Brooklyn, NY — Kathleen Neal Cleaver, who gained international fame as the communications secretary to the Black Panther Party during the 1960s, gives the annual Samuel J. Konefsky Memorial Lecture on “Behind the Myths: Rosa Parks and America’s Struggle for Human Rights” on Thursday, May 4, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Bedford Lounge of the Brooklyn College Student Center, Campus Road and East 27 Street. The event is free and open to the public.
Kathleen Neal Cleaver
Cleaver has spent most of her life participating in the human rights struggle. She was born in Dallas; her father was a sociology professor at Wiley College and her mother held a degree in mathematics. During her early years her father’s work took the family to Liberia, the Philippines, and Sierra Leone. Cleaver completed her high school education at the Georgia School in Philadelphia in 1963.
In 1966 she dropped out of Barnard College during her sophomore year to work fulltime with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From 1967 to 1971, Cleaver was the communications secretary of the Black Panther Party, and the first woman member of their Central Committee. She married Black Panther Party cofounder Eldridge Cleaver in 1967. After sharing years of exile with her former husband, she returned to the United States in 1975. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in history from Yale College in 1984 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
After receiving a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1989, Cleaver became an associate at the New York law firm of Cravath, Swain and Moore. Afterward, she served as a clerk for the late Judge A. Leon Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. While an assistant professor of law at Emory University, she served on the Georgia Supreme Court’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts and became a board member of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights. She has devoted many years to the defense of Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader who won his habeas corpus petition in 1997 after spending twenty-seven years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Cleaver has been a visiting faculty member at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, the Graduate School of Yale College, and Sarah Lawrence College, where she was the Joanne Woodward Professor of Public Policy during 1999. She has taught legal ethics, litigation, torts, a legal history seminar entitled “The American Law of Slavery and Anti-Slavery,” and a course on women in the black freedom movement. Currently, she is a senior research associate at the Yale Law School and executive producer of the International Black Panther Film Festival.
The annual lecture to be given by Cleaver is named for the late Samuel J. Konefsky, professor of political science at Brooklyn College for more than thirty-five years. Professor Konefsky was a major intellectual presence in the department and on campus beginning in the mid-1930s. He authored several critically acclaimed books, including Chief Justice Stone and the Supreme Court (1945) and The Constitutional World of Mr. Justice Frankfurter (1949).
Previous Konefsky lecturers include Alan M. Dershowitz, Brooklyn College Class of 1959; Chief Justice Edward R. Korman, Brooklyn College Class of 1963; the late Arthur Goldberg, former associate justice of the United States Supreme Court; Floyd Abrams, America’s pre-eminent First Amendment lawyer; the late Gerald Gunther, Brooklyn College Class of 1949 and for many years a professor at Stanford Law School; and Derrick Bell, of New York University Law School. The lecture is sponsored by the Ethyle R. Wolfe Institute for the Humanities in cooperation with the Department of Political Science. For more information, please call (718) 951-5847.