My Friend the Devil
A Memoir of My Association With Eldridge Cleaver
By Marvin X
March 21, 2009
Marvin X‘s newest book, “Eldridge Cleaver: My Friend, The Devil” is an important Expose!, notonly of whom his good friend really was… (I confess I thought something like that, in less metaphysical terms, from the day we met, at San Francisco State, 1967) But also of whom Marvin was/is. Now, Marvin has confessed to being Yacub, whom Elijah Muhammad taught us was the “evil big head scientist” who created the devil. (Marvin’s head is very large for his age.)
What is good about this book is Marvin’s telling us something about who Eldridge became as the Black Panther years receded in the rear view mirror. I remember during this period, when I learned that Marvin was hanging around Cleaver even after he’d made his televised switch from anti-capitalist revolutionary to Christian minister, denouncing the 3rd World revolutionaries and the little Marxism he thought he knew, while openly acknowledging beating his wife as a God given male prerogative, I said to Marvin, “I thought you was a Muslim” . His retort, “Jesus pay more money than Allah, Bro”, should be a classic statement of vituperative recidivism.
But this is one of the charms of this memoir. It makes the bizarre fathomable. Especially the tales of fraternization with arguably the most racist & whitest of the Xtian born agains with Marvin as agent, road manager, co-conspirator-confessor, for the post-Panther – very shot- out Cleaver. It also partially explains some of Cleaver’s moves to get back in this country, he had onetime denounced, and what he did after the big cop out. Plus, some of the time, these goings on seem straight out hilarious. Though frequently, that mirth is laced with a sting of regret. Likewise, I want everyone to know that I am writing this against my will, as a favor to Yacub.—Amiri Baraka. Newark, 5/13/09
It all began at Soledad Prison, sometime during 1966. Black Dialogue magazine was approached by attorney Beverly Axelrod about making a visit to the Soledad Prison Black Culture Club. The editors agreed to make the visit, including myself as fiction editor. The other editors included Art Sheridan, Gerald, Aubrey and Peter LaBrie, Sadaat Ahmed, Joe Goncalves, Duke Williams, et al. We made our way down the coast to Soledad. I was both excited and sad because my brother Ollie was probably an inmate at the time, though I can't remember.
Our staff was taken to the hosting officer's apartment and briefed on what to do and not to do. No contact with inmates, no passing or taking of literature. We agreed but it didn't mean a thing. Soon as we got inside the meeting room we knew what we were going to do. At first we got inside and saw the brothers seated, with the meeting in progress. Eldridge was chair and his lieutenant was Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter. Bunchy was a very handsome black man, so handsome it belied his leadership qualities as head of the Los Angeles Slauson gang.
But chairman Cleaver was a giant of a man, tell, light skinned and articulate. But more than the words said, I was immediately impressed with the organizational structure with brothers on post with military style discipline. It was probably the first time I'd seen black men so organized. We know now according to brother Kumasi that this was the beginning of the prison movement in California and the nation, this black culture club of mostly young black men confined to the dungeon as so many are today, causing havoc in black family and community life.
In this Soledad dungeon would come a prison movement on par with the black student movement, black arts, and black studies. As I listened to Chairman Eldridge speak, I said to myself this is a dangerous Negro if allowed to depart these walls. Clearly, he was well read after a total of eighteen years of confinement in the California Gulags. I would learn later he was soaked in Marxist Leninism and literature in general. And when Black Dialogue obtained his writings for publication, especially “My, Queen, I Greet You,” we suspected this was a man with the passion and writing skills of Baldwin. And of course he must have sensed this comparison and thus his need to denounce Baldwin to take a shot at the black literary crown, although he did it by a homophobic denunciation which led one to suspect his own sexual improprieties, especially after so long in prison.
But at that first meeting, we were humbled to be with the brothers, to share with them by reading our writings from Black Dialogue. At the end of the meeting we all embraced and exchanged materials in violation of the officer's request. We gave them copies of Dialogue and they gave us manuscripts of their writings which were later published in Dialogue and Journal of Black Poetry. As I said, we published “My Queen, I Greet You,” in Dialogue and Joe Goncalves published the poetry of Bunchy and others in JBP. We left Soledad and headed back up the coast to San Francisco. Thus was established a connection between the prison movement and black students, the black arts movement and eventually the Black Panther Party when I introduced Elbridge to Bobby Seale soon after his release from prison.
Several months passed before I met Eldridge again. Somebody called me to come over Sister Mary Anna's house. Maryanna Waddy was the daughter of painter Ruth Waddy, but more importantly, she was the student, though somewhat older at the time, who aggressively pushed for the name change from Negro Students Association to the Black Students Union. Maryanna was a strong black woman who took no jive, maybe the result of black consciousness taught by her mother. But when I entered her house, Eldridge was there trying to introduce his plans to the community.
There seemed to be some tension between him and Maryanna, a black man/black woman power battle. Maybe Maryanna knew about Eldridge's white woman lawyer, Beverley Axelrod, who had smuggled his manuscript Soul on Ice out of Soledad. We would learn that Eldridge had promised to marry her, so his blackness was suspect from the beginning—but we would handle that matter a few months down the road. Maryanna and most of those present, maybe members of the BSU, including those of us from Black Dialogue. If I recall correctly, Eldridge gave me a ride home and we agreed to meet again soon.
Things were going bad for us at Black Arts West Theatre on Fillmore Street, across the street from Tree's pool hall and around the corner from the Sun Reporter newspaper, published by the millionaire Communist Dr. Carlton Goodlett. BAW was breaking up because of egos and other psychopathic behavior in our crew which included Ed Bullins, Duncan Barber, Hillary Broadous, Carl Bossiere, and Ethna Wyatt. All of us wanted to make BAW happen but our egos got in the way, along with deeper mental problems. In spite of these problems, we did my plays and the plays of Ed Bullins. We had jazz concerts with the Bay Area's best, including Raphael Garrett, Monte Waters, Dewey Redman, Oliver Jackson, B.J., and others.
Only thing with the musicians, many had white women which we would not allow in the theatre, since we were black nationalists on the road to becoming members of the Nation of Islam. A long time criminal Muslim came to our theatre to recruit us, Alonzo Harris Batin, who became the guru and mentor of BAW. Batin was a criminal with a heart of gold. He wanted us to join the Nation even though most of the time he was not in good standing and considered a hypocrite. Soon we were indoctrinated by Batin and eventually most of us joined the Nation except Ed Bullins. Bullins was into his art and living or at least staying in the Beatnik area of North Beach.
For awhile, Ethna was the glue that held BAW together. She fed us when we were low on money to buy food. She would cook something that would be enough for the crew and she would try to stop us from killing each other as we ego-tripped. Ethna had come from Chicago, maybe during or around the time of that Summer of Love. It seemed many beautiful women fled Chicago to the West coast. Ethna's friend had come, Sandra Williams, helping out at BAW. Danny Glover acted in BAW, performing in Dorothy Ahmed's play Papa's Daughter, about incest. Actress and SFSU student Vonetta McGee performed in Bullins' play It Has No Choice and another play by Bullins that I can't remember the name.
And then one day the crew called me to the lobby of the theatre to meet a man they said spoke seven languages. After they called me several times to come to the lobby, I came from the theatre to meet a tall, jet black brother with straight hair, Ali Sharif Bey, who indeed did speak several languages, including English, Persian, Spanish, French, Arabic and Urdu. He became our on-site Islamic scholar and teacher, teaching us Arabic and his vast knowledge of Islam based on the Ahmediah sect, the great evangelists of Islam to the West. Ali Sharif Bey would surface later as the runner for the SLA when they kidnapped Patty Hearst. He is the source for my master thesis docudrama How I Met Isa.
But in spite of all this community support—none from the Black bourgeoisie until later at the Black House which Eldridge convinced me to help organize since I told him I was tired of the bs at BAW and was ready to do something different. We discussed setting up what eventually became Black House, a political/cultural center on Broderick Street off Divisadero in the Fillmore. Ed Bullins soon joined Eldridge, Ethna and myself. For a few months Black House became the cultural center of the Bay with thousands of conscious hungry black flocking there for culture. Black House participants included Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Askia Toure, Chicago Art Ensemble, Sarah Webster Fabio, Reginald Lockett, Emory Douglas, Samuel Napier and Little Bobby Hutton. On the political side, Eldridge brought in a Communist party leader, Rosco Proctor.
Eldridge had no time for the culture, even though he couldn't help but be influenced by it since it was at the house he financed with his advance from Soul On Ice. He and Baraka had little to say to each other even though Baraka's Communication Project at San Francisco State College/now University, had its off campus base at Black House. Years later these two men would switch ideologies with Baraka turning Communist and Eldridge finding religion. Eldridge would eventually go from Communist to Christian, to Mormon to Moonie to Religious Science.
But at Black House he was strictly Communist and he pushed hard to get us to follow his path, though we resisted until Black House fell apart from ideological differences. Before it fell we had gone to Beverly Axelrod's house to literally remove Cleaver since we found it a contradiction for the chairman of Black House to be sleeping at the White House. One afternoon brother Batin and I made Eldridge move his things from the White House while Miss Ann cried. Among his belongings was that wicker chair, spear and rug made famous in that photo of Huey Newton.
Eldridge and Alonzo Batin were old prison comrades, having shared time throughout the California prison system. They were classic men, so classic they were made the subject of an off-Broadway play by Earl Anthony, produced by Woody King. Batin kept pressure on Eldridge to be black, something EC didn't want to do because he was suffering from the addiction to white supremacy. With all the cultural happenings at Black House, Eldridge preferred to listen over and over to what we called a white hippy folk singer named Bob Dylan.
Black House people didn't give a damn about Bob Dylan, hardly knew who he was, but Eldridge played his music continuously, trying to make us listen to it at every turn. But our favorite singer soon joined us to live at Black House, Willie Dale. Willie was another prison comrade of Eldridge's who sang the Black National Anthem of the 60s, Louis Farrakhan's The White Man's Heaven is a Black Man's Hell. Willie, with his booming voice, could sing it better than Farrakhan. After moving Eldridge fully into Black House, we wanted to secure him a black woman, so Willie's wife, Vernasteen, went down to their home town, Bakersfield, and brought back Marilyn, who came to stay with Eldridge until he met the love of his life, Kathleen.
The Black House became a half way house for black revolutionaries who were first indoctrinated with black consciousness then joined political organizations. Despite his resistance to blackness, Eldridge was touched by simply being in the house with so much culture going on. And then came Emory Douglass from San Francisco City College reading a poem Revolutionary Things. Emory became Black Panther Minister of Culture. Then came Samuel Napier, a worker who wanted to get involved. Sam went on to become Minister of Distribution of the Black Panther newspaper. George Murray was part of Baraka's Communication project, and became the Black Panther Minister of Education. Thus it is my theory, contrary to Larry Neal's assertion that BAM was the sister of BLM, BAM was the Mother who nurtured her children and prepared them with the necessary consciousness for revolutionary struggle, hence the prime importance of the cultural revolution.
For a long time I couldn't figure out what Huey Newton meant when he said I taught him things, for it was Huey who had taught me consciousness at Merritt College, but after thinking about it for years, I concluded maybe I did teach Huey simple street theatre which the Panthers executed to the max, with their costumes and political rhetoric. Of course Bobby Seale was in my second play Come Next Summer, 1966, months before he and Huey founded the BPP. He played a young man trying to find himself, ultimately joining the revolution. The San Francisco State BSU's Communication Project, directed by Baraka, recruited several BSU brothers and sisters to do the plays of Baraka, Ben Caldwell, Bullins, and Jimmy Garrett. These actors became real live revolutionaries when they initiated the Third World Strike at SFSU, one of the most violent and the longest in American academic history, again illustrating the necessity of cultural consciousness in liberation. The strike led to the founding of Black and Ethnic Studies at SFSU.
Eldridge had no knowledge of the Black Panthers until I informed him out of our artistic desire to get rid of him as chair of Black House, even though he had made it happen by putting up the money, but we rejected his desire to push Marxism at any cost, even though he paid the cost to be the boss. I didn't think he was so dogmatic about his mission which was to create a Communist organization. Thus when we realized he was merely using artists to advance his political goals, we objected. For a short time we went along with his sessions on Communism, sometimes they included Rosco Proctor. I think Rosco was secretary of the Communist party of California. We didn't mind reading Mao's Talks at Yenan Forum on Art and Literature or Robert F. Williams' Negroes With Guns.
But when we tired of the Marxist approach of Cleaver, I suggested he meet some of my friends across the Bay who were arming themselves for self defense against the police. I thought this would be a way to get rid of Cleaver so we could do our cultural work. Cleaver best describes meeting the Panthers for the first time in his book Post-Prison Writings . But I took him to meet Bobby Seale one night after a radio interview at a station in Jack London Square. I took him by Bobby Seale's house in North Oakland, got Bobby to come outside to Cleaver's car. Bobby got in and the world knows the rest. Hooking up with the Panthers was not the idea Cleaver came out of prison to pursue, but it was still a dream come true, although I knew there would be hell to pay for somebody, in particular Bobby and Huey who I knew were no match for Cleaver's chicanery.
Even though Bobby and Huey were well read, they were no match for Cleaver, especially in terms of Marxism. Nor were they on par with Cleaver's organizational skills and especially his ability to move on those in opposition to his mission, even to the point of murder. Who knows how many bodies Cleaver left behind in the Gulag, or his special skills in getting rid of enemies. Huey may have been a psychopath but still he was no match for Cleaver. I was glad Cleaver was hooking up with the Panthers because it took pressure off us artists. But I felt sorry for what awaited the Panthers because I knew Cleaver was a man who had to be in control, especially because he had superior knowledge and had proven organizational skills as evidenced by the Soledad Prison Black Culture Club, which was a military organization as well.
Around the time I was introducing Cleaver to the Panthers, they were moving on a rival Panther organization the BPP called the Paper Panthers, led by their former associates in Donald Warden's AfroAmerican Association and co-students at Merritt: Ken and Carol Freeman, Ernie Allen, and others who were part of the group of neo black intellectuals at Merritt, including myself, Richard Thorne, Isaac Moore, Ann Williams, Maurice Dawson, John Thomas, Wayne Combash and others. Several of us were associated with Soulbook, the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) publication headed by Robert F. Williams and Max Stanford (now Muhammad Ahmed).
But Huey and Bobby had separated from the so-called Paper Panthers because they did not recognize the supremacy of armed self-defense. They eventually gave the Paper Panthers an ultimatum: put up guns or shut up and stop calling themselves Black Panthers. Again, Cleaver gives a good description of this conflict in Post-Prison Writings. I am certain Ernie Allen and Ken Freeman's brother, Donald Freeman (Baba Lumumba) can give their side of the story with documentation. Baba Lumbuma has a letter from the BPP to the Black Panther Party of Northern California that invites them to stop using the Panther name, signed by Huey and Bobby.
Eventually there was a confrontation between the two Panther groups in San Francisco at the headquarters of Bill Bradley (now Oba T'Shaka). (I am writing from total recall so events may be out of chronological order but I think the events happened close to the order I'm describing. There are a plethora of books on the BPP to confirm the sequence of events or correct my amnesia. If the reader has more accurate information, please submit it to me for inclusion in my narrative so I won't be guilty of revisionism.)
