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November 24, 1968 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1968-11-24

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AT THIRTY THREE, 'Eldridge Cleaver's life
has, reached a, turning point.
Less than one year ago-and for nine years
before that, Eldridge Cleaver was in prison.
.His parole, his subsequent arrest after a
shootout in Oakland between Police and Black
Panthers and the publication of his book
Soul op Ice all happened within the course
of two months last Spring.
Since his release from prison, Cleaver has
been cast in many political roles, each suf-
* ficient to command the total energies of a
lesser man.
Early this year, Cleaver made his own
decisions. He could have becopne a member
of the radical literary clique on the merits of
his book.
However, Cleaver did not slip quietly into
any literary circle. He joined the Black Pan-
ther Party, becoming its minister of informa-
tion and a leader in the black liberation move-
ment. And because of the clash last spring
between the Panthers and the Oakland police
-the clash which killed Bobby Hutton-
* Cleaver will go to court next month on charges
of attempted murder.
By the end of this summer he found him-
self playing a different role. Ironically, be-
cause PFP adopted him as its presidential
candidate, Cleaver assumed nominal leader-
ship over-the same radicals who discovered,
" encouraged and liberated him from jail earlier
in the year.
Finally, in the past few weeks, Cleaver has
become embroiled in a controversy involving
Berkeley students bringing him into conflict
with California authorities in a different situa-
tion from the Hutton incident, but one which
also challenges his good intentions and seeks
to repress his voice in the Oakland commun-
Wednesday the California State Supreme
Court virtually sent Cleaver back to prison.
It refused to hear Cleavers appeal, on the re-
4. vokation of his parole last Spring by a lower,
court. Cleaver's parole, in fact had been re-
voked over his alleged participation in the
Police-Panther shootout over which Cleaver
is now also awaiting his trial. Sao even before
his trial begins he must go back to prison-
to finish seven years of his term on a 1958
f assault conviction.
As his trial approaches, Cleaver seems
trapped in a story whose outcome has been
predetermined. For the freedom he cherishes
may well be ending. Whether he is sentenced
to a long prison term, shot by Oakland
police or forced to flee to a foreign country,
Cleaver's days of freedom in the United States
appear numbered.
Whatever happens to Cleaver, his major
supporters will remain firm on university.
When Cleaver came to Ann Arbor in Aug-
ust for the first convention of the Peace and
Freedom Party, he didn't have to sway any
hearts. Because of publicity through Ram-
parts, Cleaver was already regarded as a re-
volutionary hero of the New Left.
A New York Times correspondent covering
the convention commented the Movement is
obsessed with a "Che Guevera syndrome". In
fact on two successive nights the floor of the
convention was emptied as young delegates
poured into the quiet streets of Ann Arbor on
wild rumors that the Pigs were hassling some
of the Panthers.
So when Cleaver walked into the Michigan
Union ballroom with a host of bodyguards in
black leather jackets, young white radicals
loved every minute of it. If you can't end the
war, at least you can defy the establishment
with obscenities, New Left rhetoric and touch-
es of revolution.
i rYou have an obligation to liberate street
RADICALS weren't supporting Cleaver
for his ideas, but rather for his image,
Bert Garskoff, a local PFP candidate said at

the convention "Eldridge Cleaver is a true
representative of the people. He is a member
of the violated class. He leads a revolutionary-
"Eldridge Cleaver" says Paul Jacobs, a
founder! of the PFP and its senatorial candi-
date in California, "has the capacity to make
men feel intensely uncomfortable all of the
time-and that's what we need. Cleaver repre-
sents the thorn in my side that ought to be the
thorn in the. side of America."
So when Eldridge Cleaver speaks, white
vr1alfe -mile- Fnr the first time in this gen-

