Ben Smith, Special the Citizen-Times
November 3, 2008
ASHEVILLE – Age hasn't mellowed Elaine Brown a bit.
It's been more than 30 years since she served as chairperson of the
Black Panthers, but she still travels the world to organize people
and promote social change.
Brown came to UNC Asheville on Thursday in an event sponsored by the
campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, named after the
controversial 1960s revolutionary group. Brown, 65, opened the day
with a lecture on black history starting with Jamestown and moving
to the present day in front of Sarah Judson's "Modern South" history class.
"Today, people wonder why 50 percent of people in prison are black.
People don't understand why this happened," Brown told the class.
"People think that these people are criminals. How is that possible?
Does this have nothing to do with racism?"
"This is a political decision that's been made about crime," Brown said.
Brown kept the lecture intense and political, focusing on racial
inadequacies in America.
She also denounced numerous politicians and historical figures, from
Thomas Jefferson to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton.
Brown also spoke to about 250 people at UNCA's Humanities Lecture
Hall Thursday night.
For Dwight Mullen, UNCA political science professor, Brown's visit
brought back fond memories of growing up in Watts, Calif., during the
late '60s, when Brown was working with the Los Angeles Black
Panthers. Mullen tried to join the Panthers at the time, but was told
he was too young to become a member.
"My family lived just around the corner, about two blocks away from
the Black Panther headquarters," said Mullen, who organizes the
annual State of Black Asheville Forum at UNCA.
"(Elaine Brown) was probably one of the people that told me I
couldn't join. They didn't have a children's chapter."
Brown joined the Black Panthers in Los Angeles in 1968 and served as
the national chair 1974-77. She ran for political office in Oakland
twice in the '70s and for mayor of Brunswick, Ga., in 2005. She was
the Green Party's nominee for president before she renounced her
affiliation with the party last year.
Brown has focused much of her energy in recent years on reforming the
prison system. Her book, "The Condemnation of Little B," questions
the 1997 trial and conviction of 13-year-old Michael Lewis for murder.
She's working on another book about a supposed wrongful conviction,
this time focusing on the trial of Karima Al-Amin, the former
chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also known
as H. Rap Brown. Al-Amin is serving a life sentence for the murder of
a Georgia sheriff's deputy in 2000.
Brown's autobiography, "A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story," was
optioned last year by HBO for use in a proposed six-part series on
the Black Panthers.
Despite their radical reputation, the Panthers did wonders for the
Black community in the late '60s, Mullen said, offering free meals to
children and helping protect the community from the police.
"They kept the LAPD off of us," he said. "It was really one of the
safest times in Watts."
Charla Schlueter, a member of UNCA's SDS chapter, was impressed with
how Brown has retained her radical philosophy over the years.
"She's just as revolutionary as she ever was," Sclueter said. "Some
think that people are just activists in college. Brown has been a