Elaine Brown was born to an impoverished, hard-working single mother in North Philadelphia in 1943. Her mother worked tirelessly to ensure that she received a quality education, decent clothing, and private music lessons, sending her to an experimental elementary school where she studied classical ballet and piano. This is testament to the indomitable spirit of the black working class woman to provide opportunities for her children to become educated and cultured, sacrificing pleasures and comforts to ensure that they have the best opportunities to advance themselves.
Upon graduation from high school, Brown attended several different universities, including Temple University and the University of California, Los Angeles. She eventually took a job as a cocktail waitress at a Los Angeles strip club, where she met J.R. Kennedy, a white fiction writer who became her teacher and lover.
Brown was radicalized through study and experience as a black woman in a racist, sexist, classist society. After the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Brown joined the Black Panther Party in 1968. Through the Black Panthers, she sold newspapers, continued her study of revolutionary theory and practice, and helped set up the Party’s programs such as Free Breakfast for Children and busing programs to help prisoners’ families visit them in rurally-situated facilities. She also recorded excellent songs and worked for the Black Panther newspaper.
After Eldridge Cleaver was expelled from the Party, she took his position as Minister of Information. During this time, she also entered electoral politics with runs for Oakland City Council, which she lost by a relatively small margin. When Party co-founder Huey P. Newton was forced out of the country, he appointed Brown as Chair, a position she held from 1973 to 1977.
During her term, she focused heavily on electoral politics and community service programs. There was conflict as the party was heavily influenced by patriarchy and other issues, so Brown resigned from Chairwoman in 1977. Brown continues to remain active, campaigning for offices under the social-democratic Green Party and working against mass incarceration and other societal/structural problems.