A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story

A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story

4.5 2
by Elaine Brown

I have all the guns and all the money. I can withstand challenge from without and from within. Am I right, comrades? With these words, Elaine Brown proclaimed to the assembled leadership of the Black Panther Party that she was now in charge. It was August 1974. The Panthers had grown from a small Oakland-based cell to a national organization that had mobilized black… See more details below


I have all the guns and all the money. I can withstand challenge from without and from within. Am I right, comrades? With these words, Elaine Brown proclaimed to the assembled leadership of the Black Panther Party that she was now in charge. It was August 1974. The Panthers had grown from a small Oakland-based cell to a national organization that had mobilized black communities throughout the country. The party's achievements had won the support of millions of white liberals, but the violent assaults on the party by the police had brought death or imprisonment to many of its prominent members. Now its charismatic leader, Huey Newton, heading for refuge in Cuba, asked Elaine Brown to hold together a party threatened by internal conflict and the FBI. How she came to that position of power over a paramilitary, male-dominated organization and what she did with that power is an unsparing story of self-discovery. Growing up in a black Philadelphia ghetto and attending a predominantly white school, Elaine Brown learned firsthand the pain and powerlessness of being black and female. The Panthers held the promise of redemption. Elaine's account of her life at the highest levels of the Panthers' hierarchy illuminates more than the pain of sexism and the struggle against racism: The male power rituals she recounts carried the seeds of the Black Panther Party's destruction. Nowhere was this undertow more evident than in the complex character of Huey Newton, who became Elaine's lover and ultimately her nemesis. More than ajourney through a turbulent time in American history, this is the story of a black woman's battle to define herself. Freedom, Elaine Brown discovered, may be more than a political question.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Brown here relates the dramatic story of her youth, her political awakening and her role in the Black Panther Party when she succeeded her lover Huey Newton to become the group's first female leader. Though smoothly written, the book contains much reconstructed dialogue that may daunt readers. Brown's memoir takes her from a Philadelphia ghetto to California, from college to cocktail waitressing, from wanting to be white to joining the black power movement. She meets Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson and Bobby Seale, goes to jail, visits North Korea and North Vietnam, debates Marxism and gets involved in Oakland, Calif., politics. When other Black Panthers seemed to lose sight of the revolution and seek power for its own sake, Brown, with a growing feminist consciousness, left the group. She now lives in France and expresses ambivalent feelings about the party she once loved. Having made her acquaintance, the reader wonders about her present life. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Brown, who became involved in and eventually led the Black Panther party until 1977, here offers her autobiography. She traces both the growth and evolving philosophies of the party and her own attempts to help black women. She also describes the drug and domestic abuse within the party, as well as vividly depicting the violence committed against society at large. While Brown includes an objective and lengthy description of Panther founder Huey Newton, who brilliantly rallied black people in America, she also depicts a man whose drug and alcohol dependencies hindered the growth of the party. Brown's autobiography ends inconclusively: she does not seem to have grasped how her past actions presently affect her life. Does she experience feelings of guilt or regret? We don't find out, but her story is still interesting. A Taste of Power is recommended for large public and academic libraries and those with women's studies collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/11/92, and ``Malcom X: By Any Book Necessary,'' LJ 10/15/92 . -- Jeanine McAdam, Mt. Sinai Medical Ctr. Lib., New York
Anne Gendler
These memoirs of a party insider provide a voyeuristic look at day-to-day life in the paramilitary Black Panther organization and a graphic commentary on sex and power. Brown grew up fatherless and hungry for male affection in West Philly, feeling keenly that only her mother's physical person protected her from the rats that scuttled through their rooms. At school, she excelled academically and practiced being "white." Nearly gang-raped on one occasion because of a friend who had "betrayed" the Avenue boys, Brown got an early lesson in the mentality of male power that ruled the Black Panthers. She recalls a Panther gathering at which she and a girlfriend contributed for fried chicken, but were told to wait until "after the brothers have had their share" to eat; in fact, the warriors didn't leave any for the women. On numerous occasions she saw party members "disciplined" with savage beatings. Brown used men to get to the top, and she had a self-destructive love for Panther idol Huey Newton. When he fled to Cuba in 1974, he asked her to keep his party together. Suddenly this tough, intelligent woman was at the helm of an army of angry black males that was consumed by internal power struggles as well as besieged by the FBI. She describes a sort of feminist awakening, as she began to put women in key positions of power and to enter the electoral process, only to see her organization destroyed by Newton's return.
Kirkus Reviews
Engrossing, jolting, behind-the-scenes memoir by the woman who led the Black Panther Party to mainstream power-brokering without giving up the guns, and who ended up fleeing its violence: a stunning picture of a black woman's coming of age in America. Brown writes well and insightfully of her complex family background and Philadelphia ghetto childhood, and of her life in a paramilitary organization whose members live under the constant threat of violence from society, police, and each other. In L.A., a wealthy white lover introduces her to Communism; a black activist casually straps bandoleers of shotgun shells around her before a rally; "warriors" expect sexual favors from revolutionary women; close friends die at the hands of a rival black organization and police. Briefly infatuated with Eldridge Cleaver (later a foe), Brown falls in love with brilliant, self-educated, troubled Huey Newton—a man seemingly trapped by the Party he created, and subject to fear-and-cocaine-induced rages; he anoints her Party leader before jumping bail for exile in Cuba (1974). Brown wins the grudging loyalty of the Party's angry men, as well as mainstream respect (for school and social programs in Oakland—largely funded through illegal means) and influence in California politics. She takes pleasure in violent intimidation: "For a black woman in America to know that power is to experience being raised from the dead." Soon after Newton's return in 1977, a terrified Brown leaves the Party. Rhetoric and ideology are presented readably here: Brown identifies her most radical conclusions as opinion. For less political readers, the inherent drama plus anecdotes about revolutionary andshow-biz celebs (including a bit of kiss-and- tell) keep the pages turning. Brown (now in France) doesn't mention her post-Party life or Newton's death in 1989. Timely, front-row view of a turbulent era. Put it on the shelf beside The Autobiography of Malcolm X. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
6.69(w) x 9.84(h) x (d)

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