Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660
More a collection of essays than a linear memoir, Soul on Ice is the late African-American civil rights activist and militant Eldridge Cleaver’s story of survival and transformation during the socially turbulent decades that culminated in mass rioting across the United States. Like Malcolm X, to whom Cleaver grew close during their parallel journeys from criminal to crusader, Cleaver describes his views on racial relations and on the need for black empowerment.
Eldridge Cleaver was a product of the American South whose growth as a child occurred during an era of virulent and often brutal discrimination of African Americans. While his family moved to the southwestern United States while he was still a child, the indignities associated with systemic discrimination had their influence. He was in and out of juvenile detention centers during his teenage years and ultimately landed in maximum security prisons in California. As with Malcolm X and others of that generation, the experience of prison was both dehumanizing and educational, leading to his conversion to Islam and to his introduction to the world of underground radical politics. He became a senior member of the Black Panther party and was in 1968 involved in a shoot-out with Oakland police. The Black Panther ambush of police followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and in the context of the riots occurring in major cities around the country.
By the time Cleaver wrote and published Soul on Ice, he had distanced himself, as had Malcolm X, from the strict Islamic and separatist teachings of Elijah Muhammad. And, with the assassination by Muhammad’s followers of Malcolm and the experiences of life having demonstrated that demonization of other ethnicities, even of those who had oppressed one’s own category of humanity, was not only morally wrong but counterproductive, Cleaver continued his journey of self-education and redemption. Exemplifying this aspect of his journey—a journey that would, years after his exiles in Cuba and Algeria, see him convert to Christianity and join the Republican Party—Cleaver wrote in a chapter of his memoir, “The White Race and Its Heroes,” the following passage:
I have, so to speak, washed my hands in the blood of the martyr, Malcolm X, whose retreat from the precipice of madness created new room for others to turn about in, and I am now caught up in a tiny space, attempting to maneuver in my own. Having renounced the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, I find that a rebirth does not follow automatically, of its own accord, that a void is left in one’s vision, and this void seeks constantly to obliterate...
(The entire section contains 660 words.)
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