The Wisdom of Eldridge Cleaver

I am reading the book that Eldridge Cleaver published in 1978, Soul on Fire.

As I am currently writing a novel about the year 1969, my research has followed many paths of discovery about that period of time in which I was a teenager; One of the most influential dissent groups of that period was the Black Panthers. I’m not talking about the Carolina Panthers who lost this year’s super bowl to the team from Denver.

I’m talking about the militant Black Panthers, revolutionary terrorists of the 1960’s, who were infamously lead by a trio of intrepid militants: Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton.

During the course of Eldridge Cleaver’s amazing sojourn through civil rights activism and the minefields of 1960’s black extremism, he had renounced, along with Stokely Carmichael and other leaders, the non-violence that  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had espoused.

Eldridge fled the United States as a fugitive in 1968. In the seven years that followed, he visited the primary communist countries: Cuba, USSR, Peoples’ Republic of China, North Vietnam, North Korea. The young revolutionary, having been driven out of America, sought revolutionary guidance from communist leaders.

Because I’ve got to go to work in a few minutes, I’ll just cut to the chase here. On page 109 of his book, Soul on Fire, Eldridge writes:

“While in overseas exile, I discovered the frequency with which I was lecturing the hard-rock mentality of Communist leaders, reminding them that the world revolution was deeply rooted in the American people. I had heard so much rhetoric in every Communist country about their glorious leaders and their incredible revolutionary spirit that–even to this very angry and disgruntled American–it was absurd and unreal.”

And on page 97:

“I had lived defiantly so long and in such seething hatred of all governments, people in power, people in charge, that when I came under the shelter of Communist powers, I sadly discovered that their corruption was as violent and inhuman as the people the ‘victoriously’ displaced. ‘Up against the wall’ was a trendy slogan of the underground movements around the world–but I later learned that without inner control, a moral perspective, and a spiritual balance that flowed out of Christian love, justice and caring, the Communist promises were to become the largest fraud of all.

“Pig power in America was infuriating–but pig power in the Communist framework was awesome and unaccountable. No protection by outbursts in the press and electronic media–the Reds owned it. No shelter under the benevolent protection of a historic constitution–the Marxists held the book and they tore out the pages that sheltered you. No counterweight from religious and church organizations–they were invisible and silent.

“My adult education began in prison and was ruefully completed in the prison that is called Marxist liberation, ‘power to the people’: that was meant for the party in control, writing the script, and enforcing the rules. I did mean it deeply when I said seven years later that I would rather be in prison in America than free somewhere else.”

And prison in American he did do, when Eldridge Cleaver returned from exile. He did his time, was released in 1976, and lived free, free indeed, until his death in 1998.

King of Soul

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