A Taste of Power

by Elaine Brown
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How does Elaine Brown's autobiographical work A Taste of Power relate to both black women and civil rights?

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Elaine Brown is a black woman in America. Her triumph of power in the Black Panthers and her separation from that power ties her story inextricably to the story of black women. When Brown joined the Panthers, then took over the power of the Panthers, she tied herself inextricably to their role in the civil rights movement, as they were responsible for social action such as school breakfast and lunch programs.

Brown became the absolute leader of the Black Panther Party just as Huey Newton—before his exile to Cuba in flight from the FBI and the criminal justice system—had been "the absolute leader of the Black Panther Party" (A Taste of Power). Brown took the initiative to replace him in an era in which a woman's role among the Panthers was to accept being beaten by the men. She said,

"I will lead the party. . . defending the party by any and all means." They understood. . . Huey Newton was the absolute leader of the Black Panther Party. I was now his replacement. They understood. . . [I] walked up and down the stage, purposely emphasizing my words with the sound of the heels of my black leather boots.

The fact that she triumphed over the Panthers, yet later had to flee the Panthers in fear of her and her daughter's lives, elevates Brown to a platform from which to examine and discuss what it means to be a black woman in America.

The Black Panthers caused significant social change in America as a militant part of the civil rights movement and hoped to prompt more change, including socialized medicine and affordable housing (still unresolved issues today). When Brown joined—and then took over—the Panthers, she tied herself inextricably to civil rights and emerged with a uniquely acute perspective from which to discuss and address civil rights.

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