Facts about Eldridge Cleaver
Eldridge Cleaver Biography
Eldridge Cleaver helped found the militant group the Black Panthers in 1966 and became famously controversial as the group’s outspoken Minister of Information.
Eldridge Cleaver was born in Arkansas but his family moved to Los Angeles the year he turned 11, and there he began years of trouble with the law. He went to Soledad prison for marijuana possession (1954-57) and then to San Quentin for attempted murder (1958-66). During the second hitch he became a follower first of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and then of Malcolm X.
After his release he began writing for Ramparts magazine and joined the Black Panthers. His 1968 book Soul On Ice, based on essays he had written in prison years earlier, cemented Eldridge Cleaver’s reputation as a leading voice for Black Power. The same year he was wounded in a Black Panther shootout with Oakland police; Cleaver jumped bail, fled to Algeria and lived in exile there and in Paris. He finally returned to America in 1977, arranged a plea bargain, and received a sentence of community service.
Paradoxically, in later years Eldridge Cleaver renounced his former radical views, became a born-again Christian, embraced conservative political causes and even ran for political office as a Republican. He also suffered well-publicized struggles with drug addiction in the years before his death in 1998.
Eldridge Cleaver described his religious and political conversions in a 1978 memoir, Soul on Fire.