After introducing Eldridge to the Panthers, events at Black House happened in rapid succession, leading toward the end of the cultural component and the establishment of Black House as the San Francisco headquarters of the BPP. Again, I may have the chronological order confused, after all, I am recalling events of forty years ago from memory. Anyway, Cleaver becomes minister of information of the BPP and soon followed the first publication of the BPP newspaper, headlined with the police murder of Denzil Dowell in Richmond. Eldridge and Emory Douglas laid out the paper.
Besides Muhammad Speaks, the BPP newspaper would become the most powerful newspaper of the 60s revolution. And of course much of the distribution success can be attributed to Samuel Napier, Minister of Distribution. What I remember most about Samuel was his innocence and sincerity about wanting to get involved and giving his all once involved. I was never more depressed than when I learned he was murdered in the internecine violence when the BPP factions split between Huey's west coast army and Eldridge's east coast army. Sam was murdered then set afire in New York.
When I performed my play One Day In the Life in 1997 at Sista's Place in New York, the brothers pulled me aside and said the following: "Marvin, we love you, but we don't give a damn about Huey Newton," (the play has a scene of my last meeting with Huey—the setting of the one-act play Salaam, Huey, Salaam, by Ed Bullins and Marvin X, New Federal Theatre, 2008). New York is Eldridge's turf, they told me. "His army is still here." When he died May 1, 1998, I organized his memorial service in Oakland, along with Sister Majedah Rahman, a former Panther.
Many Panthers did not attend because of their loyalty to Huey. Those who did attend included: Emory Douglas, Tarika Lewis, Richard Aoki (recently deceased, the first Asian Panther), Dr. Nathan Hare, Dr. Yusef Bey, Imam Alamin, Minister Keith Muhammad, Kathleen and Joju Cleaver. Kathleen said to me after the service, "Marvin, the service was great, but there were just too many Muslims." Well, if it weren't for us Muslims, there would have not been any recognition of Cleaver's contribution to the revolution. Kathleen had agreed to have a poem I wrote read at his funeral in Los Angeles.
But let's get back to the chronology. There was a group of youth who made the basement of Black House their playhouse and apparently there was a lot of things going on down there between the youth, like playing hooky from school and sexual abuse of girls. We got word from some of our bourgeoisie friends, in particular Dezzie Woods and Bennie Ivy that the police were going to raid Black House. The Black bourgeoisie did give financial support to Black House, in contrast to their lack of support for Black Arts West. Maybe the notoriety of Black House made them more giving, especially with the presence of EC in the house, about to become a best selling author. Everybody likes to be around a star.
No one had time for the youth except me, certainly not Eldridge or Ed Bullins, so I was the liaison with the youth, some of whom I have been in contact with until today. Lil Bobby Hutton came to me one day with a directive from the Supreme Commander of the BPP, Huey P. Huey, saying the youth clubhouse had to be closed down. Lil Bobby was 16 and Huey was his hero. Lil Bobby was the third person to join the BPP and became Secretary, a model for youth of today to join the liberation struggle and forsake gang banging, set tripping and other reactionary activities.
In my supreme arrogance, I told Lil Bobby, "Fuck the Supreme Commander!" I saw death in his eyes for me. But I felt Huey was an equal and even though the BPP had taken over Black House, they did not control me. Lil Bobby looked at me as if I had cursed God Almighty. "We go deal with you, Padna!" My days in the Black House were growing short. That night all I heard were Black Panthers clicking 45 automatics outside my bedroom door. Of course I was just as mad and psychopathic as any Panther. I was fearless. My attitude was, "Fuck you motherfuckers. Kiss my ass."
Nothing happened except the coming exit of myself and other artists from Black House, including Ed Bullins who would soon take off for New York. The BPP began to terrorize so-called cultural nationalists or those they considered would not take up armed struggle in the manner prescribed by the BPP. Musicians departed the Bay for the East coast. Askia Muhammad was threatened and fled East after coming to teach at San Francisco State College/now University.
Before my exit the BPP was next door in Eldridge's room planning their dramatic and historic to invade the State Capitol in Sacramento. I was planning my departure from Black House. My next move was into the Nation of Islam, simply because I wanted to be involved in a black nationalist organization that was spiritual as well. Easter Sunday, 1967, I went to Mosque #26 and joined the NOI.
Even before I joined the Nation of Islam, my girl/woman/friend/revolutionary lover Ethna (now Hurriyah Asar) had gone home with me to Fresno and while there she joined the Nation of Islam, just goes to show you how far ahead women are—Ethna was always ahead of me in her dreams and plans—although I am Gemini, there is a slow side to me, so slow it is like a snail. She was a Virgo and well grounded in what she wanted as her dream. She always wanted a nation, a land of her own for us as a people. She was the child of a step mother who was a member of the Chicago Communist Party of the USA, another member of which was Angela Davis. Her mother, now in her 80s, is still a member of the Communist Party of the USA.
We need to understand that there are a large percentage of Blacks who have no faith whatsoever in the political system of the USA, despite the election of Obama. Doesn't matter if they are Communists, Muslims, Nationalists or whatever, even common people with no ideology, they are completely alienated from American society and all that she proclaims to the world. There are blacks in the marsh and swamps of Louisiana who have no loyalty to the USA, no matter what you might think.
So Hurriyah (Freedom) was my partner, guide and mentor as woman, lover, friend. She had her men and lovers and I had mine, but through it all we came together when time allowed and she is my friend now, my very best friend. She has not lost that feminine touch that so many women have but don't know to use the language of love. Hurriyah can totally disarm me with her language of love, knowing how to whisper to a man and make him conquer the world. This is what men need today. Forget that aggressive talk that turns men off, making women think men need Viagra when men only need the feminine language of love.
Just come at me right with the language of love, not that shit yu learned from the white man or white woman in college. Talk to me in the language that made grandpa stay with grandma for fifty years until death, not that neo-modern language that make Mama leave Daddy with five kids. Then at the death of Dad, Mom wants the urn with his ashes, because she loved him more than anyone could ever understand.
Eldridge told me how his mother wanted the urn of his father at his death, even though she had been divorced from him for years, revealing her unconditional devotion and love to him, the man who meant so much to her, in spite of his negrocities (Baraka term).
While in Fresno Ethna (Hurriyah, Grand lady of BAW) joined the Nation even before I was ready. During this time in Fresno we performed Baraka's Dutchman at Fresno State College, with Hurriyah in white face in the role of Lula. Actually I got a wig from Fresno's biggest pimp, Marcel, who came to see the performance at FSU. He said when he saw Clay (Marvin X) stabbed by Lulait donned on him that he would not know what to do if one of his white ho's stabbed him in his hotel room.. Who was he going to call, the white man, his black brothers? It was then he threw in his good pimping towel and joined the Nation of Islam, eventually becoming an Imam and making his hajj to Mecca. This is the power of Black Arts, this is the power of the cultural revolution to save souls like Marcel, to revolutionize pimps and whores.
A few weeks before my existing Black House, a dramatic event had taken place in Cleaver’s life. He had gone to Fisk University to attend a conference with black radicals, including members of SNCC: Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), Imam Jamil Alamin (H. Rap Brown), Kathleen Neal and others. The police in Nashville, Tenn marched Cleaver onto a plane back to California for allegedly starting a riot. But the riot was in his soul, his ice was melting, he had met the love of his life, Kathleen Neal, the daughter of a diplomat, but she had chosen revolution and would soon chose Eldridge as her husband, much to the grave disappointment of her family. After all, what black bourgeoisie family would want their daughter to marry a former convict and especially a convicted rapist?
Nevertheless, when he returned from Nashville, nothing but talk of Kathleen came from his lips. We wished he would shut up talking about the sister, but our wish didn’t matter to this madman in love—as though love doesn’t produce madness in everyone. But EC had the love bug, was strung out like a heroin addict or meth freak. Kathleen, Kathleen, Kathleen. We were impressed when she finally arrived at Black House, a fine, high yellow sister. When I finally met Eldridge’s mother, I saw the resemblance between her and Kathleen.
After returning from the Fisk conference, his parole agent put Mr. Soul on Ice under house arrest. I don’t think he was even allowed to cross the Bay Bridge, so when Ramparts magazine wanted him to interview Muhammad Ali about the draft, Eldridge couldn’t go. He arranged for me to go to Chicago instead. It took several days before I caught up with Muhammad Ali at the home of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. When I arrived, I was ushered in the living room and sat down while Ali was in conversation with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. When Ali came from the room with Elijah, he said his teacher told him not to do the interview because he had said enough about the draft, especially in the white devil’s media which I represented. Ali said to me, “This is the man I’m willing to die for, what he says, I do.” Ali asked me if I needed any money, and of course I say yes.
As I recall, he probably handed me a couple hundred dollars. I departed the house without seeing the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, although Sister Clara did come into the room and nod at me. She was the first lady of the Nation of Islam and we are still waiting on an authoritative biography of her, the woman who ran the Nation of Islam for the twelve years Elijah was away: seven years of flight after Master Fard Muhammad appointed him supreme minister upon departing. Even his own brother, Kallot had disagreed with the appointment, along with other brothers who declared they would hunt Elijah down and kill him. One brother said he would eat one grain of rice a day until he caught Elijah. After seven years, Elijah returned but was then arrested for treason and draft evasion during WWII, so he was away a total of twelve years. His son Wallace or Warithdeen was twelve when his father returned, thus his close identification with his mother Clara and alienation from his father who he finally denounced when he became head of the Nation of Islam.
When I returned to the Bay, Ramparts was naturally disappointed I didn’t conduct the interview, but they got over it and eventually they did a story on Muhammad Ali’s draft case. But it was soon after my meeting with Ali that I found myself on the run behind the draft. While at Black House I had lost my college deferment because I’d dropped out of San Francisco State College/University. But after joining the Nation and even before doing so, I knew I was not about to serve in the white man’s army. Elijah told his followers to go to prison as he had done, but I was also under the influence of the Black Panthers. Eldridge had tainted me with, “We must not only resist the draft but resist arrest as well.” I soon found myself in Toronto, Canada as a draft resister, along with several other brothers.
And so in 1967 I found myself exiled in Toronto, Canada, actually I was in Hamilton, a suburb. I was given refuge by Ted Watkins, a pro-football player in the Canadian league. Ted was my cousin by marriage, actually his wife Natalie was related to me through my uncle Adam who lived in Modesto. There was a time in the recent history of Modesto when most of the blacks were related by blood or marriage. The late jazz pianist Monte Waters of Modesto was also related by marriage. But my favorite cousin Carol Lee of Modesto, daughter of my mother's brother Adam, connected me with Ted and Natalie who gave me the green light to come to Canada. They greeted me with open arms when I finally connected with them after arriving in Toronto.
It wasn't long before I had converted Ted to Islam. He changed his name to Shahid. Another conversion was Canada's angriest Negro, Austin Clarke, a writer who changed his name to Ali Kamal. The great Pan Africanist Jan Carew was steeped in too much ideology to be converted, but Austin, Jan and I came together often for dialogue on events around the world.
My cousin Ted funded a publishing project Al Kitab Sudan which released my first collection of poetry Sudan Rajuli Samia or Black Man Listen. Eventually I moved from Hamilton to Toronto, renting a room from singer Salome Bey and her husband, Howard. I was soon joined by another draftee from San Francisco State College, Oswald, a poet who had published in Black Dialogue. Another brother in exile was from Los Angeles, Norman Rockland, who is still in Toronto today.
Exile is the worse of all possible things, for there is nothing worse than being cut off from one’s people, especially when they are struggling to overcome oppression but you cannot be there with them to share their daily round, their pain and suffering. Internationalism is fine but one’s national liberation is always one's priority, even though we know oppression is worldwide and thus the fight is everywhere. So we got down in Canada, organizing and spreading propaganda.
Of course the Toronto Star newspaper claimed twenty thousand black Muslims had invaded from the South (USA). There were about three of us brothers, and I was soon joined by Sister Ethna (Hurriyah) who fled an abusive relationship with her husband in Philadelphia. She had left me soon after we returned to San Francisco from Fresno and hooked up with a brother she thought she really loved. Ethna didn't stay long in Toronto because my money was real funny. Surely you know how women are when a man's money is funny. After several weeks of committing adultery, she departed for her hometown of Chicago. I was heart broken but stayed the course, a least for a few months.
I furthered my Islamic training after meeting brothers from the Middle East at Juma prayer service at the University of Toronto. One of those who mentored me was Hussein Shahristani. Hussein was a Shia who taught me my prayers in Arabic and also told me about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who were persecuted for years under successive governments, including the regime of the great Arab nationalist Gamal Abdul Nasser. The Brotherhood teachings are the ideological and spiritual foundation of Hamas which recently fought a battle in Gaza against the Zionist.
Hussein told me not to worry too much about events in the Middle East since they have been going on for thousands of years. He was president of the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada and told me of his desire for a Nation of Islam similar to the notion of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Hussein became a nuclear scientist and returned to his native Iraq. He was persecuted by Saddam Hussein and imprisoned because he refused to work on Hussein's nuclear weapons program. Somehow he survived persecution and today is the Minister of Oil and a close associate of the Grand Ayotollah Sistani.
Meanwhile back in the States, events in the Black Panther Party happened rapidly between Panthers and the police. The first Panther attack was focused on the Richmond police who killed Denzill Dowell, a young black man. The killing of Dowell made headlines in the first issue of the BPP newspaper, edited by Eldridge (Minister of Information) and laid out by Emory (Minister of Culture). Eventually Samuel Napier would become Minister of Distribution. And then there was the invasion of the State Capitol with Panthers displaying unloaded weapons which was legal at the time, i.e., until the Panthers.
The devil always changes the rules when you master the game. And then there was the shootout between Huey Newton and Officer Fry of the OPD in which the officer was killed and Huey wounded. Reading of events in exile made me happy to be in Toronto, although I wanted to be home to partake in the struggle. Eldridge would tell me years later, "Yeah, Huey shot the pig. We took the gun and threw it into the Bay."
We discovered racism was as Canadian as hockey—and they play a lot of hockey in Canada, you can see children on the street playing hockey barefoot in the snow. As Austin Clarke explained in an interview, Canada may not have been involved in the slave trade and she might not have had colonies, but West Indian women workers described the journey from the Caribbean islands to Canada as the Middle Passage. And upon arrival they immediately became indentured servants with few rights of protest to harsh working conditions. One need only read the novels and short stories of Austin Clarke and others to get a taste of racial conditions in Canada.
We made the mistake of not understanding the racial dynamics when we held a rally at a West Indian night club and referred to the white women as snakes. Little did we know how many biracial children were in the audience, and they reacted to our racial insensitivity. After six months, I had enough of Canada; in fact I had renounced my US citizenship before the American consulate, having had enough of America as well. A fat man gave me a ride to Ottawa to try to go to a Third World or Communist country. This same fat white man claimed he had helped Robert F. Williams escape to Cuba when he fled North Carolina ahead of lynch mobs because he advocated Negroes With Guns. A fat white man was also supposed to have helped James Earl Ray escape from Canada to England after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Well, we know there are some people who work both sides of the fence, from the right to the left.
After six months I made plans to return underground to the United States. I was homesick especially after receiving a letter from Ethna telling me about the Black Arts scene in Chicago, even sending me a book signed by a poet named Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti). His book inspired me to pack up and make my way across the border to Detroit, where I was greeted by historian Harold G. Lawrence and Ahmed Alhamisi, editors of an anthology on BAM.
