Cleaver recounts struggle

Former minister of information for the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver autographs the FBI's "Most-Wanted" poster of himself, circulated in the late 1960s. Cleaver toured the University of La Verne as a scholar for the day and delivered his main address Monday night, where he discussed issues concerning today's society. / photo by Ryan Sones
Former minister of information for the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver autographs the FBI’s “Most-Wanted” poster of himself, circulated in the late 1960s. Cleaver toured the University of La Verne as a scholar for the day and delivered his main address Monday night, where he discussed issues concerning today’s society. / photo by Ryan Sones

by Araceli Esparza
Editorial Assistant

“I will know my song well before I start singing,” quoted the former leader of the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver, to University of La Verne students Monday.

Referring to the words of Bob Dylan, Cleaver informed the ULV community about his life since the revolutionary Black Panther Party.

During the 1960s, the rise and evolution of the Black Panther Party was brought into the public eye. Its history was marked with bold challenges to the police department and community. The Party was formed as a defense for the black community.

Now, as the Afrikan-American Student Alliance (AASA), Associated Student Federation (ASF) Forum, Behavioral Science Club, Coalition for Diversity and Minority Resource Center hosted Cleaver, he spent the day on campus, accompanied by a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles suitcase (that he carries because he works with children) and photocopies of his FBI “Most Wanted” poster. Throughout his stay, Cleaver was distinguished as a visiting scholar.

Cleaver experienced a portion of ULV’s college life beginning late Monday morning, with his first destination — Sociology 321: Juvenile Delinquency.

In the classroom, Dr. Sharon K. Davis, professor of sociology and criminology, introduced Cleaver as “a man with compassion for humanity, and militancy that has characterized his life and career.”

As Cleaver entered the room, he informed those in attendance of his involvement in two jury trials, a plea bargain and his educational background, which included his enrollment at Los Angeles City College and other correspondence courses.

Cleaver then explained his part in the Black Panther revolution, describing himself as “one of the most sought-after speakers in America, and a successful fugitive.”

“I used to write for the [Black Panther’s] newspaper,” Cleaver said to the 18 people attending the class. “The newspaper spurred a revolution in the underground press; it helped to break the monopoly of daily newspapers.”

From this experience, Cleaver discovered the importance of information, and was encouraged to become a minister of information for the Black Panther Party.

In the late 1960s, Cleaver was involved in a gun battle with the Oakland Police Department. Though he escaped the scene after one of his friends was shot to death, his struggle was not over. When Cleaver fled from the scene, he was forced to begin his eight-year term as a fugitive, during which time he was exiled in Cuba, Algeria and other areas.

According to criminal documents and the FBI “Most Wanted” posters, Cleaver was portrayed as a man who was “considered armed and extremely dangerous.” Though he understands why many people have come to believe that the Black Panthers were racist and dangerous, Cleaver strongly believes a part of history remains ignorant to his personal perspectives and experiences.

“We didn’t just shoot the white police, we shot the black ones, too,” he said. “We had the idea that we are men like others, and we’re going to stop [oppression].”

After his address to Dr. Davis’ class and a lunch, Cleaver participated in a small group discussion with the general public and representatives from the media. Cleaver admitted that he had experienced a spiritual journey, which has influenced him since the peak of the Black Panther revolution. Several questions were asked of him, and Cleaver had the chance to reunite with his nephew, a resident of San Dimas.

“I’m proud of him because he stood up for what he believed in, but there were some things he did he could’ve done differently,” said Jason Hinten, Cleaver’s nephew. “If he hadn’t done them, it wouldn’t affect him now.”

Following the agenda, Cleaver later met with the ULV community, at which time he presented his major address.

In his address, Cleaver discussed issues concerning our present-day criminal justice system, the importance of unity, the political system and significant historical events.

“Don’t fight fire with fire; fight fire with water. Be oppressed, be captured, but do not be defeated,” he said. “We are in the center of the bull’s eye. We need to see ourselves as one human family and join hands — unite on the basis of freedom and justice.”

Cleaver emphasized the importance of a female President, who, he believes, naturally has the “heart and concerns of a mother.”

After his address, Cleaver accepted audience questions. Freshman Rachel Eldredge, a political science major, admits that she was skeptical about the speaker.

“I thought [the Black Panthers] were a racist group because of the way history had portrayed them, but after hearing Eldridge Cleaver speak, I began to understand what the Black Panthers were really about,” Eldredge said. “[When I return to home to Idaho] I’m going to tell everyone the truth about what he talked about and hopefully educate them about what really happened during the civil rights movement.”

According to many audience members, Cleaver’s stay was successful. Aside from the respect and fame he has received, he wishes to be remembered by such by having “A loving heart and helping hands” as the message he would like on his tombstone.

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