African American Studies


In her second interview with the BAAHP, Cleo Silvers shifts her focus from her young life in Philadelphia to the beginnings of her activist life in New York City. Silvers’ first foray into the political life came with her involvement with the Lincoln Hospital takeovers in the South Bronx in the late 1960s. At just 19 or 20 years old, Silvers took a leading role in the occupation of the hospital, helping to form policy in the mental health field that would help transform one of the city’s worst hospitals. Treating only the poorest of South Bronx residents, Lincoln Hospital, as Silvers recalls, used to have average wait times of 36-72 hours for patients entering its emergency room. Silvers was also foundational in the formation of the Think Lincoln Committee, an organization that sought to revitalize the hospital by factoring in community opinion and grievances on the institution. Silvers would join in a takeover of the hospital again some years later after Carmen Rodriguez, a South Bronx resident, died after receiving an unsafe abortion at Lincoln.

Following the occupation of the hospital, Silvers joined with the organization that had been so supportive of her efforts at Lincoln, the Black Panthers. She tells of her initiation where she met and became friends with Afeni Shakur, member of the New York 21 and mother to legendary rap artist Tupac Shakur. Silvers describes some of the organization’s efforts in the Harlem community in which their office was located. The Panthers ran clothing and shoe distribution center for the community, prepared and served free breakfast for children, and ran day care centers that helped children with their homework made sure they got to and from school safely.

After the arrest of the New York 21, of which she was not a part, Silvers began to work more closely with the Young Lords Party, an organization with goals and ideals similar to the Black Panthers, but more commonly thought of as being comprised of Latinos rather than African Americans. Silvers refutes this notion; however, as she points out the diverse nature of the organization.

Silvers closes out the interview by talking about the profound influence that music had on the movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Throwing out names from The Temptations to Marvin Gaye to The Beatles to Joan Baez, Silvers discusses the lasting impact that the music of the day had on the social movement that they accompanied. Silvers and Dr. Naison also go into a detailed discussion about the merits of Afro-Caribbean music, including the differing natures of Caribbean cultures.

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Silvers, Cleo Interview 2.mp3 (180768 kB)