Opinion: Clarion Call

Former Black Panther leader regales Duke University students

Clarion Call No. 131
As America’s war on terrorists abroad continues successfully, a former head of a domestic terrorist organization spoke at Duke University to an apparently receptive crowd.

Elaine Brown, the first woman to lead the Black Panther Party, spoke at Duke’s Page Auditorium Thursday night. Brown’s talk was sponsored by Duke’s Women’s Studies Department and the Black Student Alliance. Brown, who composed the Black Panther National Anthem, serves on the board of the foundation named for the late Black Panther leader Huey Newton.

Brown is also the author of A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, in which she chronicles her life and her involvement in the Panthers. Her book includes accounts of numerous brutalities committed by the Panthers (including the disappearance and murder of Betty Van Patter, of which she was also a suspect).

“If I did not believe in the ultimate rightness of our goals and our party,” she wrote, “then what we did, what Huey was doing, what he was, what I was, was horrible.

Before her talk, Brown held an informal workshop with student leaders, on topics that ranged from her involvement in the Black Panthers, globalization, and the need for students to pick up the torch for civil rights.

The Chronicle, Duke’s student newpaper, reported on Brown’s speech. According to reporter Andrew Collins, Brown’s speech was received by an “enthusiastic audience of over 200 people” who “frequently and interrupted her with applause and laughter.”

What were they applauding? According to the Chronicle, Brown was severely critical of the United States’ war on terrorism. “Exactly what happened, and whose war is this, anyway,” Brown said. “I’m telling you, as a black person, this is not my war. … Yesterday, you didn’t even want to have a dialogue; now you want me off waving a flag?”

Brown was critical of the money going to the war effort, including, Collins reported, the $40 billion going for defense and the $15 billion airline bail-out. That money, Brown said, would be better spent on education.

Brown also called the U.S. government fascist and concerned only with the interests of big industry. “I think global fascism is in place,” Brown told the crowd. “The interests of this government are solely those of the big corporations. I don’t know any other definition of fascism.”

In denouncing “the Bush s___,” Brown “said Secretary of State Colin Powell was unqualified and dangerous.” She also called National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice “really crazy,” pronounced President George Bush “stupid” and a “cokehead,” and charged that “Laura Bush killed her ex-fiance.”

She also bashed school vouchers as “a bizarre, stupid program” and called Oprah Winfrey “America’s Mammy,”

Some Women’s Studies students said that the Chronicle‘s account was incomplete and focused only on Brown’s controversial statements, although they agreed Brown was quoted accurately.

The Duke University News Service’s entry on the speech said nothing about the war on terrorism as a topic of Brown’s speech. All the information about the content of Brown’s lecture it offered was: “Elaine Brown, Black Panther Party. Ms. Brown will talk about the global struggle to end oppression of women and minorities worldwide.”