Day #24: KATHLEEN NEAL CLEAVER, LAWYER, ACTIVIST, SOUL SISTER, SNCC & BLACK PANTHER PARTY LEADER, EX-WIFE OF ELDRIDGE CLEAVER
Born: May 13, 1945, Dallas, Texas
Trait to admire: Focused
Bio & Legacy:
Kathleen Neal was born in Dallas, Texas. Both of her parents had higher education; her father was a sociology professor at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas and her mother had a master’s degree in mathematics. . Soon after Kathleen was born, her father, Ernest Neal, accepted a job as the director of the Rural Life Council of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Six years later, Ernest joined the Foreign Service. The family moved abroad and lived in such countries as India, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Phillippines. Kathleen returned to the United States to attend a Quaker boarding school near Philadelphia, George School. She graduated with honors in 1963. She continued her education at Oberlin College, and later transferred to Barnard College. In 1966, she left college for a secretarial job with the New York office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Kathleen Cleaver became the Black Panther Party’s National Communications Secretary and helped to organize the campaign to get Huey Newton released from prison. She was also the first woman to be appointed to the Black Panthers Central Committee.As a result of their involvement with the Black Panther Party, the Cleavers were often the target of police investigations.
Eldridge Cleaver staged a deliberate ambush of Oakland police officers during which two police officers were injured. Cleaver was wounded and fellow Black Panther member Bobby Hutton was killed in a shootout following the initial exchange of gunfire. Charged with attempted murder, he jumped bail to flee to Cuba and later went to Algeria.
Cleaver returned to the United States in 1975. Tried for his role in the 1968 shoot-out, Cleaver was found guilty of assault. The court was lenient and Cleaver, now a born-again Christian, received only five year’s probation and directed to perform 2,000 hours of community service.
Kathleen divorced Eldridge Cleaver in 1985 and went back to school in 1981, receiving a full scholarship from Yale University. She graduated in 1983, summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. In 1987, Kathleen divorced Eldridge Cleaver. She then continued her education by getting her law degree from Yale Law School. After graduating, Cleaver worked for the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and followed this with numerous jobs including: law clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, the faculty of Emory University in Atlanta, visiting faculty member at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, the Graduate School of Yale University and Sarah Lawrence College. In 2005, she was selected an inaugural Fletcher Foundation Fellow. She then worked as a Senior Research Associate at the Yale Law School, and a Senior Lecturer in the African American Studies department at Yale University. She is currently serving as senior lecturer at Yale University.
She is still an advocate for political prisoners, and still delights in watching street protests. She lives in an affluent village near New Haven with St. Clair Bourne, a documentary filmmaker. If Ms. Cleaver’s life today seems like a sharp contrast to the days when her 1968 campaign poster for the California State Assembly pictured her holding a gun, it is only the latest curve in a story that has taken many unpredictable turns.
Ritual of Remembrance:
Aluta Continua (” The Struggle Continues”)
1. What role are you playing in the struggle?
Listen to Kathleen Cleaver explain why we must actively participate in the struggle for justice
3. Read an article about Kathleen fighting for the rights of the Geechee/Gullah people in Georgia.