From Detroit I slipped into Chicago where I worked under an assumed name in the Loop, eventually moving from the North side with Ethna’s sister to a room on the South side, 57th and Kimbark, Blackstone Ranger gang territory, walking home nightly knowing my life was in danger but having no fear, and there was never any incident between myself and the gang bangers. But one day there was a note on my door from Ethna’s sister saying the FBI had been to her house looking for me. I knew it was time to raise up from Chicago, but I didn’t get out of there fast enough.
August 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and America became a house on fire when North American Africans reacted nationwide with righteous indignation at the demise of King and his forever-gone era of non-violence. Cities burned coast to coast and Chicago was no exception: the West side went up in flames. When I got up early the next morning to go to work in the Loop, the South side was under National Guard occupation, with soldiers in jeeps, tanks, and military trucks manning intersections, especially along Cottage Grove, a main drive.
Four days later, we heard the news from California that the Panthers had a shootout with Oakland police in which Lil Bobby Hutton was murdered in cold blood and Eldridge Cleaver wounded. From his long experience in the California prison system, Cleaver knew when in confrontation with authorities you come out butt naked. The young hero of revolution, Lil Bobby probably had too much pride to come out naked and when he appeared from the house on 28th and Magnolia, the OPD murdered him in cold blood after he surrendered. The people released a cry of horror at what they witnessed. During the shootout other Panthers had threw down their guns and ran. One Panther leader was found by police hiding under a bed in a woman’s house.
This cowardice is not unknown in revolutionary history. There were soldiers who turned heels and ran while fighting battles with Prophet Muhammad of Arabia 1400 years ago. As I wrote in a song, “Revolution is not a pretty thing.” What is worth nothing is that Eldridge told me after the assassination of MLK, Jr., suddenly black men appeared at the Panther office crying for guns to avenge the death of King. He described them as too clean for brothers in the hood. He said they had the look of military men disguised as common brothers from the community.
We know Cointelpro or the FBI’s counter intelligence program was in full swing during this time. Furthermore, if anyone had anything to do with the assassination of Dr. King it was the FBI—see BET’s documentary of J. Edgar Hoover in the American Gangster series.
The next time I see Cleaver is in Mount Morris Park, renamed Marcus Garvey Park, in Harlem. I was now a resident of Harlem, or at least a worker in Harlem, while living in the Bronx with playwright Ed Bullins, after slipping into Harlem from Chicago after the assassination of MLK, Jr. Yes, I came up out of the subway at Eight Avenue, the subway made so famous by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in Take the A Train.
I came up into a sweltering Harlem summer of heat, sweat and funk, a love funk so beautiful I never imagined such a happening upon seeing so many beautiful black people—Chicago was great and there is nothing like Chicago, especially the South side, but Harlem, the capital of Black America, the ground Malcolm X walked upon, and Duke, Billie, Basie, Parker, Apollo Theatre, awesome power of my people, the East coast version of what I'd experienced in Oakland on Seventh Street, Harlem of the West.
Seventh Street was a small version of what was before my eyes, a sea, a wonderland of Black people from over the world, Africa. Nigeria, Lagos, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, the Caribbean, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, all swimming in blackness. And I among them now, a negro from Cali swimming in the sea of my people, loving every moment, under the guidance of Askia Touré, my elder and teacher, telling me about the Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, telling me more about the Sufi teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Rumi, Ghazali and others, about the Mukhadimah of Ibn Khaldun and other Sufi and Islamic masters.
And then there was Sun Ra, the master of all masters, my teacher, mentor, friend and guide, who taught me all that one ever needed to know about theatre, the master teacher of BAM, who told us about traveling the space ways, and Milford Graves, master drummer who was so powerful he was banned from downtown, too aggressive, too arrogant, too too too,
Milford, my main man, and The Last Poets coming together to take us to the next level into Rap, Abiodun, Ben Hasan, Geylen Kayne, David and Filipe, Barbara Ann Teer and the New Lafayette Theatre, Ed Bullins and Robert Macbeth and crew, the Yoruba king, Baba Serjiman who moved to Sheldon, South Carolina, and Olatunji, master drummer of Nigeria, all there in the Harlem madness and joy, Amiri Baraka, gone home to Newark but slipping back into Harlem to continue his light with Larry Neal, Askia and crew, sane and insane, enjoying the madness of Harlem summer 68, Nikki, Sonia, Haki, June Jordan, Mae Jackson jumping over the broom to marry me, the Prince of Harlem, Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp and the Ayler brothers, and more, more, Farrakhan at Mosque #7, Akbar Muhammad and Donald Cunningham at the book store, the book store of the world at 125th and 7th Aveneue, Mr. what was his name, the master book seller? Harlem, 1969, a dream come true for a Cali Negro, swimming in the sea of his people.
Fuck Vietnam and Fuck America. And there was Cleaver in Mount Morris Park saying he would kiss the pussy of Fannie Lou Hamer as I stood and watched. And Bobby Seale was at 125th and 7th Avenue, reciting my poem “Burn, Baby, Burn,” and James Foreman trying to lecture to the people on Franz Fanon, and on and on and on. And Dr. Ben and John Henry Clarke rapping on history and consciousness and beyond, etc., etc., etc.
Marcus Garvey Park would be the last time I'd see Cleaver for several years. Even though I'd found his speech about Fannie Lou Hamer disgusting then because of my Islamic Puritanism at the time, today I would agree with Cleaver in bowing down at the altar of Fannie Lou, that great revolutionary woman from the Southern liberation movement who challenged the Democratic party for its unabashed racism at the time. Yes, Cleaver, I would kiss her pussy too! In his utter madness but searing insight, Eldridge said, "Nine out of ten women are an insult to a dick." So Fannie Lou Hamer was that one out of ten women who deserved praise and honor for valor and steadfastness in the face of brutal white racist savages in the South.
It must have been not long after his New York speech that Cleaver returned to California to face charges for the shootout with the OPD, or maybe he was supposed to turn himself in as a parole violator but instead he donned the persona of a woman and slipped out of his house in San Francisco to reappear in Castro's Cuba. In Cuba he soon discovered the role of Afro-Cubans in the history of revolutionary struggle in their land. Brother Carlos Moore had written about the African role in the Cuban liberation struggle. And it was in the eastern or African province of Cuba that the revolution began. Cleaver learned the white Cubans took over the leadership from the Afro-Cubans. He would name his son after the great Afro-Cuban revolutionary leader, Antonio Maceo.
Of course Robert F. Williams (Negroes With Gunsand leader of the Revolutionary Action Movement or RAM) had preceded Cleaver in exile on the island. Williams had grown somewhat disillusioned with the Cuban revolution and slipped away to China. Cleaver said after associating with the Afro-Cubans and telling them about Black Power, the Cuban government grew suspicious of the Panthers and basically wanted them to stop spreading the ideology of Black Power. Eldridge said they had to arm themselves with AK47s against the Cuban government when they attempted to put the Panthers in check. At the time Castro was pushing the line that all Cubans were one, negating any special emphasis of Africa or Afro-Cubanism.
This attitude changed when Cuba decided to help Angola by sending troops to fight the colonialists. Suddenly, Cuba fully recognized her Africanity and solidarity with the African revolution. Many Cuban troops died fighting in Angola and confronting the apartheid regime in South Africa which supported the reactionary forces in Namibia.
Eldridge slipped out of Cuba after blasting Castro's Latin racism, but this was Cleaver's MO: to submerge himself into a phenomenon, study it then expose its contradictions. We will see this pattern as my narrative continues. He will go from being a Muslim in prison to Communist to Panther to Christian to Moonie to Mormon to Republican to Science of Mind to Crack Head. His life ended before he was able to deconstruct Crack.
He arrived in Algeria and the Panthers were soon given diplomatic status as the representative of the North American African peoples. Eventually the Panthers were given a building that had previously housed the North Vietnam or Viet Cong embassy--if I'm correct. Thus the BPP was now international and recognized around the world as a national liberation movement. With diplomatic status, the International Section of the BPP was able to meet and greet diplomats from other national liberation movements around the world, including the PLO, the Chinese, North Koreans and liberation movements throughout Africa.
Cleaver traveled throughout the world as a diplomat of the North American African nation. Kathleen had arrived in Algeria just in time to give birth to their son, Antonio Maceo Eldrdige Cleaver. Their daughter, Joju, would be born while on a visit to North Korea.
It was in Algeria that the BPP had to be taught the role of culture in revolution. After the Algerian International Cultural Festival, the BPP stopped slamming the cultural revolution in America because along with armed struggle there must be a cultural revolution. And as I have written, the BPP had evolved from the Black Arts Movement. Panther leadership had received consciousness in BAM, including Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Emory, Sam Napier, George Murray, et al. They had come through Black House, BAW and the BSU's Communication Project, directed by Amiri Baraka when he was at San Francisco State College/University.
Huey Newton had often said I taught him things, but the only thing I may have taught Huey was street theatre which Black Arts West and Baraka's Black Arts Repertory School in Harlem demonstrated. The BPP took street theatre to its highest level when the Panthers donned their uniform of black berets, black leather jackets and blue shirts.
Of course it wasn't uniforms that made the Panthers shake up the world, but the presence of armed black men and women on the streets of America, which took armed struggle in black liberation to another level, although there was resistance to slavery every day of the centuries we were kidnapped and terrorized on American soil (see the History Channel's documentary Slave Catchers and Resisters). There had been black men and women who took up arms against racism and white supremacy in the South, e.g., Deacons for Defense in Louisiana and of course Robert Williams in North Carolina.
While in Houston, we visited the Museum of the Buffalo Soldiers and were especially moved by the 1916 revolt of black soldiers, most of whom were hanged after they avenged the murder of a soldier by racist police in Houston. We wonder why resistance history is not the primary lesson in Black Studies. But the BPP's "street theatre" told the world black men and women had had enough and would fight to the death to defend themselves. This is the significance of the Panthers, that they were willing to defend community at the pain of death, or as we used to say, "No slave should die a natural death."
And of course the cultural revolution backed resistance. Ben Caldwell's play The Job is about a Negro who came to the employment office to say he didn't come looking for a job but came to do a job. He proceeded to beat the white employment counselor to death with a baseball bat. Maybe we can understand Mixon of Oakland in this light: all he wanted was a job, yet he obviously came to do a job--we don't know his ideology but we know he was clearly in Al Ansar territory, a Muslim cult founded by a former criminal renamed Master J, who taught his followers from Supreme Wisdom. Nation of Islam Muslims, Five Percenters, Al Ansar and other off shoots of NOI teachings know it is basic teachings to kill four devils, earning one a free trip to Mecca or instant Paradise.
Here in the Bay we had the Zebra killings who executed this lesson from Supreme Wisdom. In the early days of the NOI in Detroit, a brother came to the Mosque with a paper bag, telling the minister, "I got me one." He had a white devil's head inside the bag. And in the Bay Area there a innumerable young brothers like Mixon who are steeped in the Al Ansar teachings. As they say here in Houston, "You better ax somebody!"
What I must say about Eldridge, Huey and so many other Panthers who were from the grass roots, and we can say this about the founding members of the Nation of Islam, including and especially Malcolm X (may Allah forever be pleased with him) that Allah went to the lowest of the low to get the people needed to rock the Good Ship Jesus America. The edumaked Negroes wanted to do everything except confront the American beast toe to toe, gun to gun. When Huey Newton confronted that pig shotgun to shotgun, there was a paradigm shift in the history of African liberation, especially after the demise of MLK, Jr. and the Civil "Rites" movement. And with respect to Muslims in the Nation of Islam, officials said to me, "We might not carry weapons but we bury weapons."
Of course there were instances when Muslims engaged in "armed struggle" as well. When I asked Huey Newton about his connection to the Nation of Islam, he said, "A Party can be part of a Nation." And of course the BPP was not lost on the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. He considered the BPP his children, after all they copied his program almost word for word. Compare What the Muslims Want and the Panther Ten Point Program. When I jammed Bobby Seale about this, he went into denial that the Muslims had any influence on the BPP. But when I asked what about the influence of Malcolm X, he was silent and submitted that certainly the NOI influenced the BPP.
But let us get back to Algeria and Papa Rage. We were told on a trip to cohabitate with European women, Cleaver was somehow informed Kathleen had a boyfriend named Rahim. When Papa Rage found out about this, Mr. Rahim went missing in the Algerian desert. The Panther newspaper back in the USA showed photos of Kathleen with black eyes from Papa Rage. Chris Brown and Rihanna are not the first high profile couples who engaged in domestic violence. One of the contradictions of the black liberation movement was our internal violence, especially domestic violence.
We talked black power but often went home to beat our women's asses, and this was not lost on the children, many of whom were traumatized as a result and went on to practice this savage art, including members of the hip hop generation. Sonia Sanchez likes to say the hip hop generation is merely putting on stage what we did in private. If you want a literary version of domestic or partner violence see Sonia's great book Wounded in the House of A Friend or my play In the Name of Love, especially the poem "Confession of an Ex-Wife Beater."
Now we must bring in Cointelpro at this time because J. Edgar Hoover is clearly in this picture. He had FBI agents writing letters to Kathleen in the persona of a "black sister" informing her of the infidelities of Eldridge, just as the FBI sent tapes of hotel conversations between our beloved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in hotels with women to his wife.
This was done to purposely destroy the family life of black revolutionaries, whether Civil "Rites" leaders as King or revolutionaries like Eldridge. The FBI wrote letters in Black English to create division in the ranks of black revolutionaries. And we reacted according to script. Huey and Eldridge had been driven by FBI division or "dirty tricks" into a war against each other, ultimately creating two armies of black men and women who fought each other coast to coast, with Eldridge's army on the east coast and Huey's on the west.
As I've said before, I knew brothers and sisters on both sides of this conflict and it hurt me because so many friends went down in the internecine violence, Samuel Napier being the worst example, since I remember the day he came into Black House as a worker looking for something to do, or in the words of James Brown, to "Get Involved." Samuel was murdered in New York then set afire. Lord have Mercy!
From afar it looked like things were really jumping in Algiers, including several hijacked planes bringing Panthers to the land. We recall when a group of Panthers arrived with a million dollars but were seized by the authorities because it conflicted with their national interests which all governments secure first. In this case the government was negotiating a billion dollar natural gas contract with the US so they were not going to jeopardize the contract for Negroes with a million dollars. Of course this only added tension and stress to the relationship between the BPP and Algeria, and eventually the embassy closed and the Cleavers moved to France.
After seducing the mistress of the president of France, Eldridge was given refugee status after she intervened with her man, the Prez. And then things began to unravel in the Soul on Ice. According to his testimony when he converted to Christianity, Cleaver had been slowly evolving from atheistic Communism. He saw the work of God in his children, how they were a combination of Kathleen and himself.
And in France he saw the emptiness in their lives, the daily ritual of eating, sleeping and politics began to lose meaning. He saw darkness in his life, especially one night while eating dinner by candlelight. He had also been to all the Communist and Socialist countries and saw the lack of democratic ideals, where little or no opposition was allowed, only presidents for life. He knew of the torture chambers in many African nations, never forgetting his eighteen years in USA dungeons. But he began to grow disillusioned with left wing politics, in short, he was homesick and broke.
In Algeria he was informed that his former lawyer/lover Beverly Axelrod had won by default his royalties from Soul on Ice. He had agreed to share his royalties with her as the price of her helping him get out of Soledad prison. And of course he had promised to marry her but instead fell in love with Kathleen. After winning her suit by default since he could not appear in court in the US, Axelrod gained rights to the best seller's profits, depriving the Cleavers of much needed finance. Strangely, the day before his memorial service that I officiated in Oakland, a mudslide toppled Axelrod's home in Pacifica. I did not know she was in the audience until I looked at footage of the video from the memorial.
