As in these sixties classics, the protagonist struggles to survive feelings of nobodyness and overcome the poverty and racism of America’s ghetto environment.
Raised by her mother and grandmother in North Philadelphia, Elaine Brown moved to California and rose quickly to a leadership role in the male-dominated Panthers as a protege of Huey P. Newton. Named after Louisiana’s Huey P. Long, Newton emerges as the book’s brilliant but troubled antihero, whose hypnotic spell on the author was finally broken only after he succumbed to cocaine-induced rages. Especially harrowing are the descriptions of police harassment during the Panther’s gun-toting days, when the paramilitary revolutionary organization was marked for extinction by law enforcement authorities. Gravitating toward good works and electoral politics in the 1970’s under Brown’s leadership while Newton was in exile in Cuba, the organization, at least some of its macho male members, also engaged in shady shakedown activities more attuned to the Mafia than Marx. In one particularly chilling scene, Elaine orders an insubordinate don beaten to a pulp.
Disillusioned by the corrupting influence of power and the slapping around of female members by chauvinists who had never accepted taking orders from a woman, the author left the Panthers to write this powerful profeminist autobiography, one which echoes the theme of Sara Evans’ PERSONAL POLITICS: THE ROOTS OF WOMEN’S LIBERATION IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND THE NEW LEFT (1979).