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Kathleen Neal  Cleaver

Kathleen Neal Cleaver

Activist, Lawyer & Educator


Kathleen Neal Cleaver has spent most of her life advocating for human rights. Since 2000, she has served as the co-director of the Atlanta-based Human Rights Research Fund, part of a network of anti-racist organizations engaged in documenting violations of the human rights of US citizens who challenge the racist and military policies within the United States. Cleaver is currently a senior lecturer in the African American Studies Department at Yale and holds an appointment as a senior lecturer and research fellow at Emory University School of Law. Read More >

Cleaver has been devoted to challenging racial injustice since she joined the faculty of Emory University Law School in 1992. She has worked to free imprisoned freedom fighters such as Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt and Mumia Abu-Jamal. 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. She has taught as a visiting faculty member at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, the Graduate School of Yale University, the University of Texas Law School, and Sarah Lawrence College, where she was the Joanne Woodward Professor of Public Policy in 1999. She has taught courses on pre-trial litigation, professional ethics, tort, legal history, and the US law of citizenship and race.

Cleaver’s writing has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including Ramparts, Black Panther publications, 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. She edited a collection of writings by her former husband Eldridge Cleaver titled Target Zero: A Life in Writing. Her latest work is 2013’s Memories of Love and War.

Kathleen Cleaver continues to engage the public in forums, teaching, writing, and film projects that incorporate human rights concerns both within the United States and across the African Diaspora.

Cleaver dropped out of Barnard College in 1966 to work full time with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) where she served in the campus program. From 1967 to 1971, she was the Black Panther Party’s communications secretary and the first female member of their central committee. After spending years in exile with Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria and France, she returned to the United States in late 1975.

She graduated summa cum laude with a BA in history from Yale College in 1984 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After receiving a JD from Yale Law School in 1989, Cleaver became an associate at the New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Then she clerked for the late Judge A. Leon Higginbotham of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.

Cleaver won fellowships at the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute of Harvard University, the Center for Historical Analysis at Rutgers University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library to write her book Memories of Love and War. In 2005, Cleaver was among the inaugural recipients of the Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellowship from Harvard University.

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 and in Rio de Janeiro in 2007 and 2009. She was a delegate to the Third International Book Fair (FILVEN) in Venezuela in November 2007 and was an honored participant in the American delegation to the second Pan African Cultural Festival in Algiers, Algeria, in July 2009. Read Less ^

Speech Topics

Liberation, Imagination & the Black Panther Party

Racism, Sexism & Economic Inequality