Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)
At the same time that Soul on Ice was published, Cleaver was granted parole, was the cofounder of the Black Panther Party, and served as its minister of information. Cleaver also ran for president in 1968 as the candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party. The Black Panther Party attempted to help African-American urban communities change in terms of their own goals and priorities, not those forced on them from outside by mainstream society. The Black Panthers’ insistence on the same right of self-defense that white America claimed, however, aroused the ire of law enforcement authorities, and Cleaver was threatened with revocation of his parole on his rape conviction if he continued to speak out against injustice. Instead, he fled the country, first to Cuba and then to Algeria, and later converted to Christianity, a move that some critics regarded as expedient rather than sincere, and returned to the United States.
Cleaver’s religious conversion may be seen as part of the odyssey of a person who had always had a spiritual as well as a political identity. The key word in his title Soul on Ice is “soul,” as Cleaver was always searching for a morality to give strength to his social tactics. Cleaver’s role in the struggles of the 1960’s was as much that of a prophet as of a revolutionary. Anyone seeking to understand the changes in African-American consciousness and values during the second half of the twentieth century will find Soul on Ice to be an important guide.