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Sun, 05.13.1945

Kathleen Cleaver, Black Panther Activist and Educator born

Kathleen Cleaver

Kathleen Cleaver was born on this date in 1945. She is a Black educator, lawyer, writer, and activist.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Kathleen Neal Cleaver's father was a sociology professor at Wiley College, and her mother held a degree in Mathematics. With her father's work, the family spent many of her early years abroad in Liberia, the Philippines, and Sierra Leone. Cleaver completed high school at the Georgia School in Philadelphia in 1963.  Cleaver dropped out of Barnard College in 1966 when she was a sophomore to work full-time with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), where she served in the Campus Program.

From 1967 to 1971, Cleaver was the communications secretary of the Black Panther Party, the first woman member of their Central Committee. She married Eldridge Cleaver in 1967. After sharing years of exile with her former husband, she returned to the United States in late 1975. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in history from Yale University in 1984 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

After receiving a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1989, Cleaver became an associate at the New York law firm of Cravath, Swain and Moore. Afterward, she served as a clerk for the late Judge A. Leon Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. While an assistant professor of law at Emory University, she served on Georgia's Supreme Court Commission on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts and became a board member of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights.  She devoted many years to the defense of Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader who won his habeas corpus petition in 1997 after spending 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Cleaver has been a visiting faculty member at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, the Graduate School of Yale College, and Sarah Lawrence College, where she was the Joanne Woodward Professor of Public Policy during 1999. She has taught legal ethics, litigation, torts, a legal history seminar entitled "The American Law of Slavery and Anti-Slavery," and a course on Women in the Black Freedom Movement.  She is a Senior Research Associate at the Yale Law School and executive producer of the International Black Panther Film Festival.

Cleaver has won fellowships at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, the W.E.B. Du Bois institute of Harvard University, and the Center for Historical Analysis at Rutgers University. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library also gave her fellowships to complete the book of memoirs that she is working on, "Memoirs of Love and War."

Her writing has appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including Ramparts, The Black Panther, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe and Transition. She has contributed essays to several books, including Critical Race Feminism, Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror, The Promise of Multiculturalism: Education and Autonomy in the 21st Century: A New Political Science Reader, and The Black Panther Party Reconsidered.

She has co-edited a collection of essays entitled Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party (Routledge, 2001).  In 2005, Cleaver was selected an inaugural Fletcher Foundation Fellow.


The Heroine

The Book of African American Women
150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters
by Tonya Bolden
Adams Media
ISBN 1-58062-928-8

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