Elaine Brown is loved and hated. (I say this to explain the angry comments about how she destroyed the Black Panther Party you will inevitably see on her videos). She was a once rank-and-file member of the party that quickly rose the ranks to become its first female Chair after Huey P. Newton fled to Cuba. Admired in this sense as a model for revolutionary women with powerful positions she also made many contributions to the party in terms of leadership and challenging sexism.
However, it’s her background story that just demands that her life be made into an action-packed thriller espionage movie… Brown got her start in radical politics after meeting her Jay Richard Kennedy, a white music manager of many well-known black musicians. Brown describes Kennedy as her lover and inspiration. But the man who affected this Black Panther’s life so greatly was also in fact a FBI informant on the civil rights movement! Kennedy was submitting numerous reports to the FBI at a time when the FBI was practicing illegal and covert attacks against American, especially Black American civil rights activists. Kennedy sent memos to the FBI stating that the civil rights movement had become infected with “international communism,” he warned them about how Negros were aligning themselves against the war in Vietnam and U.S. foreign policy, and he encouraged the removal of “dangerous Negro” leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.
Regardless of her the questions surrounding her love affair with Kennedy, Brown remains one of the most interesting and dynamic characters of the Black Panther Party.
But what is little known about this extraordinary woman is that she started out her career as a singer. She created the Panther’s anthem and wrote and sang numerous other songs for them. These songs encapsulate a people’s desperation and resistance to years of oppression. Her songs were a defiant retort at American society and fit perfectly with the Black Panthers call to armed self-defense and direct action. The song below, “The End of Silence” is poignant piano-led piece filled with the anger, the pain, and the pride of any people who faces oppression, death, and humiliation. The message of course is a simple but strong one: fight back.
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