IJRC > The Revolutionary's Library via POST-PRISON WRITINGS (1968) > By ELDRIDGE CLEAVER
This essay is excepted from: Scheer, Robert ed., Eldridge Cleaver: Post-Prison Writings and Speeches
This essay is excepted from: Scheer, Robert ed., Eldridge Cleaver: Post-Prison Writings and Speeches
In the aftermath of the Oakland shoot-out Cleaver's parole was revoked and he was sent to Vacaville Prison. While there, he prepared the following affidavit as a document to be used in his legal defense.
I am thirty-three years old. My first fifteen years were given to learning how to cope with the world and developing my approach to life. I blundered in my choices and set off down a road that was a dead end. Long years of incarceration is what I found on that road, from Juvenile Hall at the beginning to San Quentin, Folsom, and Soledad State Prisons at the end. From my sixteenth year, I spent the next fifteen years in and out of prison, the last time being an unbroken stay of nine years.
During my last stay in prison, I made the desperate decision to abandon completely the criminal path and to redirect my life. While in prison, I concentrated on developing the skills of a writer and I wrote a book which a publisher bought while' I was still in prison and which was published after I was out on parole.
It looked like smooth sailing for me. I had fallen in love with a beautiful girl and got married; my book was soon to be published, and I had a good job as a staff writer with Ramparts magazine in San Francisco. I had broken completely with my old life. Having gone to jail each time out of Los Angeles, I had also put Los Angeles behind me, taking my parole to the Bay Area. I had a totally new set of friends and, indeed, I had a brand new life.
The thought of indulging in any "criminal activity" was as absurd and irrelevant as the thought of sprouting wings and flying to the moon. Besides, I was too busy. I joined the Black Panther Party, and because of my writing skills and interest in communications, became the editor of the party's newspaper, The Black Panther. In this I found harmony with my wife, Kathleen, who had worked in the communications department of SNCC in Atlanta, Georgia, and who, after our marriage, moved to San Francisco, joined the Black Panther Party, and became our Communications Secretary. Also, she is our party's candidate for the 18th Assembly District seat in San Francisco, running on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. With my job at Ramparts, my political activity, editing the newspaper, and work on a new book, I had more to do than I could handle. My life was an endless round of speeches, organizational meetings, and a few hours snatched here and there on my typewriter.
I thought that the parole authorities would be pleased with my new life because in terms of complying with the rules governing conduct on parole, I was a model parolee. But such was not the case. My case was designated a "Special Study Case," which required that I see my parole agent four times each month, once at home, once at my job, once "in the field," and once in his office. My parole agent, Mr. R. L. Bilideau, was white, but his boss, Mr. Isaac Rivers, was a black man. Together these two gentlemen were my contact with the parole authorities. On a personal level, we got along very well together, and we spent many moments talking about the world and its problems. However, I could never believe in them as sincere friends, because they were organization men and experience had taught me that, on receiving orders from above, they would snap into line and close ranks against me.
The first time this happened was when, on April 15, 1967, I made a speech at Kezar Stadium criticizing this country's role in the war in Vietnam. The speech was part of the program of the Spring Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam, during the International Days of Protest. There were demonstrations from coast to coast. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at the rally in New York and his wife at our rally at Kezar. The crowd was estimated at about 65,000 and the speeches were shown on television. Members of the parole authority, who don't like me, I was told, saw excerpts of my speech on TV and launched their campaign to have my parole revoked, but failed. Even though I had a perfect right to free speech, Mr. Rivers and Mr. Bilideau said there were those in the State Capital who, for political purposes, were clamoring to have my parole revoked and me returned to prison. They advised me to cool it and forsake my rights in the interest of not antagonizing those in Sacramento who did not like my politics. From then on, I was under constant pressure through them to keep my mouth shut and my pen still on any subject that might arouse a negative reaction in certain circles in Sacramento. Because I was violating neither any law of the land nor any rule of parole, upon being assured by my attorney that I was strictly within my rights, I decided not to accept these warnings and continued exercising my right to free speech and to write what was on my mind.
