by Araceli Esparza
Leroy Eldridge Cleaver, consultant to the Coalition for Diversity at the University of La Verne, died last Friday morning at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. The former Black Panther figure was 62.
According to a Los Angeles County coroner, he died as a result of a heart attack due to an underlying case of diabetes. Cleaver was also previously diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Yesterday afternoon, the University hosted a press conference with Cleaver’s family, at which time his daughter, Joju, described him as a “very loving man who put his life on the line for his people, everyone under creation.”
Following the release, friends, family and the ULV community attended a memorial service in Founders Auditorium.
Born June 5, 1935, in Wabbeseka, Ark., Cleaver became a minister of information for the Black Panther Party during the late 1960s. In his role as a part of the revolutionary Black Panthers, he ran as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate for the 1968 presidential elections.
He also worked with Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton for some time, and was involved with Bobby Hutton in a gun battle against the Oakland Police Department near that time.
Cleaver escaped the scene when Hutton was shot to death, and immediately began his eight-year term as a fugitive. During his period of hiding, he spent some time in Cuba, Algeria and other Communist countries.
Although Cleaver became one of the FBI’s most wanted individuals, he also began to make a complete transition in his life. The man who wrote about his struggles in Souls on Ice had discovered God.
“His children helped him to recognize that there is a God,” said Dr. Richard Rose, associate professor of religion and philosophy and diversity consultant for the University. “That’s when he started changing, when he made the recognition that God is real and accepted Christ as his savior.”
Cleaver first became acquainted with ULV when he addressed its community throughout the day on Nov. 17, 1997. Walking around with a bright yellow “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” briefcase, he revealed and autographed numerous copies of his “Wanted” poster kept inside.
“Be oppressed, be captured, but do not be defeated. 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 said to the ULV community during his stay.
On Feb. 15, he began his duties as a consultant for the University’s diversity program through the President’s Office.
“It was a mutual decision for him to be here,” said Dr. Sharon Davis, professor of sociology and criminology. “We liked him and he liked us.
“We recognized what a role he had to play within the University when the offer was extended to him.”
Last Thursday afternoon, Dr. Rose had plans to meet with Cleaver and help him move some equipment from his home to his office in ULV’s Wilson Library. When Dr. Rose arrived at Cleaver’s home, Cleaver mentioned he was not feeling well.
At the time, Cleaver believed he may have been experiencing an adverse reaction to his medication.
“He was perspiring heavily and in some pain,” said Dr. Rose. “I asked if he wanted me to call an ambulance and he indicated ‘no’.”
According to Dr. Rose, Cleaver drank some orange juice to help his diabetes, and eventually agreed to be taken to the hospital.
“I tried to tell him that he needed to go,” said Dr. Rose. “On the way he wanted to stop by Victory Outreach Church in Pomona. We arrived at the hospital at 7:40 [p.m.]”
When Cleaver and Dr. Rose arrived at the emergency room at the hospital, Cleaver told attendants of his conditions throughout that day. Dr. Rose recalls that Cleaver knew he was not felling well, but that he “didn’t know that the end was near.”
After a series of tests, doctors admitted Cleaver into the hospital, and informed Dr. Rose that he had indeed suffered a heart attack earlier that day. Assured that he would be in good care, Dr. Rose returned to his home and called the hospital at 6:10 Friday morning.
Upon calling, Dr. Rose said that the hospital staff could not speak to him, but returned his call minutes later to inform him that they had just begun administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Cleaver.
“It was pretty bad. I got there within five minutes,” said Dr. Rose. “When I arrived he had already passed.”
Dr. Rose said that he would simply like to remember Cleaver for his role at the University of La Verne and in history.
“He was an elder to the community, and he was warmly received by everyone on campus,” said Dr. Rose. “He was a voice for a definite period in time — the late ’60s.”
Cleaver’s work is continued through his hand-made flower pots, as well as his writings which include “Post Prison Writings and Speeches,” “Eldridge Cleaver’s Black Papers” and Soul on Fire.
He is survived by his former wife, Kathleen, son, Maceo, and daughter.
Memorial services for Cleaver will be at Wesley United Methodist Church in Los Angeles tomorrow, beginning at 10 a.m., with internment immediately following at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena.
The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Eldridge Cleaver Memorial Fund. Any donations may be mailed to 527 W. Seventh St., Suite 103, Los Angeles, 90014, or one may call (213) 489-2733 for more information.