Almost any single insight can trigger a
dizzying association of ideas. From political
tactics Cleaver moves on to revolutionary
tactics. From ;there to having young white
girls lie down for the revolution.
But the best/part about listening to Cleav-
er is his spontaneous answers to questions.
When somebody asked whether he'd move
into the White House if elected, Cleaver re-
sponded "Hell, I wouldn't move into the White
House, - if I did win the election I'd turn it
into a shrine and build a new house, a people's
y SOLVE AMERICA'S racial problems,
Cleaver offers the late Malcolm X scheme
of taking the issue to the United Nations.
Says Cleaver, "A lot of positions taken by
people who say they know what black people
want don't really know what goes on in the
minds of the people. We, if elected will call for
a UN plebicite so the people themselves can
determine how they feel."
"What the establishment has now is power,
power to inflict pain. What we want and what
we're asking for is authority."
For Cleaver, "authority' is expressed in
- A new economics, changing "the de-
candent establishment" into "a system of
public ownership ... to change from a system
of private ownership to one of cooperation."
- Community control of "local schools,
police forces, and all public agencies 'operating
within our communities."
- "Revolutionary reform." Cleaver is the
ideological spokesman for the Panthers, --
who work to build economic cooperatives with-
in black ghettos and "demand the overdue
debt of forty acres and two mules promised
100 years ago as restitution for slave labor
and mass murder of . black people."
- On politics he says, "the political arena
itself is a valid institution Even though the
parties now are lousy, you're going to have
them in any system, you just can't throw
them out."
Of course Cleaver wasn't trying to win his
election. Like the other leaders of PFP he sees
electoral politics as an "organizing tool" to
radicalize the public.

a striking analysis of American society and
its racial attitudes, an analysis projected onto
every aspect of society, from literary criticism
to an evaluation of the career of Muhammad
CLEAVER EXPLAINS how he gradually
realized how black men are submerged in
white culture and deprived of a culture of
their own. How blacks are conditioned to
respect white values and detest their own.
In a passage from Soul on Jce, Cleaver says,
"A black growing up in America is indoc-
trinated with the white race's standard of
beauty. Not that the whites made a conscious
calculated effort to do this, but since they
constituted the majority, the whites brain-
washed the blacks by the very process the
whites employed to indoctrinate themselves
with their own group standards."
Cleaver's description of prison life is es-
pecially revealing. Being confined in prison
will change the life of any man. But for a
black man it can be particularly horrifying.
Cleaver wrote then, "Blacks and whites
do not fraternize in comfort here . . . The
whites want to talk with you out in the yard
or at work, standing up, but they shun you
when it comes to sitting down. For instance,
when we line up for chow, the lines leading
into the mess halls are integrated. But once
inside the mess hall, blacks sit at tables by
themselves and whites sit with themselves or
with the Mexicans . . . I have to keep my
eyes open at all times or I won't make it.
There is always some madness going on, and
whether you like it or not you're involved.
So I engage in all kinds of petty intrigue
which I've found necessary to survival."
Soul on Ice is an experience which trans-
cends the physical abuse Cleaver portrays so
vividly. Perhaps the most moving sequences
in the book deal with the mental torment pro-
viding 'the bases for' what Maxwell Geismer
calls "a secret kind of sexual mysticism which
adds depth and tone to Cleavers social com-
CLEAVER WRITES: "A convict's paranoia is'
as thick as the prison wall-and just as
necessary. Why should we have faith in any-
one? Even our wives and lovers whose beds
we have shared, with whom we have shared
the tenderest moments and the most delicate

"For a man like Cleaver, prison life repre-
sents the final oppressive link of a chain of
abuses forged by a racist establishment. ."
v r:"c,{{QC 'fi" '. r , MIX ";.'i ::}}".":{1:R::"{s ". -n:;r,:?:: a r y{:{r r{r1; ,e}::is."," }? { ,;S;:n':;'+d:: .

