- Senior Lecturer in Law at Emory University
- Former Communications Secretary for the Black Panther Party
- Former wife of Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver
- Teaches that “racist and white supremacist and exploitative practices are engrained” in American society and government
Kathleen Cleaver is a Senior Lecturer in law at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cleaver was once the Communications Secretary for the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the wife of Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, though her faculty biography notes only that she “spent most of her life participating in the human rights struggle.” Cleaver herself describes the BPP -- whose leaders committed numerous felonies, including murder -- as a “liberation” movement. The author of a hagiographic introduction to a book of photographs of the BPP, titled Black Panthers 1968, Cleaver maintains that the Party was a righteous resistance group framed by the FBI for crimes it did not commit. In Cleaver’s telling, the BPP cannot reasonably be described as a violent group because it used violence only as a means of “self-defense.” “The only way you can reach a conclusion that the Party was violent is that blacks are not entitled to defend themselves,” Cleaver has said.
To this day, Cleaver still harbors hopes for the societal revolution she sought to bring about during her days with the Panthers. “Have I changed my views on how society needs to be changed? No. It needs fundamental root-and-branch improvement, not plastering over,” she told an interviewer from PBS in 2004.
One evening in March 2004, Cleaver took part in a special screening of a promotional documentary titled The Weather Underground, about the eponymous terrorist outfit. That night, Cleaver joined former Weatherman and convicted terrorist Laura Whitehorn for a panel discussion, during which the group’s onetime members were described as idealistic youths who had courageously spoken out against the Vietnam War and racism in America.
Cleaver’s understanding of American history and law fairly bristles with her political views. She has written that “racist and white supremacist and exploitative practices are engrained” in American society and government even today. According to Cleaver, the “inability to treat Black people in a humane fashion” has “become part of the identity of the United States .”
Cleaver elaborates on this theme:
“White supremacy is a function of the colonial or imperial domination of peoples of color. When you use these Europeans as the rulers of Indians and Africans in creating a society based on a plantation system of slavery, in which the majority of the workers are Black or Brown, and all the owners are completely white and European and speaking a different language, then the core of the development of a society is white supremacy ..."
These ideas make up the substance of Cleaver’s seminar on the laws of slavery and anti-slavery. They also figure in her other courses at Emory, most prominently “American Legal History: Citizen and Race.”
In November 2001 Cleaver convened a conference of scholars at the Emory law school whose express purpose was to denounce the Patriot Act as an assault on the civil liberties of Americans. Among the participants were Ward Churchill and his wife Natsu Saito.
No less objectionable to Cleaver is the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Asked by an interviewer whether she saw similarities between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, Cleaver lamented that the terrorist insurgents in Iraq were not making greater efforts to reach out to American antiwar radicals:
“I wish there were, in the sense that the Vietnamese made a very conscientious effort in their foreign and military policies to include Americans opposed to the government. They made a big distinction between what the government and the people did. Therefore, they were able to engage, discuss, and talk with American citizens and the antiwar movement. I don’t see that type of communication happening in the case of Iraq.”
Claiming that terrorism is merely a propaganda invention of the U.S. government, Cleaver says: “They’re using the whipping boy of terrorism the way they used the whipping boy of communism to get their own sordid little corporate war programs in place.”
Cleaver has not one scholarly book or even article to her name. Her only publication in a legal journal is an article that appeared in the Yale Journal of Law and Humanities (1998): “Mobilizing in Paris for Mumia Abu Jamal,” but this is a memoir, not legal scholarship. In her academic bibliography, she lists op-ed columns in the Los Angeles Times, an “Open Letter to Julius Lester” printed in the National Guardian, and an article (“On Eldridge Cleaver”) she wrote in the 1960s for the New Left magazine Ramparts. By normal standards, Cleaver does not possess adequate credentials to teach at a major American law school.