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Eldridge Cleaver

Activist / Writer
Date Of Birth:
31 August 1935
Date Of Death:
1 May 1998
heart attack
Place Of Birth:
Wabbaseka, Arkansas

Name at birth: Leroy Eldridge Cleaver

Eldridge Cleaver was an early leader in the militant group the Black Panthers 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. Cleaver 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 Cleaver began writing for Ramparts magazine and joined the Black Panthers, founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in 1966. 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 his book came out, Cleaver was wounded in a Black Panther shootout with Oakland police; Cleaver jumped bail, fled to Algeria and lived in exile there and in Paris. Cleaver 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.
Extra Credit:

Eldridge Cleaver described his religious and political conversions in a 1978 memoir, Soul on Fire.

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