man in the country who could either start or
stop a race riot through his influence in the
black community.
Writes Cleaver, "Malcolm X had a ,spec-
ial meaning for black convicts. A former
prisoner himself, he had risen from the lowest
depths to the greatest heights. For this reason
he was a symbol of hope, a model for
thousands of black convicts who found them-
selves trapped in the vicious PPP cycle: prison
Cleaver, one of Malcolm X's most ardent
followers, has started to garner the fame and
respect of his slain mentor.
Cleaver was born in Little Rock, Arkansas,
in 1935. He was 'educated' in the Negro ghetto
of Los Angeles and graduated to the Califor-
nia state prisons of San Quentin, Soledad and'
In prison, Cleaver quickly became a leader
in the Nation of Islam movement but was later
isolated from the Muslims because of his sup-
port of the Malcolm X faction which attempt-
ed to "liberate" Muhammad's followers "from
the doctrine of hate and racial supremacy"
When Eldridge Cleaver speaks, he inspires
black pride. Cleaver teaches black respect and
black cultural identity. His slogan is "all power
to the people, black power to black people."
However, revolutions are not made single-
handedly and Cleaver, whose impact has al-
ways been chiefly with upper class intellec-
tuals, last spring, joined the Panthers to be
in the forefront of the black revolution.
Cleaver works with the Panthers because
he believes "they represent the best synthesis
in 'Babylon' of what we've learned about re-
volution through the techniques of Malcolm
Unlike most black militant organizations,
the Panthers are willing to work with whites to
achieve their program.
According to Cleaver, the basis for the
coalition between the Panthers and the PFP
began "when Huey Newton was in trouble and
we noticed that Peace and Freedom had
some sound trucks. We joined because we
needed those trucks, not because we saw a
grand coalition forming between black and
white radicals. It wasn't until later that we
noticed we had a lot of things in common."
During numerous meetings last spring to
determine what PFP and the Panthers did
have in common, white and black radicals
eventually formed the coalition which al-
lowed the Panthers and PFP to function as
two separate, but allied parties, working for
common causes.
ed a political, issue-oriented platform. It
dissociated itself from both existing political
parties in this country, urged immediate with-
drawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam a n d
pledged total support for the "black libera-
tion movement."
PFP people saw the embodiment of the
black liberation movement specifically in the
creation of the Panther Party. In supporting
the Panthers' 10 point political program, PFP
provided the basis for a "black-white radical
coalition" and adopted Cleaver as its candi-
However, Cleaver is more than a Panther.
In Soul on Ice he writes "I was familiar
with the Eldridge who came to prison, but
that Eldridge no longer exists. And the one I
am now is in some ways a stranger to me."
- Now Cleaver is in a state of flux. What-
ever his prison experience did for him, it did
'protect' him from the further realities of the
oppressive establishment he liked to write
His life during the few months out of pri-
son has been a constant flirtation with au-
thorities whose single purpose seems to be to
get Cleaver back in jail.
He knows he is a chased man. His freedom

revolutionary? "Everybody who can't stand
the Democrats or the Republicans is a radi-
cal ... I'll call them revolutionary."
At Canterbury House, Cleaver addressed
the audience saying "We've got a coalition for
the specific purpose of bringing the curtains
down on Babylon ... When the Pigs speak out,
the only thing we hear them say is "oink."
They just don't relate and the alternatives
they offer us are like a pound of ham-all
"We have to say everything in this country
is out of order until everything is rearranged."
At the convention Cleaver told delegates,
"the people in Vietnam who are having na-
palm for breakfast can't wait . . . if we are
really trying to deal with the situation we
should open up another front here in Baby-
Cleaver says he has no illusions about
peaceful change. When a pacifist asked him
why he preaches violence, Cleaver answered
that sometimes change can only be effected
through violence.
At the very least, Cleaver's violence should
be seen as a reaction to the brutal treatment
he has 'had by the Oakland police.
Cleaver believes the police are out to get
him. He thinks the only thing that saved his
life when Bobby Hutton was killed was that
a tear gas cannister exploded on his should-
ers and made his face swollen beyond recog-
Cleaver had only been out of prison a few
weeks when the Hutton killing occurred. After
he was released from the hospital his parole
was revoked for associating with "persons of
bad reputation."
on Ramparts resulted in his release, Super-
ior Court Judge Raymond Sherwin declared
Cleaver was 'limprisoned on political grounds
noting "not only was there abscense of couse
for the cancellation of his parole, it was the
product of a type of pressure unbecoming, to
say the least, to the law enforcement of his
However, to see Cleaver is to see a scared
man. The more prominent his name becomes,
the more he will be exposed to that lunatic
fringe of people who have been responsible for
the deaths of many political leaders.
Cleaver expects an attempt on his life soon-
er or later. "I figure it will happen," he says
"You learn to live with that in prison. There
was a lot of racially motivated killing in pri-
son, and for a long time I was one of the
prime targets. I still am. I also know that if
someone wants to kill me there's not much I
can do about it."
But there is something Cleaver can do about
those authorities who wish to send him back
to prison. He can flee the country, and Clea-
ver just might. Cleaver will risk his life on the
streets of Oakland but he won't return to the
prison hell of Soul on Ice.
Cleaver represents a force in America
which cannot be alienated. He presents a
philosophy of cooperating with whites which
should logically be supported by the Estab-
Don A. Schanche says in the Saturday
Evening Post, Cleaver must be understood not
as a wild radical but as an idealist who "has
an almost mystical faith in the essential
goodness of man."
Cleaver himself says "the key is a new
awareness within people which will include
a respect for all people and an absence of
The tragedy, however, is that ours is a
country not prepared or willing to undertake
the obligation of seeking "a new awareness."
Understanding Cleaver and the forces he re-
presents is no simple task and most whites
find it easier to write off Cleaver as a lunatic
rather than to understand him as a human

