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Ericka Huggins
Huggins in 2011
Ericka Jenkins

(1948-01-05) January 5, 1948 (age 76)[1]
EducationCheyney University of Pennsylvania,
Lincoln University
Occupation(s)Activist, educator
Years active1967–present
Known forNew Haven Black Panther Trials
Political partyBlack Panther Party
(m. 1968; died 1969)
Partner(s)James Mott
(1971–1972) Lisbet Tellefsen
(2006 - )

Ericka Huggins (née Jenkins;[2] born January 5, 1948)[3][4][5] is an American activist, writer, and educator. She is a former leading member of the political organization, Black Panther Party (BPP). She was married to fellow BPP member John Huggins in 1968.

Early life and education

Born Ericka Jenkins in Washington, D.C.,[6] Huggins was the middle child of three. After graduating high school in 1966, Huggins attended Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania). She then attended Lincoln University, an historically black school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There she studied education, and eventually met John Huggins, who she would later marry in 1968. Although Lincoln University's Black Student Congress was opposed to female leaders, Huggins engaged in the group despite the opposition.[4]

She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from California State University, East Bay. Her thesis focused on an education model which proposed "student-centered, community-based tuition-free education for students to minimize the multigenerational race and gender trauma of American".[7]


In 1972, she moved to California and became an elected member of the Berkeley Community Development Council.[8] Later, in 1976, she was elected to the Alameda County Board of Education. She was both the first Black person, as well as the first Black woman to have a seat on the Board.[7] From 2008 to 2015, Huggins worked in the Peralta Community College District as a professor of sociology, African American studies, and women studies. She taught sociology at both Laney College and at Berkeley City College, as well as women's studies at California State University.[7][9][10][11] In addition, for more than 30 years, she has lectured at Stanford University, Cornell University, and University of California, Los Angeles where she has spoken about education, spirituality, feminism, prison reform, and queer people of color homelessness.[7][10]

In relation to her work with spirituality, Huggins did work for 15 years at the Siddha Yoga Prison Project where she led hatha yoga and meditation to groups such as incarcerated people, public school children, and college students.[7] At the Mind/Body Medical Institute, which works with Harvard medical school, she continued sharing her spirituality and its practices for 5 years.[7]

Involvement with the Black Panther Party

While at Lincoln University, Both Ericka and her husband were inspired to leave school and join the Black Panther Party.[12] Her motivation came from a Ramparts magazine article she read that discussed the cruel treatment of Huey P. Newton while incarcerated. A picture in the article depicted Newton shirtless, with a bullet wound in his stomach, strapped to a hospital gurney.[12] In 1967, the couple arrived in Los Angeles and joined the Black Panther Party.[12][13]

Eventually, her husband John Huggins, became leader of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Black Panther Party.[3][13][5] While at home with her three week old daughter, her husband was assassinated on January 17, 1969, on the UCLA campus[14] due to a feud between the Black Panther Party and a Black Nationalist group, US Organization, that was fueled by the FBI's COINTELPRO program.[12][15] After his death, Ericka attended his burial in his birthplace of New Haven, Connecticut. Following his funeral, she decided to move there and open up a new Black Panther Party branch.[12] She led this new chapter along two other women, Kathleen Neal Cleaver and Elaine Brown.

While involved with the Black Panthers, Huggins held several positions: both an editor and writer for the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, director of the party's Oakland Community School from 1973 to 1981, and a member of the party's Central Committee.[4] After spending two years in prison, Huggins decided to leave the Black Panthers, after being a member for 14 years, which is the longest membership for any woman involved with it.[7]

New Haven Black Panther trials

Main article: New Haven Black Panther trials

In 1969, members of the New Haven Black Panthers tortured and murdered Alex Rackley, whom they suspected of being an informant. Along with Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, Huggins was charged with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy.[16][17] Huggins was heard speaking on a tape recording of Rackley's interrogation that was played during the trial.[18] The trial sparked protests across the country about whether the Panthers would receive a fair trial and the jury selection would become the longest in state history. In May 1971 the jury deadlocked 10 to 2 for Huggins' acquittal, and she was not retried.[19]

