Kathleen Neal Cleaver, who currently holds an appointment as a senior lecturer and research fellow at Emory University School of Law, has spent her life participating in the human rights struggle. She started alongside her parents in the 1950s civil rights protests in Alabama. By 1966, Kathleen Neal dropped out of Barnard College in New York to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) where she served in its Campus Program based in Atlanta. She then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and from 1967 to 1971, she was the first Communications Secretary of the Black Panther Party. After sharing years of exile, in Algeria and France with former husband Eldridge Cleaver, she returned with her family to the United States in late 1975.
In 1984, Cleaver graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in History from Yale College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After receiving a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1989, Cleaver became an associate at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore, and later clerked for the late Judge A. Leon Higginbotham of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. In 1992 Cleaver joined the faculty of Emory University Law School.
At Emory, Cleaver has taught pre-trial litigation, professional ethics, torts, and legal history. Her current scholarship and teaching is focused on the U.S. law of citizenship and race. In 1993, she served on the Georgia Supreme Court Commission on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts, and became a board member of the Southern Center for Human Rights. Devoting many years to challenging racist injustice, Cleaver has worked to free imprisoned freedom fighters, including Geronimo (Pratt) ji Jaga and Mumia Abu-Jamal over thirty years. Since 2000, Professor Cleaver served as co-director for the Atlanta-based Human Rights Research Fund, part of a network of anti-racist organizations engaged in documenting violations of the human rights of U.S. citizens who challenge the racist and military policies within the United States. Cleaver has also taught on the faculty of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, the Graduate School of Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, and was a visiting professor of law at the University of Texas Law School during the spring of 2009.
Cleaver has received fellowships from Radcliffe College’s Bunting Institute, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute of Harvard University, the Center for Historical Analysis at Rutgers University, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library and Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellowship from Harvard University to complete Memories of Love and War, a memoir still in progress.
Her writing has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including Ramparts, The Black Panther, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, and Transition, and she has contributed scholarly essays to the books Critical Race Feminism, Critical White Studies, The Promise of Multiculturalism, and The Black Panther Party Reconsidered. Along with George Katsiaficas, humanities professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology, she co-edited the essay collection Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party(Routledge, 2001), and more recently edited a collection of writings by Eldridge Cleaver, Target Zero: A Life in Writing (Palgrave, 2006). Memories of Love and War, slated for completion in 2015, will be published by Random House.
Cleaver co-founded and produced the International Black Panther Film Festival based in Harlem from 1999 through 2003. She has participated in international forums and study programs at the American University of Beirut in 2006, in Rio de Janeiro in 2007, and in 2009 at a U.S. law school consortium’s summer law and policy program. She was a delegate to the Third International Book Fair (FILVEN) in Venezuela during November 2007, and was an honored participant in the American delegation to the 2nd Pan African Cultural Festival held in Algiers, Algeria in July 2009. Kathleen Cleaver’s path continues to engage her in forums, teaching, writing, and film projects that incorporate human rights concerns both within the United States and across the African Diaspora.
Biography Source: EMORY Law
Kathleen Cleaver oral history interview for the Civil Rights History Project
Conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Atlanta, Georgia, September 16th, 2011.