Cleaver, like many black militants today, is
motivated by a combination of pride and rage.
He sees himself as a leader, perhaps of both
militant blacks and radical whites, who will
overcome "this decadent society"-by force
if necessary.
WHILE CLEAVER tends to be carried away'
with his rhetoric-and his requests for
machine guns seem insane-his actions are
clearly those of a leader of black people.
Ramparts magazine wrote in a recent issue
that the day after Martin Luther King's
assassination, "Eldridge Cleaver was at a
high school where most of the pupils are
black. The kids were mad about Dr. King's
death and had decided to burn to school down.
Eldridge Cleaver stopped them.
"While Washington and Chicago burned,
Oakland was quiet."
And while Cleaver outrages liberals with
obscenities and threats of revolution, they out-
rage him in their stoic tolerance of institu-
tions which see him as a black criminal who
must be destroyed.
For Cleaver watched the alleged shooting of
his comrade, Bobby Hutton by Oakland
police. California authorities are pushing
Cleaver back into prison. So Cleaver is
threatened by the very institutions' he seeks
to change.
Cleaver wants changes now. His freedom is
his most precious possession and he gauges
it in days and weeks.
Cleaver refuses to sit idly or hope anx-
iously for reform.
He sees violence as a useful catalyst for
change. He thinks a successful revolution

relations, leave us after a while, put us down,
cut us clean aloose and treat us like they
hate us, won't even write us a letter, send us
a Christmas card every other year or a quarter
for a pack of cigarettes or a tube of tooth-
paste. All society shows the convict its ass and
expects him to kiss it: the convict feels like
kicking it or putting a bullet in it. A convict
sees man's fangs and claws and learns quick-
ly to bear and unsheath his own, for real and
final. To maintain a hold on the ideals and
sentiments of civilization in such circum-
stances is probably impossible -
"Yet I may believe that a man whose soul
or emotional apparatus had lain dormant in
a deadening limbo of desuetude is capable of
responding from some great sunken well of
his being, as though a potent catalyst had
been tossed into a critical mass when an ex-
citing, lovely, and lovable woman enters the
range of his feelings. What a deep, slow, tor-
tious, reluctant, frightened stirring!"
For a man like Cleaver, prison life repre-
sented the final oppressive link on a chain
of abuses forged by a racist establishment.
Out of such oppression, frustration and
alienation many blacks, and particularly black
convicts, have been attracted to the separa-
tist Nation of Islam religious movement of
Elijah Muhammad.
The teachings of Muhammad - to hate the
white devil for subjugating the black man to
400 years of slavery - were especially ap-
pealing to these 'victims of society'. Most were
able to follow Muhammad without question-
ing the basis for his teachings.
A few however, were able to use Muham-
mad's rhetoric and' staunch nationalism as a


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