Eldridge Leroy, (1935-1998), African American writer, political activist, and former
minister of information for the Black Panther Party.
Cleaver was born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas.
After growing up in Wabbaseka and Los Angeles, California, Cleaver spent much of his young
adulthood in the California state penitentiary system. Convicted on drug and rape charges
in 1953 and 1958, he used his prison time to broaden his education. During these years,
Cleaver studied the teachings of the Nation of Islam and became a devoted supporter of
black leader Malcolm X. With the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Cleaver broke his
ties to the Nation of Islam and sought to carry on the mission of Malcolm X's Organization
of Afro-American Unity.
Paroled in 1966, Cleaver went to work as
an editor and writer for Ramparts magazine. Soon after his introduction to Huey
Newton and Bobby Seale, cofounders of the Black Panther Party, in Oakland, California,
Cleaver joined the Panthers and became the party's minister of information. In this role,
Cleaver called on black men to "pick up the gun" against the United States
Cleaver had many turning points in 1968.
He established himself as a gifted essayist and cultural critic with the publication of Soul
on Ice, a collection of prison writings that earned him the Martin Luther King
Memorial Prize in 1970. Also in 1968 Cleaver was selected as the presidential candidate of
the Peace and Freedom Party. After a shootout in Oakland that left Cleaver and a police
officer wounded and 17-year-old Black Panther Bobby Hutton dead, Cleaver was charged with
assault and attempted murder. His parole was revoked. Believing his life was in danger,
Cleaver fled the country in November 1968.
He spent the next seven years in Cuba,
France, and Algeria with his wife Kathleen Neal Cleaver. Still actively involved with the
Panthers, Cleaver published essays in Ramparts, Black Panther, and the Black
Scholar and served as head of the international section of the Black Panther Party in
Algeria. After visits to North Korea, North Vietnam, and the People's Republic of China,
however, Cleaver became increasingly critical of Marxist governments. A deal with the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) allowed him to return to the United States in 1975,
with a sentence of more than 1,000 hours of community service.
After returning to the United States,
Cleaver's commitments shifted toward conservative politics and fundamentalist
Christianity. He described this transformation in Soul on Fire, which appeared in
1978. Cleaver lectured on religion and politics in the 1980s and ran as an independent
candidate for Ronald Dellumss seat in the House of Representatives in 1984. After
dropping out of the congressional race, Cleaver ran for a seat on the Berkeley City
Council in California. His ongoing struggle with drugs became public in 1994, when Cleaver
was arrested in Berkeley.
A varied and prolific writer, Cleaver
authored numerous political pamphlets, short stories, and poetry. His books Eldridge
Cleaver: Post-Prison Writings and Speeches and Eldridge Cleaver's Black Papers
both appeared in 1969. The Black Panther Leaders Speak: Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale,
Eldridge Cleaver, and Company Speak Out Through the Black Panther Party's Official
Newspaper was published seven years later.