Writing and poetry

While awaiting trial from 1969 to 1972, Huggins spent her time writing in the Prison Niantic State Farm for Women. Writing about the poor social conditions herself and her community endured, she viewed storytelling as a form of self-defense, personal agency, and educational activism. Her work is defined by themes such as love and hate, time and space, sexism and feminism, spirituality, racism, and nationalism. After being released from prison and all charges being requited, Insights and Poems, a book of poetry, co-written by Huggins and Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party, was released in 1975.[7]

Personal life

Ericka Huggins married John Huggins in 1968.[13] Ericka gave birth to their daughter, Mai Huggins, at the age of 20.[20][21] Within three months of their daughter's birth, Ericka became a widow when John Huggins was killed on the UCLA campus in January 1969.

Huggins has two sons. One of her sons is Rasa Sun Mott,[20] whom she had with James Mott, lead singer of the Lumpen, the Black Panthers singing group.[22][23]



  1. ^ Bloom, Joshua; Martin, Waldo E. Jr (January 14, 2013). Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-95354-3.
  2. ^ "Film/Documentary/TV", Valerie C. Woods website.
  3. ^ a b Shih, Bryan; Williams, Yohuru (September 13, 2016). The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution. PublicAffairs. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-56858-556-7.
  4. ^ a b c Phillips, Mary (2015). "The Power of the First-Person Narrative: Ericka Huggins and the Black Panther Party". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 43 (3): 33–51. doi:10.1353/wsq.2015.0060. ISSN 1934-1520. S2CID 86025439.
  5. ^ a b Williams, Yohuru; Shih, Bryan (2016). "Sisters of the Revolution". The Nation. p. 6.
  6. ^ Scheffler, Judith A. (June 16, 1986). Wall Tappings: An Anthology of Writings by Women Prisoners. Northeastern University Press. p. 292. ISBN 978-1-55553-042-6.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Washburn, Amy (July 1, 2014). "The Pen of the Panther: Barriers and Freedom in the Prison Poetry of Ericka Huggins". Journal for the Study of Radicalism. 8 (2): 51–78. doi:10.14321/jstudradi.8.2.0051. ISSN 1930-1189. S2CID 162115660.
  8. ^ "Black Panthers Win Elections in Berkeley", Jet, June 29, 1972, p. 7.
  9. ^ "Huggins, Ericka". Archives at Yale.
  10. ^ a b "bio cont'd". Archived from the original on December 10, 2011. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  11. ^ "A conversation with leading Black Panther Party member, human rights advocate and poet Ericka Huggins". USC Annenberg. April 19, 2021. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  12. ^ a b c d e Phillips, Mary (2015). "The Power of the First-Person Narrative: Ericka Huggins and the Black Panther Party". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 43 (3–4): 33–51. doi:10.1353/wsq.2015.0060. ISSN 1934-1520. S2CID 86025439.
  13. ^ a b c Hine, Darlene Clark (2005). Black Women in America: A-G. Oxford University Press. p. 222. ISBN 978-0-19-515677-5.
  14. ^ "Are We Better Off? | The Two Nations Of Black America | FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  15. ^ Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. W. W. Norton & Company (2001), p. 622.
  16. ^ Alan Lenhoff (March 20, 1971). "Testimony Continues in Seale, Huggins Trial". Michigan Daily.
  17. ^ Bloom, Joshua; Waldo, Martin (2016). Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. University of California Press. pp. 247–266.
  18. ^ Paul Bass, Black Panther Torture "Trial" Tape Surfaces, New Haven Independent, February 21, 2013.
  19. ^ Paul Bass; Douglas W. Rae (2006). Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, And the Redemption of a Killer. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-06902-6.
  20. ^ a b Williams, Lena (March 28, 1993). "Revolution Redux?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  21. ^ "Former Black Panther Visits UK | UK College of Arts & Sciences". March 23, 2011. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  22. ^ Wall, Alix (November 30, 2001). "Black Panther son opening Rasa Caffe in Berkeley". Berkeleyside. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  23. ^ "Rasa Mott unites his local roots and world travels in South Berkeley cafe". Berkeleyside. February 15, 2022. Retrieved February 24, 2022.