Soon after Kathleen was born, her father, Ernest Neal, accepted a job as the director of the Rural Life Council of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Six years later, Ernest joined the Foreign Service.
The family moved abroad, and lived in such countries such as; India, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Philippines.
Kathleen returned to the United States to attend a Quaker boarding school near Philadelphia, the George School. She graduated with honors in 1963. She continued her education at Oberlin College in Ohio, and later transferred to Barnard College in New York. In 1966, she left college for a secretary job with the New York office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Black Panther Party
She was in charge of organizing a student conference at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. At the conference, Kathleen met the minister of information for the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver.
After she met Eldridge, Kathleen moved to San Francisco in November, 1967, to join the Black Panther Party. Kathleen Neal and Eldridge Cleaver were married on December 27, 1967.
Cleaver became the communications secretary and the first female member of the Party’s decision-making body. She also served as the spokesperson and press secretary. Notably, she organized the national campaign to free the Party’s minister of defense, Huey Newton, who was jailed. Cleaver also ran for the California state assembly for the Peace and Freedom party, but was unsuccessful.
As a result of being part of the Black Panther Party, the Cleavers suffered from some acts of violence. The Cleavers’ apartment was raided in 1968 before a Panther rally by the San Francisco Tactical Squad on the suspicion of hiding guns and ammunition. Later that year, Eldridge was wounded in a shoot-out between Panther members and the police. Eldridge was charged with parole violation following the incident. He decided he did not want to face another incarceration and fled the country.
Living in Exile
Eldridge spent seven months in Cuba and was finally reunited with Kathleen in Algeria in 1969. Kathleen gave birth to their first son, Maceo, soon after arriving in Algeria. A year later she gave birth to Jojuyounghi, while the family was in North Korea.
In 1971, Huey Newton, a fellow party member, and Eldridge had a disagreement; Huey expelled the International Branch of the Black Panther Party. The Cleavers formed a new organization called the Revolutionary People’s Communication Network. Kathleen returned to promoting and speaking about the new organization. To accomplish this, she and the children moved back to New York.
The Algerian government became disgruntled with Eldridge and the new organization. Eldridge was forced to leave the country secretly and met up with Kathleen in Paris in 1973. Kathleen left for the United States later that year to arrange Eldridge’s return and raise a defense fund. In 1974, the French government granted legal residency to the Cleavers and the family was finally reunited.
After only a year, the Cleavers moved back to the United States, and Eldridge was sent to prison. He was tried for the shoot-out in 1968 and was found guilty of assault. He was sentenced to five year’s probation and 2,000 hours of community service. Kathleen went to work on the Eldridge Cleaver Defense Fund and Eldridge was freed on bail in 1976. Eldridge’s legal situation was not finally situated until 1980.
After all of Eldridge’s legal situations, Kathleen went back to school in 1981, after receiving a full scholarship from Yale University. She graduated in 1983, summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history.
In 1987, Kathleen divorced Eldridge Cleaver. She then furthered her education by getting her law degree from Yale Law School. After graduating, Cleaver worked for the law firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore.
Cleaver has had numerous jobs following the law firm including: law clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, the faculty of Emory University in Atlanta, 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.
In 2005, she was selected an inaugural Fletcher Foundation Fellow. She currently is a Senior Research Associate at the Yale Law School, and a Senior Lecturer in the African American Studies department at Yale University.
Text Attribution: Wikipedia