Cleaver began his attempt to return home. He contacted his old friends on the left, but he had caused devastation in the radical community, especially by terrorizing certain black politicians and the warfare between Huey and himself that left much bloodshed on the streets of America, coast to coast. Eventually the Left sent Ron Dellums, Congressman and now mayor of Oakland to Paris with the message he was not welcome back in America, that he should forget about returning and enjoy his life in France, become a Frenchman. This message sent him into depression.
After the Dellums visit, he felt hopeless and useless and wanted to take his life. And then one night in Southern France, he was sitting on the balcony watching the moon. Suddenly he saw the faces of various revolutionaries, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Castro and then Jesus. He broke down, wailing on the thrashing floor. He knew Kathleen had brought along the family Bible, before which he had no need, but he said he searched for the Bible and held it in his hands for dear life. And then he saw the light, something told him he was going home, no matter what the Left said, no matter what anyone said. He knew then Jesus was his Savior and Lord. No more Communism, no more revolution. The storm was over now. He had his attorney begin negotiations on his surrender to the US authorities.
Before proceeding with the Prodigal Son's Return to America, we need to pause to consider what caused this radical change in Cleaver. Many will say it was simply a tactic to get back to the US: since the Left would not help him, he switched to the Right, following Malcolm's dictum of "any means necessary." The revolutionary puritans would argue getting in bed with the enemy is over the top, yet did not Muslim women prostitute themselves in the Battle of Algiers? The Shia say tell your enemy anything he wants to hear to achieve your objective. I will say that Cleaver was, among other things, suffering from exile—it is an inflammation of the heart from homesickness.
Baldwin talked about how Richard Wright's exile caused him to become detached from his roots. Exile is a wretched psychological state that only those who have done so can fully understand. Of course, Cleaver's state was more complicated than simple exile. As I noted in an earlier section, his MO was to have an experience then critique it to the max, so maybe he was indeed exhausted from revolution, then after revealing its contradictions, had the sincere need to move on.
Did not Amiri Baraka change from so-called cultural nationalism and electoral politics to Communism? Everything must change, as the song says, although some changes are more radical than others. In terms of Communism, he had studied it long and hard in prison, then experienced it first hand from Cuba to China, North Korea, Africa and Europe. Certainly after the fall of the Soviet Union, we must admit Cleaver was not all wrong. And as we see with the ANC in South Africa, Communists have the ability to suddenly switch sides to become super capitalists: private planes, Swiss bank accounts, and European women.
If the reader has not already found this narrative disgusting, I'm afraid what follows will not be pleasing, especially to the radical brothers and sisters. I will only try to tell the truth as I recall it. As far as Cleaver being a sellout, I heard Dr. Ben (or was it Dr. Clarke) say, "If they paid me enough money I would sell out too." I don't know how much Cleaver was paid, but in the end, he rejected all his benefactors and the feeling was mutual when they realized they could not control this mercurial personality.
Of course, the election of Obama is something Cleaver would have been proud to see since embracing America is what he came back teaching. On the other hand, there are now a plethora of Cleaver-minded politicos that echo some of the right wing ranting that Cleaver came home espousing, such as support for the US military (Haki Madhubuti) and other conservative items, especially from black Republicans such as Michael Steele. In short, much of Cleaver's post-revolutionary philosophy might fit in perfectly with the present Post-Black era.
And so the day arrived when Soul on Ice returned to his beloved America. He flew in from Paris to land safely in an Alameda County jail cell. When Judge Lionel Wilson (soon to become Oakland's first black mayor, partly the result of organizing by the Black Panther Party) was asked to lower Cleaver's bail, Judge Wilson said Cleaver was a flight risk and therefore raised the bail instead of lowering it. Cleaver shot back that Lionel had made a career of sending blacks to San Quentin prison and other Department of Correction hell holes. Of course the Left immediately denounced Cleaver as a sell out, counter revolutionary, snitch, agent provocateur and a host of other epithets, mostly unprintable.
One person who came out in support of Cleaver was Dr. Nathan Hare. Dr. Nathan Hare said he supported Cleaver because he had fought the white man once and a man who had fought once might fight again (Dr. Hare being a boxer while teaching at Howard University). On the other hand, a lot of his critics had never fought the white man and had no intention to do so, but simply ran their mouths talking loud but saying nothing, in the words of ancestor James Brown. I believe Dr. Hare was part of the Cleaver support committee.
After a short time Cleaver was able to make bail when a rich Christian insurance man, Art DeMoss, came to town with a brief case full of stock. Once out on bail, the Christians swooped Cleaver up and onto the Born Again circuit, joining other Born Again superstars such as Charles Colson of Watergate fame, Pat Boone, Hal Lindsey, Jim and Tammy Baker, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the Grand Master, Rev. Billy Graham.
Cleaver was paid four thousands a shot to give his testimony about how he saw Jesus Christ in the moon. He called it his "moon shot," but later changed the title to "The Golden Shower."
I observed Cleaver from afar, disgusted as were most other revolutionaries with Cleaver's crawling back on the plantation like a runaway slave too fearful to enjoy freedom. We clearly understand that he left because he refused to return to prison after serving eighteen years. Could his attitude be similar to Louvell Mixon's, who killed four OPD police because he refused to go back to prison on a parole violation? Mixon found freedom in death, Cleaver in exile, so perhaps he was ungrateful he had escaped since there are other Panthers in exile who probably will never come home, certainly not in the manner of Cleaver, e.g., Asata Shakur, Pete O'Neil, and Donald Cox.
But Cleaver rode high on the Born Again circuit, speaking to thousands at Christian events throughout America. The Christians rushed into publication a book entitled Soul on Fire. A brother in the hood remarked that after Soul on Ice and Soul on Fire, his next book should have been titled Soul Out!
After avoiding him like the plague for weeks or months, don't know how long, then one day I ran into the devil crossing Market Street near First. I was probably on a lunch break from doing temp work in the financial district. I was working at PG&E, typing correspondence between engineers at the nuclear power plant down the coast at San Luis Obisbo. The engineers were attempting to prove to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that PG&E's plant would withstand an earthquake or a certain magnitude. I could hardly understand the technical language I was typing but I had enough common sense to know their explanations and rationalizations sounded like poppycock.
But there he was coming at me across the street, a giant of a man, especially compared to my one hundred and fifty pounds at the time. I couldn't have avoided him if I wanted so I greeted my old friend, in spite of his negrocities (Baraka term). He wanted to talk but I told him I was on lunch break so we agreed to meet for breakfast soon. I could see the years had aged him since the last time I saw him speaking in Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park, introducing Fannie Lou Hamer, 1968. It was now sometime during 1977, nearly ten years had passed and I could see the stress on his face and the pounds he'd gained, quite a change from the tall, lean Panther of yesterday.
When we finally met for breakfast at a spot on Geary Blvd near Divisadero, he told me of his need for an administrative assistant. He knew I had office skills since I had served as secretary of Black House. It was then that I learned the importance of a secretary in organizations: they control the flow of information. And hence they can block information. I used to do so when whites called Black House, especially his woman Beverly Axelrod and a mad white boy named Bob Avakian, who now heads the RCP or Revolutionary Communist Party. Eldridge was his god and he called constantly for advice. But we most of us at Black House were black nationalists so we tried to cut Cleaver off from the whites. Amina Baraka likes to recall at one party how my woman, Ethna (Hurriyah) told a white woman she couldn't enter the party. When the white woman said she was part Native American, Ethna told her the Native American part of her could come in but the white had to go.
Anyway, Cleaver wanted an AA, and since I wasn't doing anything substantial at the time, I agreed to work with him. I hadn't been able to land a full time teaching job, except serving as visiting professor at UC San Diego at the invitation of my childhood friend and high school lover, poet Sherley A. Williams. After teaching at Fresno State University, I'm certain I was blacklisted even though I went on to teach briefly at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State and Mills College. Not only was I blacklisted but my friend Angela Davis as well.. At San Francisco State she asked me to see if Black Studies would hire her. When I gave the message to the chair of Black Studies, she looked at me as if to say, "I don't think so."
Eventually Angela was hired to teach in Women's Studies at SFSU. So what was worse: working for some reactionary uncle tom boot licking black studies department or for a boot licking uncle tom sellout Negro? If Eldridge Cleaver was getting money from the government to pay me, was it any different than the money the black studies professors received—were they not agents of the state, certainly they behaved as such since they had been put into position to block the radicals from teaching. I saw this happen at SFSU, UC Berkeley and Fresno State University where I almost lost my life fighting to teach. At all three campuses the radical faculty was removed and replaced with pliant Negroes who are still there today.
One of the most important things Eldridge insisted upon when I began conducting his affairs with white Christians was that we must be treated first class, especially in terms of travel and lodging. But the first task he gave me was not dealing with the Christians but instead the Jews who were his publicist and booking agent. He told me to fire them immediately because he was tired and frustrated from dealing with them.
I learned the Jews had a communication line that stretched coast to coast, so it was Jewish news coast to coast that a black Muslim had taken over the administration of Cleaver's affairs. They wanted to know what was up with him, had he gone crazy, how could he cut them out of the action?
But I soon discovered that Christians only tolerate Jews on the surface. In the deep structure of the Christian mind is a hatred of Jews for killing Jesus.
What Cleaver actually wanted me to do was organize his ministry, the Eldridge Cleaver Crusades, similar to the Billy Graham Crusades or maybe the Crusades of the Middle Ages. He wanted to hire black Christians but we couldn't find any bold enough to join his "crusade." The black Christians were scared to death the white man was going to kill Cleaver for running a game on them, and they might get killed for associating with him. In the end I had to hire a staff of fearless black Muslims to work with us which became an embarrassment to Cleaver but he was determined to establish his own ministry since he saw how the Christians were robbing him in the name of Jesus.
Charles Colson, Jerry Falwell, and their gang of thieves were constantly having secret meetings about Cleaver, mainly how to keep him under their control. Cleaver joked the Christians had more secret meetings than the Communists. Naturally they were highly upset about his staff of Black Muslims, although Cleaver fronted us off as his first converts and referred to us as heathens. We accepted his drama, laughing all the way to the bank. Cleaver was a hard worker and soon I had lost all my girlfriends from being on the road 24/7. Kathleen said once, "Marvin, the girls used to call here for you, but they don't call anymore." Don't no woman want no man who works 24/7. Often I didn't have time to cash my check or get my clothes out the cleaners as we were on the road from city to city giving his testimony about finding Jesus in the moon.
My duties included secretary, driver, body guard, editor of his newsletter and photographer. As body guard he gave me a 45 automatic which I carried in my camera bag. Cleaver did not fear anyone, certainly not his former radical comrades, but we came to not trust the white Christian mafia we were dealing with. We realized we were dealing with gangsters and began to act accordingly. Even Art DeMoss, the rich white Christian who bailed out Eldridge with his stock, was a "former" mafioso. And Billy Zeoli, a producer of Christian films was "former" mafia.
When he came to speak in San Diego, I invited Sherely Williams to attend. When she saw the white Christians seated on the podium with Cleaver, she whispered, "Those guys look like gangsters." And sometimes they used aggressive tactics, especially in regard to the love offering. Of course they "dipped into the pot," as all Christian officials are known to do. And often there was a delayed accounting of the offering. Sometimes they would send us plastic bags full of money taken after his testimony.
Of course we didn't know the actual amount of the offering. When he appeared on Jerry Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour, after repeated long distance calls, they finally gave us an accounting of forty thousand dollars, but they didn't want to send Eldridge the checks because they could add the names to their mailing lists for more money—rather than us do the same to expand our list and become independent. They wanted the power of attorney to cash the checks. We had to send a man back to Lynchburg, VA to get the money—I don't think we got the checks.
In short, we didn't trust them, just as they didn't trust us. On a visit to Canada we were searched several times reentering the US. Now understand it was impossible to make a distinction between the Christians and government agents since they were/are one and the same. During slavery were not all white men deputized to arrest black men and women, especially runaway slaves or those breaking the black codes, i.e., three or more standing around doing nothing as in plotting or conspiring a revolt?
When we arrived in Seattle from a speech he'd given in Canada we were taken into a room at the airport and searched and searched again when we arrived at San Francisco airport. Apparently the Christians and the Government (which are one) didn't really know what Cleaver was about and weren't taking any chances. They didn't know if he was an agent of some Communist nation such as North Korea, China, Russia or what, even though he had professed belief in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes a Christian would accompany us on the road and we knew he was reporting to the police. He was a racist devil who stole family pictures from Cleaver's house that later appeared in the book Soul on Fire. This Christian devil was an associate of Mr. Clean Christian, Pat Boone. Cleaver wanted to kill him, especially when a picture of his mother appeared in the book, but Papa Rage restrained himself.
The Christians suspected I was his body guard even though he was twice my size. They would say to me, "You're not his photographer, are you?" I would reply, "Of course I am, what makes you think otherwise?" Hell, I was merely an actor, trained in the Black Arts Movement. My attitude was too hell with these white Christians, they've lied to us for four hundred years. And as James Baldwin said to me in our 1968 interview, "Our condition proves the lie of everything these Christians say."
The sight of my camera really brought out their racism, envy and jealousy. When Cleaver asked me to be his photographer, I told him to get me the best camera in the world, Leica, the Rolls Royce of cameras. He went down to Brook's Cameras in San Francisco and paid $2,000.00 for my camera. Kathleen was mad at her husband for wasting money like that, but the white devils were even angrier that a nigguh had such a camera. They would turn red when they saw the label. It got so uncomfortable I had to put tape over the label to escape their evil vibes. During our travels I photographed General MacArthur, Donald Rumsfeld, Senator Frank Church, Charles Colson, Jim and Tammy Baker and others.
But their constant question to me was, "Is he for real? Did he really see Jesus in the moon? Was he on drugs?" I would reply, "Sure, he's for real." And of course they would ask me when I found the Lord? This usually happened at dinners after his testimony.
Since I was usually silent, eventually they would turn to me with the question. I would reply, "One Tuesday night!" They seemed relieved and continued their conversation and socializing with Cleaver.
The Christians provided the Cleavers with a nice home in Atherton, near Palo Alto and Stanford University. Atherton is one of the most affluent areas in California if not America. Since I was living in Oakland, Cleaver asked me to move in with them so I could be more accessible, especially since the San Francisco Airport was only a short distance from Atherton. Even then we would often be late for a flight, so I would sometimes drive a hundred miles an hour getting to the airport, and then we had to run like O.J. Simpson's ad to make the flight. Sometimes our lateness was due to Cleaver insisting we do a few lines of cocaine and smoke a joint before leaving to the airport. And then there were times when we would take turns going to the restroom aboard the plane to do a few more lines. Yes, we were flying high in the friendly sky!
Kathleen would usually stay home after I came aboard. The Cleavers were under a lot of stress from all the difficulties they had experienced during their revolutionary days and post-revolution. Being in the house with them exposed me to their marital tension and stress that would ultimately cause them to divorce. I remember their children, Maceo and Joju, asking if it was Christian for a man to beat his wife, since they had observed their parents fighting. Yes, I saw Kathleen get slam dunked a few times. Of course I was not innocent of domestic violence in my life. Now sometimes Kathleen, a most beautiful woman who stuck by her man through endless difficulties, was simply out of line. The occasion I remember most was an interview at their home with European media. Eldridge was in the middle of an interview when Kathleen came into the house and interrupted his interview with her comments.
