Kathleen Cleaver

Kathleen Cleaver, Black Panther Party,
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Kathleen Neal Cleaver

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kathleen Neal Cleaver (born May 13, 1945) is

an American professor of law, known for her

involvement with the Black Panther Party.

Early life[edit]

Kathleen Cleaver, née Kathleen Neal was born in

Memphis, Texas. Her parents were both college grad-

uates. Her father was a sociology professor at Wiley

College in Marshall, Texas, and her mother earned 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 Philippines. 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).

The Black Panther Party[edit]

She was in charge of organizing a student conference at

Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. At the conference,

Kathleen met the minister of information for the

Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver. She moved to San

Francisco in November 1967 to join the Black Panther Party.

Kathleen Neal and Eldridge Cleaver were married on

December 27, 1967. Cleaver became the communications secretary

and the first female member of the Party’s decision-making body.

She also served as the spokesperson and press secretary. Notably,

she organized the national campaign to free the Party’s minister

of defense, Huey Newton, who was jailed. Kathleen Neal Cleaver

was among a small group of women that were prominent in the

Black Panther Party, which included Elaine Brown and Ericka Huggins


In 1968 (the same year her husband ran for president on the Peace

and Freedom ticket) she ran for California's 18th state assembly

district, also as a candidate of the Peace and Freedom party.

Cleaver received 2,778 votes[2] for 4.7% of the total vote,

finishing third in a four-candidate race.[3]

As a result of their involvement with the Black Panther Party,

the Cleavers were often the target of police investigations.

The Cleavers’ apartment was raided in 1968 before a Panther rally

by the San Francisco Tactical Squad on the suspicion of hiding guns

and ammunition. Later that year, Eldridge Cleaver staged a deliberate

[dubious – discuss] 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.[4] Charged with attempted murder, he

jumped bail to flee to Cuba and later went to Algeria.

When Cleaver returned to the United States, he stated the shootout was

a deliberate ambush against police. The same author who broke the news

of this claim doubted its veracity, because it was in the context of an

uncharacteristic speech in which Cleaver stated "we need police as heroes,"

and said that he denounced civilian review boards of police shootings for

the reason that "it is a rubber stamp for murder." The author speculates

that it could have been a pay off to the Alameda County justice system,

whose judge had only just days earlier gave Eldridge Cleaver probation

instead of prison time; Cleaver was sentenced to community service after

getting charged with three counts of assault against three Oakland cops.

[5] The PBS documentary A Huey Newton Story finds that “Bobby Hutton was

shot more than twelve times after he had already surrendered and stripped

down to his underwear to prove he was not armed.”[6]

Living in exile[edit]

Kathleen reunited with Eldridge in Algeria in 1969, after seven months of

Eldridge's exile in Cuba. Kathleen gave birth to their first son, Maceo,

soon after arriving in Algeria. A year later in 1970 she gave birth to their

daughter Joju Younghi Cleaver, while the family was in North Korea. In 1971,

Huey Newton, a fellow party member, and Eldridge had a disagreement; this led

to the expulsion of the International Branch of the Black Panther Party. The

Cleavers formed a new organization called the Revolutionary People’s

Communication Network. Kathleen returned to promoting and speaking about the

new organization. To accomplish this, she and the children moved back to

New York. The Algerian government became disgruntled with Eldridge and the

new organization. Eldridge was forced to leave the country secretly and meet

up with Kathleen in Paris in 1973. Kathleen left for the United States later

that year to arrange Eldridge’s return and raise a defense fund. In 1974,

the French government granted legal residency to the Cleavers, and the family

was finally reunited. After only a year, the Cleavers moved back to the

United States, and Eldridge was sent to jail. He was tried for the shoot-out

in 1968 and was found guilty of assault. He was sentenced to five years'

probation and 2,000 hours of community service. Kathleen went to work on

the Eldridge Cleaver Defense Fund and he was freed on bail in 1976. Eldridge’s

legal situation was not finally resolved until 1980.

Later life[edit]

Kathleen Cleaver 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, she divorced Eldridge Cleaver.

She then continued her education by getting her law degree from Yale Law School.

After graduating, she 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, Cleaver 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 Emory University School of Law.[7]