Elaine Brown & Anne Knight
Elaine Brown (1943-) grew up in North Philadelphia with her single mother Dorothy Clark. Despite desperate poverty, Dorothy worked hard to provide Elaine with a good education. Elaine moved to California and worked as a cocktail waitress at a strip club. She soon became involved with the Black Liberation Movement and began working for the radical newspaper Harambee.
She became the first representative of the Black Student Alliance to the Black Congress in California. In April 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior, she joined the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party, sold its newspapers and cleaned its guns.
Elaine helped the Party set up its first Free Breakfast for Children program in Los Angeles, and the Party’s initial Free Busing to Prisons Program and Free Legal Aid Program. She became editor of the Black Panther publication in the Southern California Branch of the Party. In 1971, Elaine became a member of the Party’s central committee as minister for education.
When Huey Newton fled to Cuba in 1974, he appointed Elaine to lead the Party, the only woman to do so, and she chaired it from 1974 until 1977. In her memoir she recalled gathering the Panthers together and telling them:
“I have the guns and all the money. I can withstand challenge from without and from within. Am I right, Comrade?... I’m telling you this because it’s possible some of you may balk at a woman as the leader of the Black Panther Party. If this is your attitude, you’d better get out of the Black Panther Party. I will lead the party not only in furthering our goals but also in defending the party by any and all means. They understood.”
In 1977, she managed Lionel Wilson’s victorious campaign to become Oakland’s first black mayor. Elaine also developed the Panther’s Liberation School. The same year she left Oakland with her daughter, Ericka, and moved to Los Angeles.
Elaine recorded two albums, Seize the Time (Vault, 1969) and Until We’re Free (Motown Records, 1973). After leaving the Black Panther Party to raise her daughter, Elaine worked on her memoir, A Taste of Power. She returned to the struggle for black liberation, especially radical prison reform. Between 1980 and 1983 she attended Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles.
In 1996, Elaine moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and founded Fields of Flowers, Inc., a non-profit organisation providing educational opportunities for impoverished African-American children. In 1998, she founded the Michael Lewis Legal Defense Committee, named after a 14 year-old sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit.
In 2003, Elaine co-founded the National Alliance for Radical Prison Reform to campaign for prison reform. From 1995 to the present, she has lectured at more than 40 colleges and universities, as well as numerous conferences. In 2010, inmates in more than seven Georgia prisons used contraband cellphones to organise a nonviolent strike for better prison conditions, Elaine became their “closest adviser outside prison walls”.
The indefatigable Anne Knight (1786–1862) devoted her considerable energies to defeating slavery and establishing women’s rights. Anne was born in Chelmsford in November 1781 to a family of Quakers who were pacifists and social reformers. Anne set up a women’s anti-slavery society in Chelmsford in the 1830s, and in 1833 initiated a national women’s petition against slavery.
It was signed by 298,785 women, the largest single anti-slavery petition in the movement’s history. The next year Anne toured France where she gave lectures calling for the immediate abolition of slavery without compensation.
Anne attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention, held at Exeter Hall in London, in June 1840, but being a woman she was refused permission to speak, a move she bitterly criticised. She published a leaflet in 1847 that argued: “Never will the nations of the earth be well governed until both sexes, as well as all parties, are fully represented and have an influence, a voice, and a hand in the enactment and administration of the laws.”
Knight became active in the Chartist movement despite criticising it for not supporting a women’s right to vote. In a letter published in the Brighton Herald in 1850 she demanded the Chartists campaign for “true universal suffrage”. She was in Paris in 1848, and became active in the revolution, joining with other female socialists to press for women’s rights. She attended a conference on world peace held in 1849.
In 1851 Anne Knight and Anne Kent established the Sheffield Female Political Association. Later that year the association published an Address to the Women of England. It became the first mass petition demanding women’s suffrage to be presented to parliament. Anne Knight died on 4 November, 1862.