Engrossing, jolting, behind-the-scenes memoir by the woman who led the Black Panther Party to mainstream power-brokering without giving up the guns, and who ended up fleeing its violence: a stunning picture of a black woman's coming of age in America.
Brown writes well and insightfully of her complex family background and Philadelphia ghetto childhood, and of her life in a paramilitary organization whose members live under the constant threat of violence from society, police, and each other. In L.A., a wealthy white lover introduces her to Communism; a black activist casually straps bandoleers of shotgun shells around her before a rally; "warriors'' expect sexual favors from revolutionary women; close friends die at the hands of a rival black organization and police. Briefly infatuated with Eldridge Cleaver (later a foe), Brown falls in love with brilliant, self-educated, troubled Huey Newton--a man seemingly trapped by the Party he created, and subject to fear-and-cocaine-induced rages; he anoints her Party leader before jumping bail for exile in Cuba (1974). Brown wins the grudging loyalty of the Party's angry men, as well as mainstream respect (for school and social programs in Oakland--largely funded through illegal means) and influence in California politics. She takes pleasure in violent intimidation: "For a black woman in America to know that power is to experience being raised from the dead.'' Soon after Newton's return in 1977, a terrified Brown leaves the Party. Rhetoric and ideology are presented readably here: Brown identifies her most radical conclusions as opinion. For less political readers, the inherent drama plus anecdotes about revolutionary and show-biz celebs (including a bit of kiss-and- tell) keep the pages turning. Brown (now in France) doesn't mention her post-Party life or Newton's death in 1989.
Timely, front-row view of a turbulent era. Put it on the shelf beside The Autobiography of Malcolm X.