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 ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: