Brown, Elaine 1943-

views updated

BROWN, Elaine 1943-

PERSONAL: Born March 2, 1943, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Dorothy Clark (a factory worker); children: Ericka Suzanne Brown. Education: Attended Temple University, 1961.

ADDRESSES: Home—Atlanta, GA. Office—c/o Author Mail, Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108.

CAREER: Author, songwriter, lecturer, and activist. Los Angeles Black Congress, Los Angeles, CA, staff member of newspaper, beginning 1967; Black Panther Party, Deputy Minister of Information, 1970s, party chair, 1974-77; delegate to 1976 Democratic convention; lobbied for job-creating projects in Oakland, CA. President, Fields of Flowers (nonprofit educational corporation); vice-president, Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation; director of political affairs, National Alliance of Radical Prison Reform; board member, Mothers Advocating Juvenile Justice. Songwriter and recording artist for Seize the Time, Vanguard Records, 1969, and Elaine Brown, Motown, 1973.


A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1992.

The Condemnation of Little B, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2002.

Also author of A Light Shines, Tyndale.

ADAPTATIONS: A Taste of Power has been optioned for an HBO film by producer Suzanne de Passe.

SIDELIGHTS: The first woman ever to head the Black Panther Party, Elaine Brown has written about the turbulent times of her life in the memoir A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story. Raised in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood, Brown was able to attend the best schools in the city due to the hard work of her mother. Brown excelled academically, although she left Temple University after two semesters in order to pursue a songwriting career. Moving to Los Angeles, she was introduced to black literature and politics, and she joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) in 1967. She became party chair in 1974 after BPP cofounder Huey Newton was charged with murder and fled the country. Under Brown's leadership, the BPP began important voter registration and education initiatives, although she found that many men in the party did not want to accept her leadership. After Newton returned to the United States and cleared his name, Brown found there was little room for a woman to hold power in the party leadership. The book concludes in 1977, with Brown leaving the party and taking her daughter to live in France.

Reviewers praised A Taste of Power not only as memoir but as a new perspective on the history of the Black Panther Party. Nation contributor Ellen DuBois noted that in providing an account of female roles in the BPP, Brown makes "a signal contribution" to its history: "Brown tells her own story with power and distinction, and greatly expands the party's history by doing so." "Brown is such an engaging storyteller, and her life is so full of extraordinary experiences, that one becomes attached to A Taste of Power," Alice A. Deck observed in African American Review. In ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Philip Vassallo observed that while Brown's book is filled with "riveting moments," it "transcends biography and is at its most disturbing when characterizing the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between blacks and whites in America." The critic concluded: "Because of this exceptional woman's remarkable insight into two strikingly different worlds, both worlds can benefit from a reading of A Taste of Power."

Brown returned to the United States in the 1990s, moving to Atlanta. There she was intrigued by the case against a thirteen-year-old black youth who was vilified and eventually convicted for the murder of a black father of two. Disturbed by how a boy abandoned by his drug-addicted mother and the state social system could end up being tried and convicted as an adult with no physical evidence, she penned the investigative account The Condemnation of Little B in 2002. Not only does Brown trace the personal background and legal trial of Michael "Little B" Lewis, she explores the history of race and politics in America that has led to the demonization of a whole generation of black youth. Choice contributor P. J. Venturelli found Brown's inclusion of historical information "very comprehensive and instructive" and praised her "very strong opinions" for providing "perspectives and analyses that beg for further discussion and debate." Washington Post contributor Brian Gilmore, however, believed these details "sometimes bog down her excellent prose." A Publishers Weekly critic praised her journalistic and historical detail and called the work a "damning, often excruciating account of racism in contemporary American society." The critic concluded: "Packed with detail, strong arguments and flashes of brilliance, Brown's book is extraordinarily powerful."

Brown lectures around the country and remains involved in several causes, including Lewis's retrial and prison policy and juvenile justice reform. As she told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Teresa K. Weaver: "I get angry when people are pushing these kids off the cliff. That's just who I am. . . . It's not that I'm an especially good person. I just identify with being someone who nobody cares about."



Brown, Elaine, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story, Pantheon, 1992.

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 8, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 30-33.

Notable Black American Women, Book II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 65-67.


African American Review, summer, 1997, Alice A. Deck, review of A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story, p. 367.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 3, 2002, Teresa K. Weaver, "Little B Revisited: Author Decries Tarring of Suspect," p. E1.

Black Issues Book Review, May-June, 2002, Robert Fleming, review of The Condemnation of Little B, p. 63.

Choice, October, 2002, P. J. Venturelli, review of The Condemnation of Little B, p. 361.

ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, spring, 1994, Philip Vassallo, review of A Taste of Power, p. 100.

Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2002, Kai Maristed, "Tracing History's Links to Bigotry in America through 'Little B,'" p. E3.

Nation, September 6, 1993, Ellen DuBois, review of A Taste of Power, p. 251.

New York Times Magazine, January 31, 1993, Rosemary L. Bray, "A Black Panther's Long Journey," p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1992, review of A Taste of Power, p. 65; January 28, 2002, review of The Condemnation of Little B, p. 283.

Social Justice, spring-summer, 1993, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, review of A Taste of Power, p. 176.

Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1994, Tucker Carrington, "A Deeper Place in Themselves," p. 366.

Washington Post, March 10, 2002, Brian Gilmore, "The Dispossessed," p. T4.*

About this article

Brown, Elaine 1943-

Updated About content Print Article