Cleaver, Eldridge

Cleaver, Eldridge
▪ 1999

      American author and activist (b. 1935, Wabbaseka, Ark.—d. May 1, 1998, Pomona, Calif.), was a leading member of the 1960s African-American militant group the Black Panthers and author of the prison memoir Soul on Ice, an angry commentary on race relations in the U.S. The book made him a symbol of radical black consciousness in the late 1960s. Cleaver spent most of his early life in California reform schools and prisons on charges ranging from theft and marijuana possession to assault and rape. While in prison he expressed remorse for the rapes and became a Black Muslim and a follower of Malcolm X. Eldridge's prison writings, first published in the radical journal Ramparts, garnered attention and helped him obtain parole in December 1966. These writings were collected and published in 1968 as Soul on Ice. A sequence of essays influenced by Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and, especially, Malcolm X, Soul on Ice achieved great celebrity and was acclaimed as one of the best books of the year. One of Cleaver's slogans made famous in the book was, "You're either part of the problem or part of the solution." Soon after his parole, he joined the Black Panthers, eventually becoming their "minister of information." His parole was rescinded after a 1968 confrontation between the Panthers and the Oakland, Calif., police. Later that year it was reinstated, which allowed Cleaver to run for the U.S. presidency (he received 30,000 votes) and to give lectures at the University of California, Berkeley; efforts to stop the lectures led to student demonstrations. In November of the same year, his parole was again revoked; instead of returning to jail, Cleaver fled the country, first to Canada, then to Cuba, Algeria, and Paris, and finally to the French Riviera. He returned to the U.S. voluntarily in 1975, saying that he had undergone a religious transformation, and spent an additional eight months in prison. In later years he campaigned for the U.S. Senate (as a Republican), designed men's trousers, ran an Oakland recycling centre, experienced various spiritual conversions (his only other book, Soul on Fire, was dedicated to Jesus Christ), had minor drug-related scrapes with the law, and, at the time of his death, was involved with environmental issues.

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▪ American author and activist
in full  Leroy Eldridge Cleaver 
born 1935, Wabbaseka, near Little Rock, Ark., U.S.
died May 1, 1998, Pomona, Calif.
 American black militant whose autobiographical volume Soul on Ice (1968) is a classic statement of black alienation in the United States.

      Cleaver was an inmate of correctional institutions in California almost constantly from his junior high school days until 1966 for crimes ranging from possession of marijuana to assault with intent to murder. While in prison, he supplemented his incomplete education with wide reading and became a follower of the Black Muslim separatist Malcolm X. He also began writing the essays that would eventually be collected in Soul on Ice, and whose publication in Ramparts magazine helped him win parole in 1966.

      After being paroled, Cleaver met Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who had just founded the Black Panther Party in Oakland, Calif. Cleaver soon became the party's minister of information. The publication in 1968 of Soul on Ice, a collection of angry memoirs in which Cleaver traced his political evolution while denouncing American racism, made him a leading black radical spokesman. In April 1968, however, he was involved in a shoot-out in Oakland between Black Panthers and police that left one Panther dead and Cleaver and two police officers wounded. Faced with reimprisonment after the shoot-out, Cleaver jumped bail in November 1968 and fled first to Cuba and then to Algeria.

      Having broken with the Panthers in 1971 and grown disillusioned with communism, Cleaver returned voluntarily to the United States in 1975. The charges against him were dropped in 1979 when he pled guilty to assault in connection with the 1968 shoot-out and was put on five years' probation. In his later years Cleaver proclaimed himself a born-again Christian and a Republican, engaged in various business ventures, and struggled with an addiction to cocaine.

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Universalium. 2010.

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