Cleaver had to cut the interview and take Kathleen into another room to get her out of his business. Please do not think I endorse domestic or partner violence. It is totally unnecessary and does absolutely no good. All it does is drain the love out of a relationship until like the sands in an hour glass, all the love is gone, gone, gone.
Today I advocate the language of love in male/female communication: keep the voice low, stay away from the bass. The verbal is usually a precursor to the physical violence. And then the children are watching the drama, usually seeing their dad plummet their mother, making them hate their father and wanting revenge. And of course the children will come to see violence as the answer to their male/female problems. As the Cleaver children asked their parents, where is the love of Jesus Christ you preach about?
Dancing with the devil had some lighter moments. Going with Cleaver to the PTL Club (praise the Lord) was one such occasion. It was a mind blower to arrive in Charlotte, NC and get picked up by a white limo driver. It almost made me paranoid. Where is he taking us, to a lynching and are we the ones to be lynched? How did the descendant of slaves get to be driven by the slave master's son? A friend's mother would say because we deserve it, had long ago paid for it and we must enjoy it, if not for ourselves, then for our ancestors.
We were driven onto the plantation of Jim and Tammy Baker, two Born Again superstars who eventually fell from grace for stealing from the Lord. But while it lasted, PTL had a great time, living high on the hog. When we got to the house that was the television studio there was no doubt the White Man's Heaven is a Black Man's Hell. The place was lavishly laid out, the carpet so soft one could hardly walk, gold trimmings and ornaments everywhere, especially the bathroom. Of course Tammy was decked with thick makeup, looking more like Dolly Parton than Dolly. But we noticed that these Christian women wore long dresses like Muslims. And when the men hugged, it was Muslim style, on both sides of the face. Jim's sideman grabbed me with a hug that lifted me off the ground as he was a big fellow and I was a small guy at the time. I saw Cleaver crack up and he never let me forget how that big white man hugged me. Cleaver gave his "moon shot" or "golden shower," which ever you prefer, Cleaver preferred the latter to describe his testimony. Of course only EC would title his testimony the "golden shower."
After the show we retired to the big house for the meal, laid out as only Southerners can do. And the food was so good they had to introduce us to the cook. You know she was Mama Africa.
And then Cleaver was ushered into another room. Of course I accompanied him as per his request. In the other room a man stepped forward and introduced himself. He said he was a former FBI agent who was there in Oakland the night of the shootout in which Lil Bobby Hutton was murdered and Cleaver wounded. He said he had found the Lord and didn't hate black people anymore. He and Cleaver embraced. And the crowd shouted PTL or Praise the Lord.
During my time with the devil, there were many occasions when former or current law officers confessed their previous hatred of black people but said since being born again they no longer hated. We were told this in Sacramento at a luncheon with Christian businessmen. A man stood up to tell Eldridge he was all over the world tailing Eldridge, in every country EC visited he was there observing his movement. But he found the Lord and no longer hated. There were police officers in the Bay Area who confessed they had murder squads killing Panthers in particular and black people in general. Supposedly, these officers found the Lord and Cleaver embraced them.
What I observed was that there were other white Christians who said they could still hate after receiving the grace of Jesus Christ. As long as they were born again they could do almost anything, even murder. Perhaps this is the majority of Christians. And perhaps this is the reason Rev. James Cone told Bill Moyers all Christians must come to an understanding of the cross and the lynching tree. Obviously white Christians felt they could lynch black people and still be righteous Christians
His speech at Vanderbilt University revealed why I appreciated Cleaver despite his negrocities (Baraka term). It was a political symposium with mostly white men as participants, Cleaver the only black. Others present included Senator Eggelton, Donald Rumsfeld and others I can't recall, but these white boys were no match for the erudite and well traveled Cleaver who discussed global politics with great knowledge and skill than any of the other presenters, most of whom had not read or traveled as he had.
Few white men had been allowed into China, North Korea, Vietnam and Russia, among some of the places Cleaver had gone. And then his presentation was far more dramatic than the white men. It revealed how true were the President of Brazil's recent comments about the blue-eyed people who think they are so intelligent yet can't solve and are responsible for much of the world's problems today, from Global warming to poverty, disease and ignorance, which partly exists because of their greed, selfishness and desire for cheap labor and resources.
I didn't see Cleaver as a person but as a symbol of articulate black men who have had few opportunities to go abroad to see what's really going on in the world. Here was one of the lowest of the low, criminal, psychopath, yet genius if he had had a chance to really excel in life—he could have been president before Obama. But on this occasion he spoke on world events with a clear vision of the future, the possibilities of America if true democracy reigned. Donald Rumsfeld and his old boys club members were simply no match to the black man standing tall before them, a man who had come from the dungeon to the top, fighting in ways they never could or would. General Douglas MacArthur was there as well, in a wheel chair but saluted for his valor and victories in WWII.
I am so thankful for having had a relationship with Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale. They taught me how to get my nuts out the sand and represent myself as a black man on the planet. Eldridge, as minister of information, taught me how to write with force and power, as did Elijah Muhammad and Mao, and of course Amiri Baraka. But Eldridge taught us how to resist this devil in our midst, even though he might have been a devil himself—sometimes we must fight fire with fire, so he showed us how to move beyond rhetoric to action, violent action if and when necessary.
It might be true that the pen of a scholar is worth a thousand ignorant worshipers, but there does come a time to resist oppression with violence. On the other hand, Martin Luther King, Jr. showed how to use non-violence as a tactic to defeat the enemy. Malcolm solved our conundrum with, "Any means necessary."
But isn't it amazing how a group of mostly young brothers from Oakland backed the pigs up off the backs of black people? They were intellectuals as well, well read with fearlessness in face of the beast, and Eldridge was of this lot, no matter his social psycho pathologies. Eldrdige, Huey, Bobby and thousands of other Panthers gave their all to the liberation struggle here in the belly of the beast.
Oakland is today suffering from being under the occupation of racist pig gangsters who operate under the color of law. What shall be the response today, especially after Oscar Grant and Louvelle Mixon? What do the intellectuals have to say, or more importantly, what shall they do? Shall they give a mickey mouse response like that of Attorney John Burris, and I say this even though I consider him a friend, but the truth is the black people of Oakland should not have allowed Mayor Ron Dellums to be disrespected at the funeral of those racist brute beasts in blue uniforms. I abhor violence in any form, but there is a time for everything, and it is indeed sad to see the streets of Oakland turned into a war zone, an internal war between the brothers and an external war with the pigs. It is a dangerous place to be these days and I am happy to be away for a few days.
Clearly, as in the 60s, the leadership must arise from below and not from above. The present leaders are part of the problem, not part of the solution, something we heard from the Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver.
There were weeks while on the Born Again circuit that we saw no black people. Eldridge was only giving his testimony in white Churches. He appeared more than once at Rev. Robert Schuller's Hour of Power television show at the Crystal Cathedral—actually I think the Cathedral was under construction so he spoke at the old building. We were in the dressing room with Dr. Schuller as he prepared to go on the air. There were numerous back yard bar-b-ques where thousands of dollars were raised for Eldridge's defense since he was still facing charges from the April 8,1968 shootout in Oakland, at which the OPD murdered little Bobby Hutton in cold blood before a crowd of onlookers who were horrified at what they witnessed.
At one affair there was a black present, O.J. Simpson's black wife who was Born Again. O.J. wasn't present.
But again, there were weeks of preaching, praying and eating with only white Christians. Sometimes a black preacher would be present but most black preachers had no status especially if they had not graduated from an accredited theological seminary, such as Fuller's. A black preacher who said he got called one Tuesday night did not work with the Born Again crowd. And nor did most black gospel groups who were simply too strong for the whites who couldn't stand that strong black gospel sound. Only Andre Crouch was acceptable at the time. There was no Yolanda Adams, although the Edwin Hawkins singers might perform on a program with Eldridge occasionally.
The white Christians were forever trying to control Eldridge, control him from becoming completely independent of them by establishing his own ministry, which was the main reason he hired me.
He had me fire the Jewish booking agent because he was working Eldridge to death, wanted him to speak in Minnesota during a terrible snow storm. We were in Florida where it was snowing and read about a man freezing to death in Minnesota. He told me to call the booking agent, Harry Walker, and tell him to go to hell, he was not going to Minnesota. Harry was angry Cleaver refused to go since it was thousands of dollars involved, including Harry's 30%. Cleaver refused to talk with him, after all, he was paying me to talk for him.
And then there was those nice Christian white girls who were beating down Eldridge's hotel door before we got there. Enough said!
After weeks of urging, I finally convinced him to speak at a black church. He had refused all requests to speak at black churches for a number of reasons, most of them financial. But there were other reasons such as sound system, air conditioning and the usual second class treatment blacks live under and relate to each other with. But finally he relented after Rev. Ernestine Reems of Oakland's Center of Hope begged me to get Eldridge to her church on MacArthur, a few blocks from the recent killing of four police and the suspect Louvelle Mixon.
Before speaking, she wanted us to visit her facility, so we did. The first thing she did was point us to the ceiling, showing us bullet holes from the previous renters, the Nation of Islam under Minister Billy X or Rabb Muhammad, brother of Dr.. Yusef Bey of Your Black Muslim Bakery. We don't know why Minister Billy shot into the ceiling, maybe he was angry about having to move since he had a history of not paying rent. This is the same brother who had some men attack sister Nisa Islam when she brought him a message from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad saying that he must step down. Outside this building now occupied by Sister Reems, Nisa claims she and her lieutenants were attacked and beaten. She says she was saved from death only because Lt. Joan (Tarika Lewis) blocked the blows to her head.
Anyway, Pastor Reems convinced Eldridge to give his testimony. After that, he continued speaking at black churches, including Rev. Don Green's San Francisco Center, and on this occasion Cleaver's mother was in attendance. But on the whole, going into the black church was a negative except for the music which was awesome, compared to music in the white churches which was totally boring. Black sacred music is beyond this world, except for the mythology of pie in the sky after you die. It is a message on one level reflecting our slavery teachings but on a deeper level it is rooted in Egyptian or African mythology, as is Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Read Dr. Ben.
But as I've said, the black church was a step down for Cleaver. Today there are mega black churches but circa 1977, the churches where he delivered his testimony often lacked proper sound equipment and most especially air conditioning. One Negro preacher had Cleaver speak in a high school gym where the temp outside was over one hundred degrees, yet no air conditioning inside. Cleaver almost fainted while speaking.
And the black church worked Cleaver like a Hebrew slave or rather American slave. They would make him speak at service after service, and then come up with a love offering of a few hundred dollars. Of course the preacher had to dip in the pot, as they say. I would sometimes go into a room with the pastor to count the money, and when I would see the amount it was laughable, compared to the white church. No wonder Eldridge had wanted to avoid the black church, but I had insisted he do so, after all, I was exhausted from the Born Again whites. I mean, have you ever listened to a white man pray, then compared it with a black man? Have you ever listened to white people sing, then compared it with black singing? The only church I know where white people sing like black people is San Francisco's Glide Church, under Rev. Cecil Williams. He has niggerized his mostly white congregation.
Cleaver's legal problems were not over and were costing him many thousand dollars. John Keker was his lawyer for a time. But then came the Senator Church hearings on the role of Cointelpro or the Counter Intelligence Program of the FBI, especially with respect to the Black Liberation Movement, including the Civil Rites struggle. The Church hearings revealed how J. Edger Hoover tried to destroy the Civil Rites struggle, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, the FBI had been spying on blacks, whites and other American citizens since its founding around 1914. The most recent documentary one should see is BET's American gangster series on J. Edger Hoover as an American gang star.
He had spied on Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad, trying to disrupt and destroy both men's activities. With the help of jealous and envious Negroes he was able to imprison then deport Garvey. Garvey told us to look for him in the whirlwind for surely the day would come of Africa's redemption.
We know the Nation of Islam was sugar-coated with FBI agents. One such agent, John Ali, became the National Secretary of NOI. Of course there were agents who posed as Malcolm's bodyguards, helping to carry out his assassination.
And then the Panthers were well infiltrated. The most wretched example was how Fred Hampton was set up and murdered with the help of an agent posing as his body guard. And clearly the FBI and LA police were involved with the murder of Alprentice Bunchy Carter and John Huggins at the Black Student Union meeting room on the campus of UCLA. Ron Karenga's US organization was blamed for their murder. Bunchy was Cleaver's right hand man in prison and became the Los Angeles leader of the BPP. I don't recall how Cleaver felt about Bunchy's murder, but the FBI played into it to heighten the rivalry between US and the Panthers.
And then when Geronimo Pratt replaced Bunchy, he was set up by the FBI and the LAPD on murder charges, causing him to spend 27 years in prison, even though the FBI had phone records and other intelligence that he was in Oakland at the time of the murder. For years the BPP would not support G because of his association with Eldridge. I do know that Eldridge maintained communication with G throughout his time in prison. I was informed that another Panther sister who visited G during his imprisonment was working for the FBI. I won't reveal her name because she confessed to G upon his release and he forgave her.
After the Church hearings, Eldridge told me of his plan to help his case which involved producing a pamphlet based on the Church hearings and distributing it throughout California. He had me hire a crew of Muslims to travel from the Bay to San Diego distributing the pamphlet which I helped edit. We, which included Brother Hasan, Brother Ishmalah and I, traveled through the central valley towns dropping off pamphlets like we were Johnny Appleseed. We stopped in little towns like Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield, then Los Angeles and San Diego. Not long after this adventure, Cleaver's case was dismissed. We know the power of propaganda and though we don't know how much it may have swayed the DA to drop charges, but we are convinced it played a role, certainly it didn't hurt.
After seven months on the road with Cleaver, I was exhausted from travel and the stress of dealing with the Born Again racists who could justify the cross and the lynching tree by claiming to be saved by grace. When Bill Moyers asked Rev. Cone how can your people still love God, Rev. Cone flipped the question, "That's not the question. The question is how can they still love you!"
And so I departed the Cleaver Crusade, a little wiser on what's really going on in the deep structure of America. I was thankful for the experience but it was time to move on, although I would hook up with the devil again before too long. Jet Magazine did a story on my departure from Mr. Soul on Ice. Khalid Muhammad and other radical friends were horrified to discover I had worked for Cleaver, they thought I had gone stone crazy. But I knew God had taken me down into the devil's dungeon for a reason and I appreciated the knowledge. How many other so-called Negroes had the opportunity to associate with the likes of Charles Colson, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Donald Rumsfeld, Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Baker? And there would be more to come when I reconnected with Cleaver further on down the road.
Meanwhile, if the devil wasn't through with the Born Again crowd, they were surely through with him after he declared his independence from them by designing and marketing his infamous "dick pants."
Eldridge clearly had a fixation with the penis or phallus. He saw the gun as the extension of his phallus, some would say. But taking a page from fashion history, he designed pants with the codpiece, emphasizing the area of the male sexual organ. Believe it or not, after all the hoopla was through, he had revolutionized fashion history because thereafter there would be more focus on the genital area in fashioning men's briefs and pants. Of course Frederick's of Hollywood stole his idea and ran for a touchdown.
Truth is that traditional Western men's pants are uncomfortable in that area as they lack a resting place for the genitals. Cleaver's pants provided that space, but the Born Again crowd went berserk. They sent Watergate crook, now Born Again King, Charles Colson, to consult with Cleaver. But by this time it was too late, Cleaver had made his decision to separate himself from the Christians. And his pants symbolized his defiance and freedom from them.
