Eldridge Cleaver(continued)previouspage 2 of 2

GATES: We were talking about black leadership. What's your take on the Million Man March and Minister Farrakhan?

CLEAVER: I think the Million Man March will go down in history as the defining episode for a generation of people and I know Minister Farrakhan personally and have known him for years. And my overall decision on Farrakhan is that the Afro-American people are not going to follow him anywhere and as General Colin Powell said in his famous commencement address at Howard University, he said that after what we've been through and after coming this far we cannot afford to take a detour through the swamps of hatred and that is the Achilles heel of Farrakhan is that the doctrine of the Nation of Islam is a racist doctrine and the Afro-American people are not racist people. We are anti-racist people.

We among all the people of the world have put up a valiant struggle against racism and for emancipation from a system based on racism and so that is the problem with Farrakhan. He needs to be born again. He needs a new vision. Somebody needs to talk to that guy. I tried to talk to him but he's too slick. He won't listen, you see.

I remember him when he first came along, when he was nothing but a pimp and a calypso singer and Malcolm X pulled him and let him sing his song which was A White Man's Heaven Is A Black Man's Hell and by singing that song at Malcolm X's rallies every week he got to hear Malcolm X's speech 1000 times so when Malcolm X was murdered, the show must go on so they were looking around for who could keep the show going. Farrakhan was there. He knew Malcolm's speech word for word, he has a good mind and a good memory and he was able to do it because he was a showman from the beginning and so he was able to step into that vacuum, but the boy's not creative and he's blind sided so consequently he was not able to shuffle off that mortal coil which he should have done.

He should have not felt obligated to carry on the doctrine according to Elijah Mohammed but he did that to stay the hands of his rivals who were willing to do that in order to get the power. So they were calling him a revisionist for a long time. That is why he had to stick to what Elijah Mohammed was teaching and for that reason we cannot follow him because we don't want to go where he's going, and where he's going is where all haters go and that's into the garbage can of history and we're not going with him.

GATES: What about Colin Powell?

CLEAVER: I think Colin Powell is a magnificent American and he is different from these other so-called leaders because he is not a protest leader. The man is an American leader, he's an all-American leader, but because he has this Afro-American ancestry he appeals to black people but he also appeals to white people and that is the way it should be because we don't need no narrow mentality person in the White House. We need a person who is an all-American and this brings me closer to my agenda. I have to apologize to Vice President Gore because he will not become president in the year 2000 --

GATES: Who will?

CLEAVER: Because he is too little too late. In the year 2000 the American people, are going to elect the first woman president of the United States of America and it's not just going to be a woman, it's going to be a mother because what is missing from our decision making process in this Old Boy network is the heart and the concerns of a mother and so I, along with a lot of other people, are going to make it happen. We don't want to specify who is our choice right now because we have to get women to raise their self esteem and to realize and understand that there are a lot of women in America who are qualified to be president of the United States of America.

You would have to look up under a whole lot of rocks in America to find a woman as unqualified as these suckers we've been sending to Washington and women need to understand that and deal with that because we cannot go into a new millennium and a new century with the Old Boy network which is racist and misogynistic. We have got to go in there with a new deal and I hope that we will have time to tick off a few points that I feel are extremely important but I want to make sure you finish your questions first on this.

GATES: You, thirty years ago, were a socialist, I think it's fair to say. Do you believe that capitalism is compatible with the absorption of a significantly larger percentage of black people into the middle class?

CLEAVER: I think it is. I think that it is possible for the capitalist system to have a program of full employment, but we have a spiritual and moral problem in America. Our problem is not economic or political, it is that we do not care about each other because we say hey look, my people, my group, we're first class and you guys, you're second class and you guys over there, you third class and you guys in the back right there, no ain't got no class. That's our attitude but our creator never wasted his or her time creating a second class person. He made us all first class and he provided this earth as our home for all of us, not for the black man, the white man, the red man, the yellow man, the brown man, but for the whole human family.

We are the ones who have created a system of scarcity. There's enough building materials in this country, enough skilled workers, that there should not be any homeless people. There should not be any hungry people. And so a man wrote a poem in Berkeley, old man, in which he had an immortal line. It was a poem on greed in which he said how much more than enough do you want? There is enough for all of us but we don't have values that include us all and the black bourgeoisie suffers from that same lack of values as the white bourgeoisie and so we need a spiritual transformation in our attitude towards each other so that we can look upon each other as a family and therefore our national economy should be based upon a family budget, not going around preaching scarcity. There's not enough money for this. There's enough money for everything if you stop spending it the way you're spending it and so we need to undertake some political reform. Number one, I told you about the toilets, but number two, we have got to require our politicians to write their own speeches and when they campaign to campaign under the penalties of perjury because we have developed a political culture of mendacity.

We all know the politicians lie, we don't expect them to tell the truth so we have a low expectation because they've been lying all down through history. We've got to raise the standard and to start with we require them to write their own speeches or let's vote for the speech writer. George Bush went in talking about let there be 1000 points of light then when he got in the White House all the lights in the country went out and we found out that a woman wrote that speech. He didn't even write the speech. So when you come before us reading your speech we want to know what you are talking about, what you are thinking about, where you are coming from, but you can't tell us that if you going to read a speech some word monger wrote for you. We got to change that, man, because we need truth in our political arena, and then we've got to restore vision because our young people are lost, they don't see a future and to restore -- yes, sir?

GATES: How do we do that in the black community? I mean we have this gangster culture.

CLEAVER: I know. We have got to do it for the country as a whole because it is no longer a situation where you can just deal with the problems of black people because we now have the same problem. We've gotten rid of the special problems. I know that there's still discrimination going on and racism in the decision and what Newt Gingrich talked about a new contract with the American people. I used to carry his book around with me and I'd jump up and down on it and kick it off the stage because why do we think that Newt Gingrich going to live up to a new contract when he hasn't lived up to the old contract? We don't need a contract. The contract that we should be going by is called the Constitution of the United States of America and all this other stuff is just a political scam.