When I returned to San Francisco, I was again told about the clamor in Sacramento to have my parole revoked. My enemies, I was told, had stayed up all night scanning TV film footage, trying to find a shot of me with a gun in my hands. No luck. But anyhow, severe new restrictions were to be imposed. I) I was not to go outside a seven mile area; specifically, I was not to cross the Bay Bridge. 2) I was to keep my name out of the news for the next six months; specifically, my face was not to appear on any TV screen. 3) I was not to make any more speeches. 4) And I was not to write anything critical of the California Department of Corrections or any California politician. In short, I was to play dead, or I would be sent back to prison. "All that Governor Reagan has to do," I was told, "is sign his name on a dotted line and you are dead, with no appeal." Knowing that this was true and with my back thus to the wall, I decided to play it cool and go along with them, as I didn't see what else I could do. My attorneys said that we could challenge it in court, but that I would probably have to pound the Big Yard in San Quentin for a couple of years, waiting for the court to hand down a decision. I was in a bad bag.
Things stayed like that, but after a couple of months the travel ban was lifted with all the other restrictions remaining in force.
Then, on October 28, 1967, Huey Newton, Minister of Defense and leader of our party, was shot down in the streets by an Oakland cop and was arrested and charged with the murder of one Oakland cop and the wounding of another. Bobby Seale, Chairman of our party, was serving a six months' jail sentence for the Sacramento incident, and I was the only other effective public speaker that we had. A campaign to mobilize support in Huey's defense had to be launched immediately. So in November, 1967, I started making speeches again and writing in Huey's defense. The political nature of the case, and the fact that it involved a frame-up by the Oakland Police Department and the D.A.'s office, dictated that I had not only to criticize politicians but also the police. Well, helping Huey stay out of the gas chamber was more important than my staying out of San Quentin, so I went for broke. TV, radio, news-papers, magazines, the works. I missed no opportunity to speak out with Huey's side of the story. Mr. Rivers and Mr. Bilideau told me that the decision had already been made above to revoke my parole at the first pre-text. Living thus on borrowed time, I tried to get as much done as I possibly could before time ran out.
In the latter part of December, 1967, Bobby Seale's sentence ran out and he was free to speak. Mass public support for Huey had developed. Our party had formed a coalition with the new Peace and Freedom Party, demanding that Huey be set free. In addition, we arranged to run Huey for Congress in the 7th Congressional District of Alameda County, to run Bobby Seale for the 17th Assembly District, and, as I have mentioned, to run my wife, Kathleen, for the 18th Assembly seat in San Francisco.
With such a forum and with the assurance that we had already stimulated overwhelming support for Huey, I decided to back up a little. Maybe it was possible to stay the hand of the parole authority. I cut back drastically on my public speaking.
In January, the Police departments of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco unleashed a terror and arrest campaign against the Black Panther Party. Members of the party were being arrested and harassed constantly. On January 15, 1968, at 3 A.M. the Special Tactical Squad of San Francisco's Police Department kicked down the door of my home, terrorizing my wife, myself, and our party's Revolutionary Artist, Emory Douglass, who was our guest that night.
On February 17, which was Huey Newton's twenty-sixth birthday, we staged a huge rally at the Oakland Auditorium, featuring Stokely Carmichael and his first public speech following his triumphal tour of the revolutionary countries of the world, and also featuring, as a surprise guest, H. Rap Brown, along with the venerable James Foreman, who took the occasion to announce the merger of SNCC and the Black Panther Party. Held in the shadow of the Alameda County jail wherein Huey is confined, the theme of the rally was "Come See About Huey." Over five thousand people showed up, a shattering and unequivocal demonstration of the broad sup-port built up for the Minister of Defense. A similar rally was held in Los Angeles the next day, and altogether Stokely spent nine days in California beating the drums for Huey.
