Elaine Brown is a former Black Panther Party chair, activist, writer, and performer. The crusader, now 80, has reinvented herself as a real estate investor, spearheading a $80 million affordable housing project in West Oakland.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” she told the Guardian, sitting in the office of the multimillion-dollar project. “I’m still the same person I was in the Black Panther party – though maybe more ruthless.”
Brown’s project is located on Seventh Street in West Oakland, California, where a firefight involving Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, happened. Brown claims that the choice of this historical location for her real estate project was purely fortuitous.
According to the Guardian, the Black Panther project is in its last months of development. She intends to launch the facility in May, with the name prominently displayed above the main entrance.
The upper storeys of Black Panther will be filled with 79 units of affordable housing. Furthermore, it will provide studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments to very low and extremely low-income persons, with a maximum salary cap of 30% of the area’s typical income, or around $30,000 per year.
On the ground floor of the building, she plans to open restaurants, fitness and technology facilities, and a grocery store. According to the writer and performer, her goal is to restore some of the economic energy of the West Harlem by creating room for new Black-owned enterprises.
Brown said the same passion drove her to develop the 32,000-square-foot West Oakland property as it did her leadership of the Black Panthers in the 1970s. “My goal then and my goal now is to create a model and an idea that will raise consciousness and give people something to fight for,” she said.
She noted that she wants Black people to have economic power. “We live in an environment where we have nothing. Black people don’t own anything in America. Not a goddamn thing. We are still an oppressed people, but we won’t recognize it.”
Brown was chosen to lead the Black Panther Party in August 1974, at a period when no significant civil rights or political organization was led by a woman.
According to sources, Brown took over as party head when founder Newton went into exile in Cuba to evade murder accusations.
When she became party leader in 1974, she became involved in “electoral politics and community service” and helped establish the Panther’s Liberation School, which was designated as a model school by the state of California. However, when she began to place women in prominent administrative roles, she enraged some men in the radical group.