Around this time or soon after, Kathleen separated herself from her loving husband, eventually enrolling in Yale law school. After graduation, her first case was divorcing Eldridge. It was after a visit with his children in New Haven that Eldridge told me about a Negro intellectual at Yale, Skip Gates who would describe the Black Arts Movement as the shortest literary movement in history. He failed to add that it was the most powerful, radicalizing the teaching of not only black literature but ethnic and gender literature.
For sure, Eldridge was a media master and his pants were the talk of the nation if not the world. When he moved his fashion operation out of Hollywood back to the Bay, I spent a little time with him. He hired my friend, Cynthia Mack, to help manufacture the pants. I'd hired Cynthia to work with us during his Born Again days. She was a beautiful black woman who had been taught to hate herself by, among other people, her grandmother who told her she was black and ugly. Eldridge loved Cynthia and tried to hit on her, being the sexual psychopath that he was. Now if I had hit on Kathleen that Negro would have killed me.
When Cleaver tired of his fashion trip, he gave Cynthia the four industrial sewing machines he owned. Cynthia deserved them as she was a designer herself, she made her own clothes since childhood. Cynthia had been helpful on the road with us since she was psychic and could tell when "somebody" had been in our hotel room and searched through our luggage.
She was our intelligence officer, plus the white Christian women could not stand her because she matched their racism with her unforgivable blackness and hatred of white women. We can imagine what white women are going through now that a black Gullah woman is in the White House.
Many months passed before I would see the devil again after one of our frequent mutual partings, the first being at the fall of Black House. Departing my duties as organizer of his ministry, I retired to my hometown of Fresno CA for a little R and R, which gave me a chance to see my children, siblings and Mom. Mom was a follower of Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science, so she was blessed with spiritual insight which told her Eldridge Cleaver was the worst of all possible persons, and she didn't believe him for one moment.
She found him disgusting as a person claiming to represent God, Jesus Christ or anyone else. Mom couldn't understand why I was associated with any of my radical or artistic friends, several of whom she had met, including Bobby Seale, Sun Ra, Eldridge Cleaver and others. She said, upon looking at them, they weren't nothing, had no class and why in the world was I hanging around with them? "I thought I taught you to have more intelligence than that, boy!"
She told me I didn't need them nigguhs, them nigguhs needed me and they were just using my mind. She said, "Boy, use the mind God gave YOU!" and leave them nigguhs alone. Of course it was hard for me to take Mom seriously because her real estate business was 99% black people, so how could she tell me to leave nigguhs alone? Damn near every black person in Fresno will tell you they bought their first house from Mom and Dad during the late 40s or early 50s, ( until Dad lost his license for misappropriating funds from their real estate business to feed his gambling habit.)
At the same time they published the Fresno Voice, one of the first black newspapers in the central valley. My father (who married my mother when she was twenty and he was forty) was a Race Man who had heard Marcus Garvey in Los Angeles, sometime during the 1920s. Dad claimed he was born in 1900 and fought in WWI. He was born in Kentucky so we grew up eating rice instead of grits. Obviously he passed some of his consciousness on to Mom, even though she had grown up in Fowler, nine miles south of Fresno, a nearly all white farming community of raisin growers, with cotton nearby.
My maternal grandparents were cotton pickers, my mom and even I picked a few pounds but found it difficult. Now I enjoyed cutting grapes, at least you could eat them while cutting. That's how children in the valley earned money for school clothes. Today in the valley very few blacks are involved in agribusiness, even though California's central valley is the richest agricultural area in the world. I call it the Neo-Nile Valley. How can we live in such an area and not be involved in farming and growing? Something has to be wrong with our heads, and I blame our leadership, especially black educators. What if we lived in a gold producing area yet were not involved in mining? We are a nation of forty million people totally dependent on others for our food supply.. Black farmers are rapidly going the way of the dinosaur.
Mom attended a nearly all white church, but never allowed white people in her house. She employed white men to do work for her real estate business but never allowed them in her house. But as a result of her white Christian Science which she subjected many of her children to (except my older brother and myself who rejected outright her message, even though it affected us subliminally because every word from Mom's mouth was Christian Science), several of them mated with whites, to the great disappointment of Mom. When one of my sisters started dating a white man, Mom was horrified because he was a "broke white man." She wanted to know what the hell my sister knew about white men that would make her desire to date and later marry one who continued to call her "his nigger bitch," even to my face, but how could I protest when my six sisters referred to themselves as bitches and of course I picked up their language in my socialization.
But the most important event that occurred during my R and R in Fresno was meeting and hooking up with one of my childhood friends, Karen James, one of my sister's friends but I was not interested in my sister's friends since everything was based on ones age grade, just as I did not associate with my brother's friends, even though my brother is only a year older than I am. So I paid little attention to my sister's friends even though they were beautiful—in truth I had my eyes on them as they later told me they had their eyes on me, and Karen was no exception.
During my RR we hooked up and became mad lovers, although I only had six months with her as her man was about to get out of prison and he was a gangster who was busted for operating a nationwide drug dealing syndicate. Yes, I fell in love with a gangsta's bitch, as they say. This was obviously a dangerous affair which only meant that I continued living on the edge as I've done throughout my life, the razor's edge to be precise.
But aside from Sherley Williams, Karen was one of the smartest women I met in my life, she argued with me toe to toe on every point. I have told of her in my autobiography Somethin Proper, so there is no need to repeat what I said there, but Karen challenged me, especially when I made the glaring generalities that I'm known for. And after six months her man was released and she had to submit to him and cut me loose since she was a material girl and I was a poor poet. After a few months of playing the other man and engaging in quickies while on her way to the store, I left Karen and Fresno broken hearted and found my way to Reno, Nevada searching for employment and being in the company of my brother Ollie and father. It would be the last time the three of us would be together in this life.
Reno, the Biggest Little Mississippi in the World! A few months after I arrived in Reno, Nevada, the bastion of conservative America, headquarters of the Reagan Revolution, the devil would appear, but let me lay the groundwork for the devil’s appearance. I came to Reno looking for work and there was plenty work, help wanted signs were everywhere, especially in the hotels and casinos. After no luck in that area I sought out work at the University of Nevada and got a part time job lecturing in English, then was hired to teach Technical Writing at Nevada Community College, then was hired at UNR in the Upward Bound program. But I still needed more money so I contacted the two people I recommend every one should know when they enter a town: the banker and the preacher.
The banker is good to know because if he becomes your friend you might be able to be overdrawn and still withdraw money—ask the Wall Street robber barons about their banker friends, and the preacher is the man to know because he knows everyone. The preacher directed me to a full time job as a community planner with Cloyd Phillips at his Community Services Agency. I wrote proposals for grant funding. The job taught me about details in life. Details will kill you. I remember when my sister Debbie had a bar-b-que but forgot one thing: toothpicks. Details. As a planner, I was forced to deal with details. Actually it helped my writing skills.
But when I first arrived it was a joy being with my dad and brother, since it had been quite a few years since we’d been together, my brother so often in and out of prison since his teenage years when he began visits to the California Youth Authority, then graduated to the Department of Corrections. Not long ago I was rapping with my homeboy from Fresno, Willie Sundiata Tate about my brother, Ollie. He said the last time he saw Ollie was San Quentin, 1968. Wille Tate is one of the San Quentin Six.
Anyway, Ollie was doing his thing pimping white girls in Reno. He had an apartment and briefly dad and I moved in with him until we found a room and later an apartment. Dad had come looking for work as well, but in reality dad came to do his favorite pastime, gambling, mainly playing that old folk’s game, KENO. Dad would stay up all night, sometimes in the bathroom going over KENO tickets.
My brother did nothing all day while his white girl worked two or three jobs. Eventually Ollie got a job out of boredom, although he would often be found at the Casino playing Poker. Gambling did not interest me, especially after losing a few rounds at the blackjack table, partly due to the free drinks and the dealers changing every thirty minutes. I knew I had to stay out of the casinos before I caused a riot after losing and realizing I was a sucker.
At the University I was one of three blacks and most of my students where white except for the Upward Bound students. My white students treated me royally and since I had a class full of young white girls, it wasn’t long before I began dating one, after all these girls used to sit on the front row with their legs gapped so I could not avoid seeing their panties or private parts if and when they failed to wear panties. How could I concentrate on teaching English under such adverse conditions? And I could tell they were upper class as they came to class in silk blouses and adorned with gold chains. One student would soon become an intern for Senator Laxalt, Ronald Reagan’s best friend.
The girl that was “assigned” to me was Mary whom I called Mary 2 since that was on her car license plate. When I invited Mary 2 to my brother’s apartment, he was shocked that I was cohabiting with a white girl since he knew me as a Black Muslim who called white girls the devil and the skunk of the planet earth. But I saw that Mary 2 was fighting the racism of her family—her father was a professor at UNR and her mother taught her “niggers are bad news.”
Mary and her girlfriends had discovered quite the contrary: they found the black athletes were very good news and so she was fighting to overcome her addiction to white supremacy. She informed me how the black athletes were treated at UNR. She said she saw them being given plates of cocaine and other gifts by the friends of the UNR, in particular older white women, under instructions of their white brothers. I had one of the star black basketball players in my class who was totally illiterate but instructors were ordered to pass them since they were a source of income for the university, in short, they were slaves. This goes all in all American colleges and universities: athletes, especially blacks, are a major source of funding for the universities, with coaches paid millions as opposed to the poor righteous teachers.
I moved into my own apartment with dad—but he soon returned to California at the first snow, also because I was shacking which he opposed, believing in the old school marriage.
Before I started shacking with a sister, Mary 2 used to come over. I soon discovered her cooking skills were abysmally lacking, along with her skills at giving head. The poor girl couldn’t boil water without burning the pot! But let’s not be racist about girls and their cooking skills. That summer my children came to visit and they met all my “women.” I had a black sister who came over to visit and every time I asked her to cook would burn shit up and set off the fire alarm. I don’t know what was wrong with Ifetayo, except totally insane yet trying to be helpful.
My oldest daughter, Nefertiti, who was seven or eight at the time cried, “Dad, please don’t let Ifetayo cook, she burns up everything.” Nefertiti also commented on my licentious lifestyle, “Dad, you take one and bring another!” And when she saw Bernice from the Upward Bound program, Nefertiti said, “Dad, she’s just a baby!” although she was eighteen. But Bernice was another basket case, traumatized as the result of being raped by her father and brother in law. When we tried to have sex her body went into contractions. I had moved her in with me briefly, teddy bears and all. She soon returned home but called me in the middle of the night to come get her because she was about to commit suicide. I drove over a hundred miles to pick her up.
When I was finally visited by Eldridge Cleaver, first thing he said was, “Marvin, you have picked all the lilies in the field.” As a present, I gave him Mary 2, since she lacked the skills I loved, but I told Eldridge she had a hot head, since I knew he loved head. He had told me that Elaine Brown had the hottest head in the world, that she had served him on every continent. You know how players play! And if you don’t know, as they say in Houston, Texas, “You better ax somebody!”
As opposed to the Christian mafia, the Mormon mafia in Reno, Nevada treated me royally, laying out the red carpet. With respect to the white girls at UNR, my department head called me in to inform me I had been observed dining with Mary 2 at Harrah's Steak House. Mary 2 had a break down because I hit on one of her girlfriends, so she snitched to the English department about it. Of course I denied having anything to do with her. The chair told me they didn't mind me dating graduate students, but leave the freshmen alone. I agreed.
As I was saying, the Mormon mafia supported my activities in Reno. Through the Nevada Humanities Committee, I was awarded two planning grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to produce two conferences mainly for the black community of Reno or Washoe County which had a population of 2,000 in 1978 as opposed to the much larger black population in Las Vegas. The first conference was Excellence in Education which featured Dr. Yacoub, (fat head Harry Edwards), and the devil himself, Eldridge Cleaver. The conference was well attended by the community and Eldridge wanted to hang around Reno afterward.
Actually a black preacher, Rev. Vincent, donated twenty acres of land to Eldridge a few miles from Reno beside Lake Lahonton, Silver Springs, Nevada. The Rev. was married to a rich white woman and she agreed to support Eldridge. Eldridge announced to the world media that he was going to build a spiritual center on the land and began planning his project, but was soon the subject of controversy when the local residents objected to his presence. At the community planning meeting, I had to speak in his place about his plans. The locals were up for a hanging and were very disappointed he didn't show.
They began putting pressure on Rev. Vincent and his wife to withdraw the land deal and ultimately he did, somewhat fearful of his life.
As I said, the Mormons were treating me royally until the devil appeared, and even then their wrath was not upon me but on him. Nevertheless, before long he moved in with me, bringing with him a metal trunk full of guns.
I continued teaching and working at the Community Services Agency. I was running through a lot of money partying at my house and inviting other blacks up from the Bay, including Cynthia Mack and brother Mustafa Abdul Rahim, my top Arabic student when I taught elementary Arabic to brothers in the hood in Oakland. Eldridge and Mustafa ate and drank on me but I appreciated their company. My father had gone back to the Bay at the first snow and my brother Ollie had departed for Seattle with his white girl who bought him a new Cadillac when he arrived.
The second conference I planned and produced was cultural. Participants included Dr. Wade Nobles, the Wajumbe Dance troop of San Francisco, including Nantizi Cayou, Janice Cobb (now Dr. Ahimsa Sumchi); Fahizah Alim of the Sacramento Bee, writer/critic Sherley Ann Williams and the devil. Sherley and Eldridge didn't get along too well after she saw him and Mary 2 together. She told him he was disgusting for cheating on Kathleen, although Kathleen was long gone, had separated and in the process of divorcing him. Sherley didn't know I'd given Mary 2 to Cleaver. If she had she really would have been through with me. As it was, she told people about our relationship, "Marvin and I are friends and sometimes we fuck." And on this occasion we fucked and the next morning Cleaver jammed Sherley since she had jammed him for adultery. He charged her with fornication after hearing her screams in the night. Sherley shut up messing with Eldridge after that.
One day my boss at the CSA called me in to tell me he had just left a meeting with state officials who told him to inform me that if Eldridge Cleaver did not leave the State of Nevada they were going to kill him. I gave Eldridge the message and he soon packed up and returned to California.
Eldridge had gone from the Christians to the Moonies, Rev. Moon's cult of brainwashed children fleeing from sexual abuse in Christian homes. Rev. Moon had a powerful theology that taught the unification of world religions with him as the new messiah. He wanted Cleaver to be his point man to the Americans because he said the black man was going to one day rule the world again, but with Asian tutelage, himself, directed from Paradise, i.e., South Korea. I had gone to a few Moonie meetings with Eldridge and observed their brainwashing process, directed by a crew of Jewish psychologists trained in behavior modification.
First they approached a victim on the street with the love bomb, warmly hugging the person and rubbing him/her softly, making them feel there was possibilities of sex if they would come to the "house," which was actually a Moonie indoctrination center. When the person arrived at the house looking for sex, they would instead be ushered into a meeting room with a lecturer teaching Moon's theology. While the invitee listened, the invitor would again apply the love bomb to the person by sitting next to him/her and hugging and rubbing them as they sat there fascinated at the heavy knowledge the Moonie lecturer was dropping.
