Eldridge Cleaver is remembered by most people as a hell-bent revolutionary of the turbulent 1960s. A descendent of Baptist preachers in Arkansas but the product of a broken home in Los Angeles, he spent years in California jails for crimes of violence. His best-selling “Soul on Ice. (1966) was written in prison. In 1967 he became a leader of the Black Panthers. A few days after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April, 1968, he was wounded in a shoot-out with Oakland police. He fled to Canada, and over the next seven years he traveled in Cuba and other Communist countries, living in Algeria and then France as a political refugee. In France in 1975 he turned to the Bible during a period of depression and underwent a conversion experience. He returned to America to face trial in connection with the Oakland shoot-out. Various Christians, including a former Black Panther, ministered to him in jail. He was released last summer on $100,000 bail, raised by Christian businessmen. The following interview was conducted by James S. Tinney, a journalism teacher at Howard University, Washington, D.C.
Question. What is your attitude toward the black church?
Answer. I am much more open and understanding of the black church now. In the past I tended to write it off—including the whole tradition of the black church—as a handmaiden of the slave masters. James Cone decisively criticizes the black church, and my attitude came out of that same approach. Now I am thrilled with the history of the black church and its stability. I feel awed by how magnificent it is. It would be easy to criticize it, but I don’t feel it would be helpful.
Q. Some people within the black community have wondered why you seem more involved with white Christian groups ...1
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