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Finding Aid to the Eldridge Cleaver Papers, 1963-1988
BANC MSS 91/213 c  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Eldridge Cleaver papers
    Date (inclusive): 1963-1988
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 91/213 c
    Creators : Cleaver, Eldridge, 1935-1998
    Extent: Number of containers: 32 cartons, 7 boxes, 1 volume, 1 oversize folder, 2 oversize boxes Linear feet: Circa 42
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, California, 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Abstract: The Eldridge Cleaver papers document Cleaver's lifetime as an activist and writer. Dating from 1963-1988, the papers consist of correspondence, writings, including manuscripts for his works Soul on Ice and Soul on Fire, and papers from his affiliation with the Black Panther Party as Minister of Information and as head of the International Section during his exile. Also included are files of the Eldridge Cleaver Crusades, the Eldridge Cleaver Defense Committee, and Cleaver for Congress. The bulk of the collection consists of legal files pertaining to the shootout with the Oakland Police Department on April 6, 1968.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English.
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research, with the following exceptions: Letters from Kathleen Cleaver restricted until 2025. Some materials require conservation before use.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94270-6000. Consent is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html .
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Eldridge Cleaver Papers, BANC MSS 91/213 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Alternate Forms Available

    Copies of letters between Eldridge Cleaver and Beverly Axelrod also available on microfilm with call number BANC FILM 2062:1-2.

    Related Collections

    Materials concerning Social Analysis 137X course, 1968-69, CU-526
    The University and the Cleaver Course controversy. A position paper issued by Center for Participant Education and individuals representing the campus community, 308ki.cpe.cc.1968

    Separated Material

    Photographs have been transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library (BANC PIC 1991.078).

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Cleaver, Eldridge, 1935-1998
    Black Panther Party
    Eldridge Cleaver Crusades
    African American political activists
    Cleaver, Kathleen

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Eldridge Cleaver Papers were purchased by The Bancroft Library from Eldridge Cleaver in 1990 and 1995. Additional items were purchased in 2003.


    No additions are expected.

    System of Arrangement

    Arranged to the folder level.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Tanya Hollis in 2005-2006.

