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Black Activists - Eldridge Cleaver

Updated on February 18, 2012

Eldridge Cleaver

Eldridge Cleaver was born August 31, 1935 in Wabbaseka, Arkansas and died May 1, 1998 in Pomona,California. Eldridge Cleaver was best known as a member of the Black Panther Party and for his book of black alienation in theUnited States, Soul on Ice. Soul on Ice helped to make Cleaver the leading black radical spokesman. Cleaver was a very militant activist who fit in well with the Black Panther Party because of his strong political viewpoints and his background. Cleaver was a natural fit for the organization and became a great spokesperson for the Black Panther Party.

Early Life

Eldridge Cleaver was a young criminal who was in and out of the judicial system from a very young age. As Cleaver got older his time in Juvenile Detention turned into time served in prison. While in prison Cleaver read as much as he could and became a follower of Malcolm X. Cleaver also started writing essays that he would later put together in a book titled Soul on Ice. The publication of his works helped Cleaver to get out on parole. Shortly after being paroled Cleaver met Bobby Seale and Huey Newton and joined the Black Panther Party.


Eldridge Cleaver wrote a collection of essays titled Soul on Ice. Most of these essays were written while Cleaver was incarcerated. Soul on Ice was highly praised for its illustration of and commentary on Black America. Soul on Ice was much more than a reflection on Cleaver’s life it was also a reflection onAmerica, specifically Black America. Soul on Ice’s essays are divided into four distinct sections; Letters from Prison which described Cleaver’s experiences, Blood of the Beast which discusses race relations, Prelude to Love which are love letters written by Cleaver and finally White Woman, Black Man which is about gender relations.


When Eldridge Cleaver was released from prison as a young man he immediately joined the Oakland-based Black Panther Party. Cleaver was immediately attracted to the group because of the militant style and their commitment to armed struggle. As a member of the Black Panther Party Cleaver served as the Minister of Information which made him the spokesperson of the organization. During his time in the Black Panther Party he was involved in a shoot-out with the police where one Party member was killed and where Cleaver was severely injured. Cleaver was a very outspoken person who had ideas on where he wanted the organization to go and after awhile Cleaver and the leaders of the organization were heading in a different direction.

Later Life

After leaving the Black Panther Party Cleaver became disillusioned with religion and politics and searched for the perfect fit. Cleaver became at one time a born again Christian and at another a Mormon and also change political parties to become a conservative republican. Along with the disillusion of his life Cleaver also started a downward spiral with drug abuse. Cleaver was arrested several times in his later life and at one point tested positive for drug use. Cleaver checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic. Cleaver’s health was failing him and his body was beginning to break down. Cleaver suffered from prostate cancer and diabetes but it is not clear what really caused his death.

Eldridge Cleaver led a very troublesome life. Cleaver began his life going through the court system; spending time in Juvenile Detention and later on in prison. Cleaver spent his time incarcerated reading and writing. From this came the book of essays, Soul on Ice. Throughout all of this, Cleaver was still a voice for Black America he discussed the hardships that Blacks faced and tried to make a change for the better.


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    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 5 years ago from West Coast

      loveofnight and Nan - Thank you so much for your comments. He did lead a sad life. I am amazed by the writings that came from this man.

    • Nan Mynatt profile image

      Nan Mynatt 5 years ago from Illinois

      This an example on what not to do in trying to change things in the US it didn't work. I think that he was a very angry man and fell into the wrong crowd. But, prison is based on the wrong side. He was a militant in a destructive manner. Thanks for writing his story.

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 5 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      His story sounds so sad, it's as if death offered the only peace that he could find on this planet. Nice Hub....thx 4 share