Every time we turned around Bobby Seale was getting arrested on frivolous, trumped-up charges. On February 22, 1968, a posse of Berkeley police kicked down Bobby's door, dragging him and his wife, Artie, from bed and arresting them on a sensational charge of conspiracy to commit murder. The same night, six other members of the party were arrested on the same charge. The ridiculous charge of conspiracy to commit murder was quickly dropped, but all arrested were held to answer on various gun law violations, all of which were unfounded. All in all, during that hectic week, sixteen members of our party were arrested gratuitously and charged with offenses that had never been committed. Although we know that we will ultimately beat all of these cases in court, they constitute a serious drain on our time, energy, and financial resources, the last of which have always been virtually non-existent.
During these hectic days, public sentiment through-out the Bay Area swung heavily in our favor because it was obvious to a blind man that we were being openly persecuted by the police.
In the midst of all this, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., on February 28, 1968, published my book, Soul On Ice, and a lot of publicity was focused on me as a result. By this time, my parole agent had virtually given up coming to see me, sending for me, or even calling me on the phone, a development that kept my nerves on edge. Was this the calm before the storm?
I was out of the state most of the month of March, filling TV appearances with my book, mostly in New York.
On April 3, 1968, the Oakland Police Department invaded the regular meeting of our party at St. Augustine's Church at 27th and West Street. Led by a captain, brandishing shotguns, and accompanied by a white monsignor and a black preacher, about a dozen of them burst through the door. Neither Bobby Seale nor myself was at that particular meeting (Bobby was in L.A. and I had left minutes before the raid in response to an urgent call). Our National Captain, David Hilliard, was in charge. David said that the cops came in with their shotguns leveled, but that when they saw him in charge they looked confused and disappointed. Mumbling incoherently, they lowered their weapons and stalked out.
Father Neil, whose church it is, happened to be present to witness the entire event. Theretofore, criticism of the police had been just that, and although he was inclined to believe that there was some validity to all the complaints, it was all still pretty abstract to him be-cause he had never witnessed anything with his own eyes. Well, he had witnessed it now, and in his own church—with ugly shotguns thrown down on innocent, unarmed people who were holding a quiet peaceful assembly. Father Neil was outraged. He called a press conference next day at which he denounced the Oak-land Police Department for behaving like Nazi storm troopers inside his church. However, Father Neil's press conference was upstaged by the fact that earlier in the day, his brother of the cloth, Martin Luther King, had got assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. An ugly cloud boding evil settled over the nation.
A few days prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Marlon Brando had flown up from Hollywood to find out for himself what the hell was going on in the Bay Area. We took him to my pad and talked and argued with him all night long, explaining to him our side of the story. We had to wade through the history of the world before everything was placed in perspective and Brando could see where the Black Panther Party was coming from. When Brando split back to Hollywood, after accompanying Bobby Seale to court next day, we felt that we had gained a sincere friend and valuable ally in the struggle.
On the third night following the raid on St. Augustine's church, members of the Oakland Police Department tried to kill me. They did kill my companion, Little Bobby Hutton, Treasurer of our party and the first Black Panther recruited by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale when they organized the party in October, 1966. They murdered Little Bobby in cold blood. I saw them shoot him, with fifty guns aimed at my head. I did get shot in the leg.
I am convinced that I was marked for death that night, and the only reason I was not killed was that there were too many beautiful black people crowded around demanding that the cops not shoot me, too many witnesses for even the brazen, contemptuous and contemptible Oakland Pigs.
A few hours later at 4 A.M. on April 7, someone somewhere in the shadowy secret world of the California Adult Authority ordered my parole revoked. While I was still in the emergency ward of Highland Hospital, three Oakland cops kept saying to me: "You're going home to San Quentin tonight!" Before the sun rose on a new day, charged with attempted murder after watching Little Bobby being murdered and almost joining him, I was shackled hand and foot and taken by Lieutenant Snellgrove and two other employees of the Department of Corrections to San Quentin.
Lieutenant Snellgrove, whom I knew very well from my stay at San Quentin and who remembered me, looked at me and said, while we rode in the back seat of the car headed for San Quentin, "Bad night, huh?" He was not being facetious—what else could he say—and neither was I. "Yeah," I said. "About the baddest yet.
Further, Affiant sayeth not.
April 19, 1968