GATES: But the Constitution doesn't say anything about economic equality.

CLEAVER: It says that we are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And those causes are elastic. If we have people who will interpret that Constitution right what do we need to be happy? We need some food, we need a house, we need some money in our pocket. We don't need to be begging, asking for spare change, we don't need to be on welfare asking for a handout from the federal government. We need money and income that we can control. We need part of the private sector. We need property and we need ownership so that we can not be just floundering this way and that way, depending on who's in Washington and which way the political winds are blowing.

That is what we've got to be emancipated from and that calls for not a communist formula and the redistribution of the wealth, we need at least 51% of the wealth in this country shifted into the hands of women. They are over 50% of the population. Now they are divorced into poverty. They work with these chumps and help them get rich then they run away with the secretary and divorce the wife into poverty. We have got to stop that. We need to shift 51% at the very least of the wealth of this country into the hands of women.

GATES: Are you optimistic about the future? I mean given the fact that we have this large black underclass and a large black middle class, it looks like we have two nations and they're both black.

CLEAVER: We have more nations than that because we have poor white people, we have poor Indians, we have poor -- we have got to eliminate the economic basis of the underclass by providing them with jobs not handouts from the federal government. That is the failure of our economic system, that you have economists who say that you've got to keep the people on the brink of starvation in order to motivate them to work and hustle around. The failure of the capitalistic economic system is that they did not provide for full employment. They were satisfied with a certain percentile and then they were willing to keep a lot of people perpetually in reserve and that was to keep wages down and all that kind of pressure.

We have got to have a policy of full employment and by restoring the frontier and the union of the western hemisphere it is a full employment program for the whole hemisphere. There's a lot of work to be done but we have to reorient ourselves from a system of scarcity and a belief system in scarcity and there is no problem that we have on our agenda that we cannot solve.

GATES: Eldridge, many people compare Huey Newton with Tupac Shakur. And some people even suggest that without a gangster culture, that is, 30 years ago, a person like Tupac would have emerged as a leader of a revolutionary group like Huey P. Newton.

CLEAVER: This is an a historical perspective because they do not understand that Tupac is a child of Huey Newton and Malcolm X. That Tupac would not have been who he was had he not been born of parents who followed Huey Newton. Afeni Shakur and Amumu Shakur were members of the Black Panther party. And it was because of that experience that they were able to raise Tupac with the mentality and the spirit that he had. So talking about going back like that, saying that Tupac would have been Huey, you cannot unring the bell.

GATES: But Tupac was a gangster, wasn't he?

CLEAVER: Huey was a gangster.

GATES: Oh, he was?

CLEAVER: I'm not-- I'm talking about a real gangster. Tupac, they were talking about gangster rap. Huey P. Newton was a gun toting gangster, but that's not all he was. I'm saying he went through that experience as a criminal, but the thing about Tupac was his spirit and his rebellion against oppression. This comes from the way that he was raised and the values that were transmitted to him.

His father died in a gun fight with the New York police department and so Afena was a very strong stalwart of the Black Panther party and Tupac was raised like that. He is what we call a panther cub. And that was what he was about.

And that is why it was such a blow, [Tupac's] liquidation, and many people think that it was the COINTELPRO that took him out because the story doesn't hold up because anybody who knows Las Vegas knows that after the Mike Tyson fight there, there is no way that anybody going to drive along upside of another car, shoot them and drive away because it's gridlocked for blocks around there, man. So that is not what happened. There is more to it than that.

GATES: Eldridge, now, thirty years later, the smoke has cleared, bodies are buried, people have moved on. Was it worth it? I mean was the Panther movement worth it? Was it a good thing?

CLEAVER: It was a good thing and like all things, there was good and bad, but nothing like what this nitwit, Horowitz, is talking about because that is not where we were coming from. And I regret the way that the Party was repressed because it left a lot of unfinished business because we had planned to make a transition to the political arena and we would have been able to transmute that violence and that legacy into legitimate and peaceful channels. As it was they chopped off the head and left the body there armed. That's why all these young bloods out there now, they've got the rhetoric but without the political direction and they've got the guns. A man told me in Berkeley, said-- 'Eldridge,the two most dangerous demographics in the Bay Area right now are young black men with guns and middle-aged white women with Volvos.'

GATES: You're crazy.

CLEAVER: They're taking out more people than anything else.

GATES: Will history judge you and your contemporaries from the '60s -- Karenga, Rap, Stokely, Angela, the whole gang, Julian Bond -- favorably, do you think?

CLEAVER: I think they will. I think they will give us Fs where we deserve them and they'll give us As where we deserve them and they're going to give Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver an A plus.

The FBI's exploitation of ideological differences between Eldridge Cleaver and BPP Chairman Huey P. Newton eventually led to the dissolution of the organization.  	Cleaver's  acclaimed 1968 book Soul on Ice  - written while serving a prison term for rape - was a searing statement about his life as a black American.  After his release from prison,  he was indicted on charges relating to a shoot-out with Oakland, California police.  He fled the U.S., and lived in exile  for seven years in Algeria and France, where he was joined by his wife Kathleen Neal Cleaver.   Prof. Gates first met the Cleavers in Paris during their exile there.  He was then working as a stringer for TIME magazine. The Cleavers were divorced in 1984.          Eldridge Cleaver also wrote Post-Prison Writings and Speeches. In this interview, conducted in the spring of 1997, Eldridge talked with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. about the shoot-out with Oakland police which led to his exile, and looks back at the legacy of the Panthers and the civil rights movement.

 

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