The person would soon become attracted to the unification theology and afterward would be fed a delicious Moonie meal of crap food, but the person would be so excited and uplifted by the new theology and the love bomb they would be ready for the next stage, a visit to the Moonie retreat center in northern California at Boonesville. Boonesville is where they subjected the person to intensive brainwashing night and day until they broke down and accepted Rev. Moon as their savior. Part of the brainwashing included deprivation of sleep, a well known technique, even used by pimps to turn out whores.
Eldridge was subjected to the entire process but it had no effect on him because he had experienced behavior modification in the California prison system and observed it while visiting Communist North Korea. His daughter Joju was born there, hence her Korean name. So Eldridge was able to resist their brainwashing, although he did allow them to give him a new name, Paul, as in the Bible. Saul turned to Paul when he had a miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus. Moon said Cleaver had had a similar life, going from Communist Christian hater to Christian convert. Moon was extending his spiritual journey.
But Cleaver realized what Moon was doing to the children of America and attempted to reverse the process. When the Moonie girls gave him the love bomb, Cleaver applied it back to them, essentially turning them out and rescuing them from Moon's cult. He actually saved several lost and turned out white youth, reconnecting them with their parents. Sometimes the parents paid Eldridge for kidnapping their children and returning them. Of course there was first a detoxing process which mainly involved letting them sleep since they lacked and were deprived of sleep in the process of becoming a Moonie. They were also never left alone.
I observed the Moonies following Eldridge into the restroom at his house. The objective is to never leave the person alone so they can think about what's happening to them. Needless to say, when Rev. Moon learned Cleaver was turning out his people he was very upset, especially when Cleaver seduced his brainwashed white girls. What do you expect when you allow the fox to guard the hen house?
And then shit hit the fan in Oakland. For several months I would read the San Francisco Chronicle to keep up on news in the Bay. The OPD had been killing a black man a month and I was getting disgusted reading about it. After all, I was on a magic carpet ride in Reno, living the life of a licentious fool, taking a break from revolution, but one morning I saw the headlines about yet another black man killed by the OPD. I threw the newspaper down in disgust, but picked it up later for some reason, then turned to the back page to find my friend and best Arabic student, Mustafa Abdul Rahim in a photo with his sister, Charla Black. They were protesting the OPD murder of their 15 year old brother, Melvin Black. I was horrified and screamed. I couldn't believe what I was reading. It was totally crushing because the photo revealed the pain and sorrow on the face of my friend and his sister.
I made a call to our mutual friend in the Bay, Rasul Taifa, who told me it was time for revolution and to bring my ass back to the Bay ASAP. He let me know the pain my friend and his family were experiencing, especially since Melvin Black was the baby boy of the family. "Come on, Marvin X, it's time to get down for Black Nationalism, leave them KKK alone in Reno and get yo ass down here!" I said, "Ok, Taifa, I'll get back to you." I knew my party was over in Reno and soon I was on the road back to the Bay. When I arrived I saw that all the brothers were ready to do something in revenge.
We talked with Julian Richardson of Marcus Books and he told us to exact revenge and that we were cowards if we did not. Well, to Julian's disgust, we did not. Instead we organized a human rights rally at Oakland Auditorium. I called Minister Farrakhan to attend and he agreed. I called Angela Davis, Oba T'Shaka, Paul Cobb, Desey Woods-Jones, JoNina Abrams, editor of the BPP newspaper. And of course Eldridge wanted to attend since he knew Mustafa. When I approached Huey Newton he initially agreed only if he could speak before or after Eldridge. Angela Davis didn't want to be on the stage with him. Huey never showed but we gathered five thousand blacks into the auditorium from 12 noon to midnight without incident.
Eldridge gave a powerful speech after the heckling died down; in fact, he was applauded for his remarks denouncing Oakland's first black mayor, Lionel Wilson for not attending. He denounced Congressman Ron Dellums as well, tracing the history of Democratic party Negro sycophants.
All the speakers denounced the OPD as racist pigs, some calling for a police review board which was later established but is weak as water even today. The main speaker was minister Farrakhan, but he was preceded by Khalid Abdullah Tariq Al Mansur who went on and on about establishing a Pan African state in South Africa. I was forced to grab the mike from Al Mansur (aka Donald Warden) after Farrakhan called me into the green room and told me if I didn't get Al Mansur off the mike he was was leaving immediately for Chicago. So I went to Mansur and gently eased the mike from his hand and told the audience the minister was about to speak and the crowd exploded with applause. The minister was escorted on stage by Khalid Muhammad and Minister Billy X (Rabb Muhammad).
The minister reiterated the words of Eldridge, lambasting the absent mayor and congressman, calling them pitiful examples of black leadership in a time when the people are suffering. Following the words of Julian Richardson, Farrakhan said there comes a time when the temperature of water reaches the boiling point and the black people of Oakland had reached that point and would be justified in executing revenge. The crowd applauded loudly.
Mysteriously, after the Melvin Black Human Rights Forum, the OPD killing of blacks ceased, but what followed was the appearance of Uzis and Crack cocaine on the streets of Oakland, including drive by killings that have continued to this day.
I have called for employing young men to secure their community, similar to the model used in Iraq to pacify the insurgents, especially in Anbar Province. I have additionally called for setting up a program of micro loans to help the impoverished young men and women come up. A few hundred dollars can put a brother on the road up from poverty. This concept is being used around the world to bring people out of poverty. The founder of the concept, Muhammad Yunus, was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It is obvious to any thinking person that more police and armed guards who are not from the hood will not suffice.
As a result of the rally and a press release I sent out demanding five million dollars for the family of Melvin Black, the NAACP lawyer, Nathaniel Calley demanded a million dollars for the family, but since he was an associate of Mayor Lionel Wilson, moved to have the venue changed from Oakland to Sacramento where the case was buried until the statue of limitations almost ran out. The Melvin Black family contacted me to rev up the case so I did a PR campaign on their behalf, putting the case back in the news after Nathaniel Calley purposely buried it at the compliance of the the Mayor in a black bourgeoisie conspiracy against the grass roots people of Oakland.
But I had an agreement with Mustafa and the Black family that I would receive a commission for my efforts at getting a just compensation for the family. When they hired a new lawyer, he eventually was able to get an $800,000 law suit against the City of Oakland. The family gave me nothing for my effort although I did not pressure them for anything. Never the less when they won their suit I did not receive a thank you note or a chicken wing dinner. I did not press the issue since I saw the family was ignorant and had no sense of how to compensate someone who had helped them win a nearly million dollar law suit. If fact, Mustafa and his family hated me for helping them in their hour of need. This only showed my Mom was right when she told me to leave nigguhs alone, that they were only using my mind. Mustafa and I nearly had a shootout at his house in the projects on Union Street across the street from Acorn Projects. Eldridge had to intervene between us to stop us from violence.
This revealed to me that you simply cannot help some people because of their ignorance, envy, and jealousy. They will actually hate you for helping them. But no matter the Black family had won their lawsuit after my energy and effort and that of other community brothers and sisters. They took the money and ran into their darkness. The mother bought a condo by Lake Merritt and she gave each of her children ten thousand dollars which several of them spent on Crack.
My mother said I deserved something for my efforts in their behalf but I let it go and Allah continued to bless me in ways that I didn't need anything from the Black family. As the Qur'an says, "Leave them alone in their inordinacy, blindly wandering on." And it says further, "We feed you for Allah's pleasure, we desire from you neither reward nor thanks."
Rev. Moon wanted "Paul" to speak at a Moonie Conference in Jamaica. Cleaver asked me to handle the negotiations. My counterpart was Rev. Moon's right hand man, Col. Pak, publisher of the Washington Times, although I don't think it was out at this time, 1979. At first Col. Pak was only going to pay for Cleaver's ticket, but as per usual, Cleaver wanted me to travel with him, so since Col. Pak was resisting, I refused to answer his phone calls or return calls for several weeks. He left messages saying I was a very difficult man to contact. But I was being difficult on purpose. When we finally conversed again, he agreed that I should go, additionally he wanted Mrs. Cleaver as well. We agreed but this presented a crisis since the Cleavers were separated or divorced by this time. We tried telling Col. Pak Mrs. Cleaver wasn't available but they insisted she come, so we told them we'd get back to them on this matter while we figured out what to do.
We came up with Hurriyah's friend, Nzingha, a fairly light skinned sister who might pass for Kathleen—all Negroes look alike, right? When it was almost departure time Col. Pak called to say we could take a delegation of six people, so I scrambled together a crew of six, including Cleaver, Nzingha, Hurriyah, Hasan James, Rasul Taifa and myself. The brothers had two or three days to get their passports and meet us at the airport. We landed in Montego Bay and checked in at the conference hotel Royce Hall.
As per the African American tradition, once checked in, we wanted to find the dope as in ganja, so we sought out the brothers on the periphery of the hotel who were "bald head" dred because they didn't want trouble from Babylon police, so they cut their hair but they were Rasta just the same and they had all the dope we wanted and then some. They also had art work which Cleaver began to purchase. We told them we were writers and that I had a suitcase full of books I'd brought to trade. They told me to go get my books on black consciousness and I could get all the ganja I wanted. Thereafter they called me "culture teacher" and wanted me to share knowledge with them and didn't want me to leave Jamaica because they said they needed culture teachers.
These were young brothers so I reflected on youth back in the US who were sometimes difficult to reach with conscious knowledge. Elijah Muhammad used to say he could teach blacks outside of America in six months while it would take six years to reach and teach black Americans because they were hard headed, stiff necked, deaf, dumb and blind and in their arrogance perceive they know everything, yet they know nothing. As Khalid Muhammad said once (may he rest in peace), "How can Jesse Jackson say I am somebody when he doesn't know who he is, so how can he be somebody?"
But I must say lately that black American youth are seeking conscious knowledge. I've had young men and women spend thirty and forty dollars to purchase my books. And I was shocked and proud. One young brother held me up in a fish cafe for at least two hours questioning me on a variety of topics. He said he did so because he didn't know when he was going to see me again. He also said he quit his girlfriend because she didn't like to read and he was a reader.
Meanwhile back in Jamaica, Eldridge spoke in the "Hellfire" Room at the hotel. It was a great speech, so powerful all the hotel workers stopped in to listen intently. Essentially he asked why have Christians allowed Communists to be the Good Samaritans of Latin America? He said you cannot blame the people for turning to Communism when the Communists are the ones who've given them the rope to climb out of the hole of poverty, ignorance, and disease. The Jamaican hotel workers applauded loudly, but at breakfast the next morning, which was soon a private conversation between Col. Pak and myself, everyone else was asked to leave, including Cleaver, Col Pak said, "Mr. Jackmon, you tell Mr. Cleaver his speech too radical, too radical."
I just laughed to myself. And then he and I got down to the business at hand: Rev. Moon wanted "Paul" to make a world tour condemning Communism, but when I presented our figures for doing such a tour, Col. Pak said, "Mr. Jackmon, your figures are unacceptable, unacceptable!" I informed him that Mr. Cleaver could not and would not risk his life making a global tour to condemn his old friends in the Communist world for pennies. The more our conversation continued, the more Col. Pak repeated this line, "Mr. Jackmon, you very difficult to deal with, very difficult. And you were a very hard man to reach, Mr. Jackmon, very hard man." Thus ended our negotiations on the world tour.
Nzingha and Hurriyah wanted to visit Kingston. I refused to go because I had seen enough poverty in Mexico and Central America. I mean how much do you need to see of people suffering before you understand what's really going on. But Hurriyah was in the process of adopting a child whose family could not afford to feed him, so she had good reason to visit Kingston. The ladies took off for Kingston since we would be in Jamaica six days. I think Cleaver finally told the Moonies Nzingha was not Mrs. Cleaver. They didn't trip. After the Jamaica conference, Eldridge phased out his association with the Moonies. It appears after Rev. Moon couldn't get Eldridge to be a whore for his anti-Communist agenda, we next see him developing an association with Minister Farrakhan.
Farrakhan's Million Family March was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle as "a Rev. Moon sponsored event." I have no doubt that every Asian pictured in the video of the event was a Moonie. Certainly the group marriages performed were a Moonie ritual. After having experienced Rev. Moon, I was shocked to see Farrakhan associating with him. If anyone was the devil it was Rev. Moon who has a world following of brainwashed people, enslaved to his unification theology. Rev. Moon not only tells them when they can marry but when they can have sex after marriage.
I condemned Farrakhan in an essay called Rev. Farrakhan Moon, although my objective was to attack Moon more than Farrakhan. But after the article appeared on line and in my book In The Crazy House Called America, Farrakhan sent me a message by way of Akbar Muhammad, his international representative, someone I've known since I met him and the minister in 1968 at Mosque #7 in Harlem. Farrakhan told Akbar, "Tell Marvin I love him but he raked me over the coals in his article about me. Tell him the next time he wants to write something about me, please call me first to get my side of the story."
A few months after organizing the Melvin Black Forum on Human Rights, my elder and mentor, John Douimbia came to me with an idea he'd been carrying around with him for over twenty years, the Black Men's Conference which would become a secular organization of black men to deal with our myriad issues absent religiosity and across political and class lines, a healing project that would allow us to take control of our community as men, with a women's component but with men taking authority of all issues relating to our survival and thrival. John had presented his plan to many brothers in the Bay but many of them ran from it or stole from it. He first suggested it to the brothers at Mosque #26 in San Francisco but they were swimming in religiosity and weren't evolved enough to think out of the box.
One might say John saw what his old friend from his hustling days in Harlem saw once he departed the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, that we needed a spiritual organization, i.e., Muslim Mosque, Inc., and a secular organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Sadly, Malcolm was cut down before either of these organizations became functional. But John saw the need as Malcolm did—of course Malcolm had run into his old friend from Harlem when he was released from prison and began organizing Mosques for the NOI. He asked John to help invigorate the San Francisco temple and John agreed to do so when he returned from his job in the merchant marines. But John yet dreamed of the secular project but got nowhere until he ran into me and I told him let's go for it. So we began planning and organizing the Black Men's Conference which eventually took place, November, 1980, at the Oakland Auditorium, attended by a thousand black men, including a session organized by women.
But during the planning and organizing, John gave me lessons in man-hood training during the many one on one meetings we held to discuss how to put the conference together and what were the objectives. One objective was the Elders Council, the seat of community power and conflict resolution, whether street or domestic violence, police violence or whatever. Male/female relations was a topic, but most importantly, male to male relations: how do we respect each other as men? How do we train the boys into manhood. What rituals do they need to signal their maturation since we can no longer send them into the jungle for initiation by confronting the lions and tigers. The tragedy is that in the absence of this grouping of men, the gangs have taken over. Even in his madness, Eldridge Cleaver used to say, "Where the boy scouts end, the gangs begin." Imagine, murder is the initiation rite for gang membership. Instead of hunting the lion we hunt each other.
John taught me to always have a balance when promoting the conference, a balance of male and female energy. He demanded when I promoted the conference on the media to always have a female with me to speak. Indeed, the women became the most energetic promoters of the conference, mainly because she wanted her man, father, and sons to evolve from the patriarchal domination of females into a more balanced symbiosis.
As an example of male interpersonal relations and conflict resolution, John wanted Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton to reconcile with each other, despite all the pain and suffering, all the blood and bones, these two brothers had subjected the brotherhood and sisterhood coast to coast. He recognized them both for the good they did in advancing black liberation, he recognized their failings. But in the spirit of black unity and especially in terms of black male unity, he wanted them to come together. The response came from Huey's brother Melvin Newton, who told us Huey said, "There was too much blood on the path between him and Eldridge, that with respect to those comrades who had lost loved ones in the internecine warfare, he could not reconcile with Eldridge, even though on the personal level he wanted to do so."
