African American Heritage

Eldridge Cleaver

A civil rights activist and author, Eldridge Cleaver was born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. Cleaver spent most of his childhood in Los Angeles, California where he was in and out of reform schools for his involvement in petty crimes. Eldridge's unruly conduct continued into adulthood and eventually led to his conviction and imprisonment for assault with intent to commit murder at the age of 22.

During his time in prison, Cleaver read published works by intellectuals such as Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Karl Marx, and Richard Wright. He was also influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X. These scholars encouraged Cleaver to write his memoir while serving his sentence in Folsom Prison. Two years after his release, the collection of essays he wrote in prison were developed into the book Soul on Ice in 1968.

In 1966, Cleaver joined the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) and a year later married fellow member Kathleen Cleaver. As a member of the BPP in Oakland, California, he served as the first Minister of Information. Being a prominent member of the Black Panther Party allowed Soul on Ice to gain popularity among those interested in the BPP and provided Eldridge with international notoriety. He utilized his fame and success to run on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket during the 1968 U.S. presidential election. That same year, Cleaver was involved in a shootout between the Oakland police and BPP members. He was severely wounded during the violent incident and charged with attempted murder. In fear of his safety and freedom, Cleaver fled from the United States and lived in exile in Mexico, Algeria, Cuba and France. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1975, Cleaver denounced the Black Panther Party and the attempted murder charges from 1968 were dropped.

By 1986, Cleaver's political views had drastically changed as he made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in California. This would be his final attempt to be involved in politics. Cleaver died at the age of 62 in Los Angeles.

The Black Power records at the National Archives pertaining to Eldridge Cleaver include audio recordings of radio interviews, FBI surveillance of him in the United States, Cuba and Algeria and files from President Gerald Ford and his administration.

Record Group 59: Department of State

Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979 National Archives Identifier 654098

Selected Records
Electronic Telegrams, 1975 ( NAID 1225392)
Electronic Telegrams, 1976 ( NAID 1663706)
P-Reel Document Index Entries, 1975 ( NAID 1442319)

The electronic records in this series can be searched online via the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) system. The telegrams on AAD include only unclassified, unrestricted files which have been determined to be of permanent historical value. Please search for 'Eldridge Cleaver'.

Records Relating to Algeria, 1963-1973 National Archives Identifier 618404

Selected Records
[CONSULAR] PS- Protective Services: PS 7- Eldridge Cleaver & Black Panthers, 1970 ( NAID 2656980)
[CONSULAR] PS- Protective Services: PS 7- Eldridge Cleaver & Black Panthers, 1971 ( NAID 2656981)
[CONSULAR] PS- Protective Services: PS 7- Eldridge Cleaver & Black Panthers, 1972 ( NAID 2656982)

Record Group 65: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Case Files

Please use the Find function in your browser to search for 'Eldridge Cleaver'

Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files

Please use the Find function in your browser to search for 'Elaine Brown'

Motion Picture Films and Video Recordings, ca. 1936- ca. 1985 National Archives Identifier: 12073

Selected Records
Black Panther ( NAID 12101) Also available for viewing on YouTube

Record Group 263: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Audio Recordings of Monitored Broadcasts from Havana and Port-Au-Prince, 1968-1973 National Archives Identifier 104633

Selected Records
Havana International Service in English. Interview with U.S. Black Panther Party Member Eldridge Cleaver ( NAID 104649)

Audio Recordings of Monitored Broadcasts from Vietnam, Korea, and China, 1968-1969 National Archives Identifier: 103958

Selected Records
Hanoi Domestic Service to Vietnam in English. Speeches by Eldridge Cleaver and Phil Lawson at Aug 22 1970 Hanoi Rally ( NAID 104054)
Hanoi Domestic Service to Vietnam in English. Eldridge Cleaver’s Comments on Visit to Spiro Agnew to Asia ( NAID 104059)
Hanoi Domestic Service to Vietnam in English. Eldridge Cleaver Talks to U.S. Servicemen. Part I ( NAID 104062)
Hanoi Domestic Service to Vietnam in English. Eldridge Cleaver Talks to U.S. Servicemen. Part II ( NAID 104063)

Record Group 306: US Information Agency (USIA)

Production Library Audio Recordings National Archives Identifier 118159

Selected Records
Sixty Minutes with Eldridge Cleaver ( NAID 133370)

GRF-0019: Philip W. Buchen Files

Philip Buchen's General Subject Files, 1974-1977 National Archives Identifier: 574067

Finding Aid - Philip W. Buchen Files, 1974-77

Selected Records
Justice - General

GRF-0204: Ron Nessen Papers

Domestic Guidance for Press Briefings Files National Archives Identifier: 648724

Finding Aid - Ron Nessen Papers, 1974-77

Selected Records
Cleaver, Eldridge ( NAID 1512854) Digitized document from Ford Library

GRF-0273: Presidential Name Files (Ford)

Name Files, 1974-1977 National Archives Identifier: 654752

Finding Aid - National Security Advisor. Presidential Name File

Selected Records
Cleaver, Eldridge ( NAID 1180565)

HICK: John R. Hickman Audio Collection

Sound Recordings of Historical Radio Broadcasts, World War II Government Documentaries, and Popular Radio Shows, 1906-1993 National Archives Identifier 1487762

Selected Records
Interview with Eldridge Cleaver ( NAID 2843264)
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