Party less than a year after Newton’s return from Cuba in 1977 when Newton condoned the beating of Regina Davis, one of Brown’s valued officers in the Party. This incident was the point at which Brown could no longer tolerate the sexism and patriarchy of the Black Panther Party (A Taste of Power, p. 444). Brown left the United States with her daughter, Erika, and entered psychotherapy to end her addiction to Thorazine, a long time addiction she had developed due to the stresses and difficulties she had encountered as a woman and a leader in the black liberation movement.

Brown recorded two albums, Seize the Time (Vault, 1969) and Until We're Free (Motown Records, 1973). Seize the Time includes "The Meeting," the anthem of the Black Panther Party.

Later activism

After leaving the Black Panther Party in order to raise her daughter Erika, Brown worked on her memoir, A Taste of Power. Brown eventually returned to the struggle for black liberation, especially espousing the need for radical prison reform. From 1980 to 1983 she attended Southwester University School of Law in Los Angeles.From 1990 to 1996, she lived in Francemarker. In 1996, Brown moved to Atlanta, Georgia and founded Fields of Flowers, Inc., a non-profit organization committed to providing educational opportunities for impoverished African-American children. In 1998, Brown co-founded the grassroots group Mothers Advocating Juvenile Justice to advocate for children being prosecuted as adults in the state of Georgia. Around the same time, Brown continued her advocacy for incarcerated youth by founding and leading the Michael Lewis Legal Defense Committee. Michael Lewis, also known as “Little B,” was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 14 for a murder that Brown believes he did not commit. Brown would eventually write a non-fiction novel, The Condemnation of Little B, which analyzes the prosecution of Michael Lewis as part of the greater problem of the increased imprisonment of black youth.

In 2003, Brown helped co-found the National Alliance for Radical Prison Reform, which helps thousands of prisoners find housing after they are released on parole, facilitates transportation for family visits to prisons, helps prisoners find employment, and raises money for prisoner phone calls and gifts.In 2005, while protesting a G-8 Summit in Sea Island, GA, Brown learned of the massive black poverty in the nearby wealthy city of Brunswick, GA. Brown then attempted to run for mayor of Brunswick against elite whites who had long-controlled the city. Running on the Green Party ticket, Brown hoped to become mayor in order to use her influence to bring Michael Lewis’ case to prominence, as well as to empower blacks in Brunswick. Though Brown was eventually disqualified from running and voting in Brunswick because she failed to establish residency in the city, her efforts brought widespread attention to Michael Lewis’ case.

Brown has continued her prison reform advocacy by lecturing frequently at colleges and universities in the US. From 1995 to the present, she has lectured at over forty colleges and universities, as well as numerous conferences.

In March 2007, Brown announced her bid to be the 2008 Green Party presidential nominee. Brown felt that a campaign was necessary to promote the interests of those not represented by the major political parties, especially the interests of women under 30 and African-Americans. Her platform focused on the needs of working-class families, promoting living wages for all, free health care, more funding for public education, more affordable housing, removal of troops from Iraq, improving the environment, and promoting equality []. Brown intended on using her campaign to bring many minorities to the Green party in hopes that it would better represent a revolutionary force for social justice. In late 2007, Brown resigned from the Green Party, as she found that the Party remained dominated by whites who had “no intention of using the ballot to actualize real social progress, and will aggressively repel attempts to do so.”

In addition to A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story (Doubleday, 1992), Brown is also the author of The Condemnation of Little B: New Age Racism in America (Beacon, 2002). In an appendix to the latter book, Brown labels many Black leaders and celebrities, including Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, Chris Rock, Russell Simmons, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Oprah Winfrey, as "New Age House Negroes" and "New Age House Negresses." A film version of A Taste of Power is in the making by HBO, as part of a six-part series "The Black Panthers."

Brown is the mother of a grown daughter, Ericka Abram.


  • Brown, Elaine. The Condemnation of Little B: New Age Racism in America. (Boston: Beacon, 2002).
  • Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. (New York: Doubleday, 1992).

Further reading


  1. ".Green Candidate for President Visits Colorado". Metro Denver Greens
  2. Elaine Brown
  3. A Taste of Power|A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story
  4. "Elaine Brown at Sparticus Educational."
  5. [1]
  6. [2]
  7. [3]
  9. Norwood, Quincy T (2003) "Respect Her Gangsta!: A Review of the Music of Elaine Brown." Proud Flesh: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness.
  10. "Seize the Time: Elaine Brown." Seize the Time: Women in Power Seminars.
  11. The Condemnation of Little B. Fleming, Robert, Black Issues Book Review, 15220524, May/Jun2002, Vol. 4, Issue 3
  12. [4]
  14. [5]
  15. Editors (2003) "Proud Flesh Inter/Views: Elaine Brown." Proud Flesh: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness.
  16. [6]

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