I should add that Dr. Nathan Hare wanted the two brothers to come together as well. Hare was one of the principle supporters of the Black Men's Conference and he too felt it would have gone a long way toward black unity if they had resolved their differences. And example of what we wanted occurred when Geronimo Pratt was released from prison after twenty seven years: we understand that he forgave Ron Karenga of the US organization that had violent and death dealing encounters with the Panthers in Los Angeles, including the death of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins in the BSU meeting room on the campus of UCLA. We understand when Ron Karenga came to prison for torturing black women he suspected of being agents, Geronimo saved Karenga from retaliation. He ordered the brothers not to kill Karenga. This is the type of spirit we wanted the Black Men's Conference to emulate, agape or unconditional love and forgiveness.
But it didn't happen and opinion in the Bay was so negative against Eldridge that we ultimately had to ask him to drop from participation in the conference. I know this hurt him and it hurt me to tell him he could not be a part of the brotherhood we were organizing, but there was a consensus of opinion that he was bad news. And this lack of ability to reconcile has implications for the present strife and violence in our communities coast to coast. We call ourselves conscious black men and women, but we harbor petty hatreds long after it is time to let them go. It it a sign of political and spiritual immaturity that we must overcome.
We see white men and women in the Congress who hate each others guts, yet they unite for the common good. This is what we wanted to achieve with the Black Men's Conference. The concept was taken up fifteen years later by Minister Farrakhan with the Million Man March. Yet, just as the Black Men's Conference failed to morph into a secular organization, the MMM has apparently gone nowhere, caught between religiosity and the secular dream, unable to resolve the contradiction.
After the Black Men's Conference dropped Eldridge, I did not see him for a few months. Meanwhile I was confronted with how to deal with the black men who came to the post-conference meetings to become a part of the organization. But we were not prepared to receive the men because all our time had been spent organizing the conference. John Douimbia tried to tell me to slow down but I was moving full steam ahead, about to sink into the chasm of black male political insanity.
Not having the organizational structure in order was like inviting friends to dinner but having no food. People were anxious and ready for something to happen. They were pumped up from the conference and jockeying for power in the potentially new organization. I was confronted with three forces coming at me simultaneously: the progressive black bourgeoisie, the black intellectuals, and the grass roots. When I saw that John had used me to organize the project for his comrades, the black bourgeoisie, I said no way was I going to deliver this organization to the so-called progressive black bourgeoisie who were basically sycophants for the Democratic Party.
I fell back on my black intellectual comrades but they failed me. When I called upon them to take things to the next level, all they wanted to do was meet around a conference table and sip coffee. I saw they were not about to do much more than talk. After all, they informed me they had families and jobs, thus no real time for the black men's conference as an organization.
The third element was the grass roots brothers who were sincere and energetic but simply ignorant, so I could not see delivering the conference to them either. I was thus in a dilemma of major proportions. I needed a way to bring the forces into functional unity, maybe some Machiavellian approach that would allow the unity of opposites.
Instead, when I saw John was determined to make the conference a black bourgeoisie organization, I simply dropped out and the ship of black men eventually sank. Fifteen years later, Farrakhan picked up the ball with the Million Man March, but clearly there is no organization of the Million Black Men. Maybe our negrocities (Baraka's term) are simply overwhelming, and except for the Obama Drama we are into reverse evolution, dancing backwards like Michael Jackson.
After the Black Men's Conference fizzled, I returned to the classroom, teaching theatre at Oakland's Laney College. Odell Johnson, President of the college, my homeboy from Fresno, hired me. But many of my theatre students couldn't read the script. Nevertheless, I put together a musical drama entitled In the Name of Love, a poetic drama that Eldridge Cleaver showed up to see several times. He loved it because he said it returned drama to the Shakespearean tradition of poetic theatre.
There were quite a few people who came to view it more than once. At first I couldn't figure out why they were returning, but soon it hit me that maybe the topic touched their lives as good drama should. My major topic was polygamy or plural marriage. This explains why Dr. Yusef Bey of Your Black Muslim Bakery came with his entourage on several occasions. Betty King, known as the Mother Theresa of Oakland, came more than once. I found out that Betty had been in a relationship with a married man for several years so she was trying to understand some things that were going on in her life.
All during the production I was having problems with the technical staff as well as the theatre director, both of whom were Jews and had literally kept blacks from using one of the best theatres in the Bay. The Jews acted as if the theatre was their sacred turf and blacks should keep out. Well, as per usual, I came in kicking and screaming that their reign was over and we had every right to the space. The tech man warned me I might not have lights during the production, they might mysteriously cut off in the middle of a scene. I replied that I might put his lights out as well. And then one day he took items from my archives on display in the lobby and put them in his office. When I saw him in the hall I took a swing at his head but missed.
He called the dean of our department, Melvin Newton, yes, Huey Newton's brother, who had me arrested by campus police. I was later released and told to not return for a few days, but I ignored Melvin's order and returned a day or two later. He called the campus police again but I told them to call the President who overrode Melvin's order. If he ever did, Melvin has not liked me since. Actually, Melvin didn't like anyone associated with his brother, since he was nothing, certainly not the historic figure like his brother. During this time revolutionary sister Dessie X Woods (Rashida Muhammad, may she rest in peace—she has a street named in her honor downtown Oakland) came on campus to support me. She said of Melvin, "He and Huey didn't come from the same womb. Melvin came from a baboon's asshole."
I also taught a class at Merritt College called Manhood Training. I taught brother Rickey Clay (Bakari of Uhuru House) one on one. He had performed the role of Revolutionary Man in In the Name of Love at Laney. After my class he actually joined the revolutionary Uhuru House and has been there ever since. He is currently in charge of the local Uhuru Movement.
During this time the brothers from the Black Men's Conference wanted to support Dr. Nathan Hare for superintendent of Oakland Public Schools. We held a rally at Oakland High School, but when we discovered some negative background issues about Dr. Hare, we withdrew his name. But during that rally at Oakland High I met an English teacher named Marsha Satterfield who had studied my writings while a student at Southern University in Louisiana. She was highly intelligent and a dedicated teacher and soon we were living together. She became part of my polygamous family.. She put up with my madness for quite some time, allowing me to subject her and my other women to much stress and abuse, verbal and physical. At a cast party, she and Hurriyah fought over whose time it was to be with me. The fight started when Marsha called Hurriyah a bitch, something Hurriyah didn't play, being a Chicago woman.
As director and writer, I took full advantage of the women, causing one dancer to tell me, "I'm not givin you no pussy, Marvin, you got enough already!"
One day I got a call from Dessie X to come rescue her from an abusive situation with a Muslim minister in San Francisco. I let her stay at my house and introduced her to Mustafa Abul Rahim, whose family had won the million dollars. Mustafa proceeded to abuse her as well, even though Dessie X had killed a white man in the South who tried to rape her and won release from prison after the Uhuru Movement came to her defense and spread propaganda about her cause. So I had to take her from Mustafa and put her under my care.
When I got a temporary teaching job near Fresno, I took her with me until she started seeing ghosts while I was at work. Eldridge told me to be patient with her because she had only recently gotten out of prison and was still traumatized. I took his advice but Dessie made the mistake of calling my mother and telling her she was one of my wives. Mom told her she didn't want to hear anything about Marvin and his wives, please don't call her again.
I soon returned Dessie to the Bay Area and dropped her off at the Black Muslim Bakery where she hooked up with a brother and was married to him until she made her transition (may she rest in peace).
I was soon joined in Fresno by Eldridge Cleaver. This time he was not making dick pants but dick pots. He designed stone planters with a giant phallus at one end. When he brought People's magazine to my house for a story about his planters, I told him it was time to go and we parted again.
I hated to send Eldridge packing but enough was enough. I was tired of his focus on the phallus. I wanted to understand his fixation with this male organ that had caused him so much trouble throughout his life. What was the sexual psychology or pathology of this man? What was going on in the deep structure of his mind that over powered all other subjects and concerns. Obviously it was compulsive obsessive behavior. But didn't I suffer a sexual addiction as well, was not my polygamy merely the expression of a sexual addiction gone wild? After all, no matter how much sex I had it was never enough, I was never satisfied, and I am certain the women were never satisfied either, certainly not psychologically and probably not sexually since they are one—psycho-sexuality.
I came to realize that my psycho-sexuality was nothing more than an expression of my addictive personality, that no matter what I did it would become an addiction, that I could never get enough, whether it was alcohol, weed or other drugs. There was no social drinking in my book, rather, my object was to drink to get drunk as possible, the smoke weed until there was no more, and to do the same with Crack which is called chasing the dragon that is forever eluding one's grasp.
So maybe Cleaver suffered a similar addictive personality, except that his was focused on his sexuality, and of course he went to the extreme with rape, actually a pathology that transcends sex into the realm of power and domination, and according to what he told me, it was not only to have power over the female but the male as well. He told me the process of the rapist. First, he would stalk the motel, lying in wait for a couple to check in and once they put the key in the door and opened it, he would charge into them, blocking the door with his foot. Then he would tie the man and woman and proceed to rape the woman while the man watched. He said his joy was not in having sex with the woman but in making the man watch his woman transform from resistance to acceptance of his sexual aggression.
Of course he told us in Soul on Ice that he practiced on black women and perfected with white women. And ultimately he served eighteen years in prison for his psychopathic behavior. Should we conclude that he was simply a sick puppy, yet thank him for whatever positive contribution he made to the liberation struggle. After all, he did not have to join the struggle, he could have been a very successful writer, but he chose social activism rather than commercial success, some might say to the detriment of many people or to the movement in general. But would it have been the same without Eldridge? Bobby Seale blames me for keeping Eldridge from the Panthers, then he blames me for introducing Eldridge to them. You can't have it both ways, Bobby!
But we can say the liberation was inundated with social psychopaths, or as Dr. Cornell West likes to say, "Those maladjusted to injustice." Yes, as in any liberation struggle, there are criminal psychopaths, hustlers, opportunists, agent provocateurs, snitches, uncle toms, along with the sincere, the honest, the romantics, idealists and dreamers. Sometimes they are in one personality, thus the complexity of some individuals and the simplicity of others.
I remember the night we were in Los Angeles during the Born Again days. We wanted to get served by prostitutes, so we were in the motel area near Sunset Strip. But as we were going into the motel with our ladies, we saw a blind man being led up the stairs by a sex worker. Eldridge acknowledged the sexual needs of the blind man and the service the worker was performing, thus he lambasted those who want to outlaw prostitution which has a social need as evidenced by the blind man. Would society deny the blind man satisfaction?
And then along came Crack. It wasn't before long that it appeared that not only did the masses succumb to Crack but the liberation movement as well, including and especially its leaders. The same happened in the Black Arts Movement as well. Can we not say the entire black nation fell victim? Even black studies professors fell into the crack of Crack, even presidents of colleges, such as John Green, president of Merritt College in Oakland. The bourgeoisie was not exempt, nor the grass roots. The most beautiful women from every class of black society turned into Crack whores, toss ups or strawberries. And in reality the men were Crack whores too, even the children were literally sold to the dope man. Turned out mothers told their dope dealing sons they need not trade dope for sex with Crack hos, he could have sex with his mother so she could get the dope instead of the Crack ho.
The ghetto turned into a giant auction block. Men and women sold themselves to the highest bidder for Crack. When a husband and wife ran out of Crack, the husband would demand his wife give herself to the dope man for a package. Sometimes the wife never returned. Sometimes the husband would offer himself.
Yes, brothers who claimed they weren't homosexual performed homosexual acts for Crack. Women did the same for whomever had the package. Women who weren't lesbian performed lesbian sexual acts for the dope man or whomever had the package.
What caused such moral degeneration and desperation in the black nation? We know there are no mysteries, no mystery God. So let us turn to the US Government, and we can pinpoint the Crack epidemic to Freeway Rick and a Nicaraguan named Blandon, as documented in the American Gangster Series on BET. But also thanks to journalist Gary Webb who lost his career and ultimately lost his life chronicling the Crack epidemic and the source of it, which he uncovered was the US Government's use of Crack to buy weapons for the Nicaraguan Contras in their fight against the revolutionary Sandinista Government in Nicaragua.
The black nation was turned into Crack hos to benefit the American Right Wing Revolution of President Ronald Reagan, supposedly the greatest Present we ever had, but Allah brought him down so low in his last days that they wouldn't show you his picture. He was so deranged he couldn't come to his own birthday party.. We are certain he approached the madness of Shakespeare's King Lear for the retribution he deserved for destroying the black nation with Crack.
Does this excuse the revolutionaries, the black bourgeoisie, or the grass roots for falling victim to the white man's tricknology? No! We had knowledge he was the devil, Elijah told us this. And after Elijah Imam Khomeini told us America was the Great Satan, and after Khomeini President Chavez came to the United Nations telling us he smelled the Devil, meaning President Bush, and then the other day came President Lula of Brazil telling the president of France he and his blue eyed brothers and sisters are responsible for the world's troubles because of their white supremacy arrogance, thinking they are the world's most intelligent people while we can see clearly with the global financial meltdown that they lack the knowledge of the lowest imbecile or mentally retarded person awaiting the little yellow bus to stop outside his house to drive him to Special Ed.
I give former President Bush credit for one thing he did positive: he got mental illness placed on par with physical illness with respect to insurance and health care. And we pray he takes advantage of the mental health component to check himself in to a mental health center to recover from his addiction to white supremacy. Let us hope other Americans, black and white, will do the same.. After all, Attorney General Holder has told us the American people are cowards with respect to their unabashed racism, despite the election of Obama..
To the disgrace of our ancestors, our elders, parents and children, we fell victim to Crack, myself, Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, David Hilliard, and thousands of other radicals and revolutionaries. But we know, according to the Bible, there were two women in the field, God took one but left the other. Perhaps I am here to write this narrative because God spared me to tell this story. Thank you God!
posted 22 March 2009
Comments on "My Friend the Devil" by Marvin X
One of America's great storytellers. Maybe second only to Mark Twain. Of course, I'd place Marvin X ahead of him even. More and more I am convinced this work will be a best-seller. Though I have never read a Cleaver biography, a lot of this material seems to be new and if not factually new, it is from a novel perspective.—Rudolph Lewis, editor, ChickenBones. A Journal, www.nathanielturner.com
You are doing a tremendous service telling of our history in our own words. I am proud to be one of your students. —Ramal Lamar (storyteller in training)
Wonderful appreciation of both Elijah and Clara. Rare perception nowadays, what with the Malcolm cult. The pendulum is swinging.—John Woodford, former Editor, Muhammad Speaks Editor, Michigan Today, Univ. of Mich.
Hallelujah! MX is reminiscing, I must say, entertainingly, about his historic dalliance w/ shaitan rat on... —Amiri Baraka, Newark, NJ
Excellent! —Eric Rhodes, Houston, TX
Great stuff, man, priceless….—Rudi Mwongozi, Pianist, Oakland CA
Thank you Marvin...get it all out...write it out...sweat it out...dance it out...cry it out, swear it out, walk it out...work it out....thank you for sharing ...respect.—Joan Tarika Lewis, Violinist, Oakland First female member of the Black Panther Party
Enjoyed your post about Cleaver. Very interesting. Contained vivid imagery.—Martin Reynolds, Editor, Oakland Tribune