Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Soul on Ice is a collection of essays and prison letters written by Eldridge Cleaver. It was written whilst Cleaver was in Folsom Prison, California, in 1965. It was published three years later. As such, the ‘characters’ who appear in the book are real people.
Eldridge Cleaver was born in 1935 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He spent time in prison for drug possession and rape, and he wrote Soul on Ice whilst in Folsom Prison, California. He is the only significant character in the book, and there are not many references to Cleaver’s life before and after his incarceration. He reads a lot whilst there, educates himself, and also becomes a board member on an advisory council for inmates. In his essays, Cleaver writes on racial discrimination, social class, and his attraction to white women. He becomes a Muslim, following Malcolm X rather than Elijah Muhammad.
Beverley Axlerod was an attorney who visited Folsom Prison to offer Cleaver legal advice. Following on from this, they began writing to each other and started a personal relationship. Cleaver dedicates Soul on Ice to his “ultimate love” for Beverley.
Butterfly was in prison with Cleaver. He was a black man who denied liking white women. He said that he hated his white grandmother. Butterfly became a Muslim.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old black boy murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Cleaver was interested in and wrote about this murder.
Chris Lovdjieff was a preacher and teacher who worked in the prison. Cleaver could not understand why somebody would be in a prison voluntarily.
Elijah Muhammad was a black supremacist and Muslim leader.
Malcolm X was the leader of a group of Muslims who had separated from the group who followed Elijah Muhammad. He believed in white tolerance, joint worship, and blacks and whites living together in communities. He was assassinated in 1965.