From Oakland to the World

Live dispatch from #BPP50

10/21/16

The Black Panther Party had global impact and Black women often were on the front lines of Panther diplomacy, international solidarity efforts and political travel. Today’s panel featured women who played a key role in the Panthers’ International Headquarters in Algiers, Algeria.

oneal-cox-and-cleaver-on-panel-oct-21-2016-robyn-spencers-photo
Charlotte O’Neal, Barbara Easley Cox, and Kathleen Cleaver (l. to r.) in conversation with each other. Courtesy Robyn C. Spencer. All Rights Reserved.

These activists shared stories about their lives abroad and their experiences of international intrigue and travel around the world to liberation hotspots. Immediately it was clear that their political work was framed by pregnancy, raising children and managing relationships with partners and comrades. Their conversation, full of laughter and shared moments, represented a fullness of women’s experiences.

Kathleen Cleaver described her work as a French interpreter while in Algiers. She recalled that Algeria was a conservative society that had undergone a revolution. Support for the Panthers waned and the international chapter disbanded. The time of support by the Algerian government had come to a close. Repression shaped the options people had available to them and her passport and lack of legal charges allowed her mobility. Everyone scattered to Africa, Europe or took underground routes back to the US. Kathleen stayed in Algeria the longest. Since she had a US passport and was not a fugitive, she could travel freely. She knew they needed to think about a place that would work for her husband, Eldridge Cleaver. Flexibility and adaptability also were key because they had two children.

Barbara Easley Cox recalled that the Panther embassy in Algeria allowed them to make connections with other liberation groups. She befriended women from a Namibian liberation organization, SWAPO. She joined with these women when they gathered in the kitchen, which she reframed as a political space and a gathering place for women. These informal meetings allowed her to build support systems and comradeship with other revolutionary groups.

Charlotte O’Neal talked about maintaining family bonds. Her family visited her in Algiers and experienced some of the realities of living there. The headquarters were both political and personal: nurseries and sleeping rooms were created as well as offices. O’Neal and her husband left Algeria and moved to Tanzania. The O’Neals lived and raised their two kids during Julius Nyere’s socialist experiment. They maintain their commitment to serving the people all these years later by creating survival programs in the rural village where they still live. One of their most important programs is the “Leaders of Tomorrow” Children’s Home. [Click here for more about O’Neal’s projects.]

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