    Biographical Information

    Leroy Eldridge Cleaver rose to prominence in the late 1960s as a leading African American intellectual and political revolutionary. As minister of information for the Black Panther Party during tumultuous years of social upheaval, Cleaver became a symbol of rebellion, freedom, and eloquence for those seeking political and social change. His 1968 best-selling book of essays, Soul on Ice, served as a guidebook for radicals in the New Left, student, and civil rights movements.
    Cleaver was born on August 3, 1935, in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. When he was still young, the family moved to Phoenix, and in 1946 the family moved to the Watts section of Los Angeles. During his teenage years in Los Angeles, Cleaver was arrested for bicycle theft and for selling marijuana, and was sent to two different reformatories. In 1954, he was again arrested for dealing marijuana and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years at the California State Prison at Soledad.
    Released from prison, Cleaver resumed dealing drugs and embarked on a series of rapes, perpetrated, first, on black women, then on white women. In 1958, roughly a year after his release from the Soledad prison, Cleaver was arrested and charged with attempted rape and assault with intent to kill a nurse in a parking lot. He was convicted for assault, and sent to prison.
    During his subsequent eight-year stay in the San Quentin and Folsom prisons, Cleaver read widely and became a member and minister of the Nation of Islam (often called the Black Muslims). He also became an admirer of Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X. When Malcolm X broke from the Nation in 1963, Cleaver followed his example.
    With the assistance of Beverly Axelrod, a white San Francisco lawyer, Cleaver was released from prison for the second time in 1965. During his incarceration, Axelrod and Cleaver corresponded and had a brief love affair, and Axelrod helped Cleaver get several essays published in Ramparts, an influential left-wing magazine. These essays, in turn, built support for Cleaver's cause among members of the U.S. intellectual community, including writer Norman Mailer. The support of such intellectuals helped persuade the parole board to release Cleaver from prison.
    After his parole, Cleaver began writing for Ramparts. Two years later, in 1967, while living in the San Francisco Bay area, Cleaver married Kathleen Neal, who had been an activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). That same year, he befriended Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, cofounders of the Black Panthers; he soon became the party's Minister of Information. As spokesperson for the Panthers, Cleaver helped articulate the group's Ten Point platform, which included demands for Black self-determination and an immediate end to police brutality and the right to self-defense.
    In February 1968, Cleaver published Soul on Ice, which quickly became a best-seller and was named Book of the Year by The New York Times. The book includes essays on Cleaver's relationship to Malcolm X, Cleaver's rejection of U.S. capitalism, the solidarity between African Americans and citizens of third-world countries, U.S. imperialism, the relationship between sexuality and race in the United States, and Cleaver's admiration of the student movement of the 1960s.
    The success of Soul on Ice, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the imprisonment of Black Panther Chairman, Huey P. Newton, helped propel Cleaver to political prominence. In 1968, the Peace and Freedom Party nominated him for the U.S. presidency. Cleaver campaigned for a revolutionary movement that would integrate Black and white radicals; he received 30,000 votes.
    Cleaver's success as a political leader in the U.S. was short-lived. On April 6, 1968 (two days after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated), Cleaver and fellow Panther, Bobby Hutton, were involved in a shootout with the Oakland police. Hutton was killed and Cleaver was arrested. He was released on a writ of habeus corpus, and then fled to Cuba after a higher court revoked his release in November, beginning seven years of exile in Cuba, Algiers, and Paris.
    Cleaver continued his radical activity overseas. In 1969, the Black Panther Party opened its International Section in Algeria under his guidance. He led two Panther delegations to Asia to meet with leaders in North Vietnam, North Korea, and China. However, Cleaver's exile was also accompanied by a decline in his influence at home and marked by rifts with Black Panther Party leadership in the U.S. - rifts that were exploited by the FBI's COINTELPRO Program. In 1971, Cleaver broke with the Panthers and, along with his wife, Kathleen, and other former international members, formed the Revolutionary Peoples' Communication Network (RPCN). Cleaver grew increasingly disillusioned with the Algerian government's lack of support; in January 1973, Cleaver reunited with Kathleen in Paris. Eventually, the French government granted him asylum. While in exile, the couple had two children, Antonio Maceo, and daughter Joju.
    Eventually, Cleaver could no longer abide life away from the United States, and he negotiated his return, on the F.B.I.'s terms, as a prisoner in 1975. Over the years, Cleaver's political views had become conservative, a turn he attributed, in part, to his disillusionment with life in communist countries. In addition, while he was in France, Cleaver claims to have had a mystical vision, in which he saw the face of Christ in the moon. The vision laid the foundation for his conversion experience. Cleaver returned to the States born again, both as a Christian and as a conservative. Shortly after he arrived, he said, "I'd rather be in jail in America than free anywhere else."
    While in jail in 1976, Cleaver announced that he was a born again Christian and renounced the Marxism-Leninism and atheism of his Black Panther days. After his release on bail he began a short career as leader of a religious revivalist movement, the Eldridge Cleaver Crusades, which he founded in 1977. In 1978, Cleaver published a second memoir, Soul on Fire. In 1980, Cleaver created a new church, a synthesis of Christianity and Islam he called Christlam. He also spoke at colleges on behalf of Reverend Sun Myung Moon's campus ministry organization, the Collegiate Association of Research Principles (CARP). A few years later, Cleaver became involved with the Mormon Church.
    In 1980, the murder charges pending against Cleaver from the 1968 shootout were dropped and Cleaver was placed on probation for assault and sentenced to twelve-hundred hours of community service.
    Cleaver twice ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 1980s. In 1984, he lost his race for a House seat to Oakland Congressman Ron Dellums; in 1986, he ran in the Senate primary against incumbent, Alan Cranston, campaigning as a conservative Republican.
    In the mid-1980s, Cleaver became addicted to crack cocaine. He was arrested several times for cocaine possession and related charges, between 1987 and 1992. In 1987, Kathleen Cleaver divorced him. In 1994, after nearly dying in a cocaine-related assault, he kicked his addiction and returned to Christianity. Cleaver was working as a diversity consultant for the University of La Verne, near Los Angeles, when he died in Pomona, California on May 1, 1998.
    Largely taken from entry on Eldridge Cleaver, Answers.com, West's Encyclopedia of American Law, The Gale Group, Inc, 1998. http://www.answers.com/topic/eldridge-cleaver, accessed July 24, 2006.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Eldridge Cleaver papers document Cleaver's lifetime as an activist and writer. Dating from 1963-1988, the papers consist of correspondence, writings, including manuscripts for his works Soul on Ice and Soul on Fire, and papers from his affiliation with the Black Panther Party as Minister of Information and as head of the International Section during his exile. Also included are files of the Eldridge Cleaver Crusades, the Eldridge Cleaver Defense Committee, and Cleaver for Congress. The bulk of the collection consists of legal files pertaining to the shootout with the Oakland Police Department on April 6 1968.
    The collection has been divided into nine series: Correspondence; Writings; Black Panther Party; Eldridge Cleaver Defense Committee; Eldridge Cleaver Crusades; Organizations; Cleaver for Congress/ Cleaver for Senate; Legal Documents; and Personal Documents.
    Succinct series descriptions provide a basic outline of the records available. The researcher should consult the container list to determine if the records contain a topic of interest as not all subjects are mentioned in these brief descriptions.