Elaine Brown, the daughter of a dress factory worker, was born in Philadelphia on 2nd March, 1943. Brown attended the Thaddeus Stevens School of Practice and Philadelphia High School for Girls. After a brief period at Temple University, Brown found employment at the Philadelphia Electric Company.
In 1965 Brown moved to Los Angeles, California, where she worked as a cocktail waitress. Soon afterwards she met Jay Kennedy, a member of the American Communist Party. Brown also became interested in radical politics and began working for the radical newspaper, Harambee.
In October 1966 Bobby Seale and Huey Newton formed the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Oakland, California. They named the new organization after the emblem adopted by the Lowndes County freedom Organization in Alabama.
The Black Panthers were initially formed to protect local communities from police brutality and racism. The group also ran medical clinics and provided free food to school children. Within a couple of years the Black Panthers in Oakland were feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.
The leaders of the Black Panthers were influenced by the ideas expressed by Malcolm X in the final months of his life. The Panthers therefore argued for international working class unity and supported joint action with white revolutionary groups. The Black Panthers eventually developed into a Marxist revolutionary group.
Brown joined the Black Panther Party and helped to turn it into a supporter of women's rights. In 1974 Brown was elected party chief. Under her leadership the BPP became involved in conventional politics and in 1973 Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland and came second out of nine candidates with 43,710 votes (40 per cent of votes cast). In 1976 the BPP successfully supported Lionel Wilson in his campaign to become the first black mayor of Oakland.
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.