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Soul on Ice Paperback – January 12, 1999
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"A remarkable book...beautifully written...Eldridge Cleaver makes you twist and flinch...he throws light on the dark areas that we wish he would leave alone."—The Nation
"Brilliant and revealing."—New York Times Book Review
"All the essays [in Soul on Ice] deal with racial hurt, racial struggle, and racial pride...Eldridge Cleaver is a promising and powerful writer, an intelligent and turbulent and passionate and eloquent man."—Robert Coles, Atlantic Monthly
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By turns shocking and lyrical, unblinking and raw, the searingly honest memoirs of Eldridge Cleaver are a testament to his unique place in American history. Cleaver writes in Soul on Ice, "I'm perfectly aware that I'm in prison, that I'm a Negro, that I've been a rapist, and that I have a Higher Uneducation." What Cleaver shows us, on the pages of this now classic autobiography, is how much he was a man.
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Cleaver becomes especially interested in the writings of Thomas Merton, particularly his excerpt on the "New York Black Ghetto: Harlem." After many religious endeavors, Cleaver found himself most intrigued by the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. Malcolm X appealed to the black convicts caught in the vicious prison paroll cycle, like himself. One aspect in which Cleaver felt most attracted to in Malcolm was that the society owed a debt to prisoners and not vice versa. Malcolm X did not "compromise truth to have favor with the white power structure." The American tactic was to emmasculate the black leadership and to manipulate them. The unique black leader who would defy white power would ultimately end up dead, in prison, or forced out of the country. Classic illustrations of this policy are the careers of Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Dubois, and Paul Robeson. White America crushes the black leaders while inflating the images of Uncle Tom's (black on the surface, white on the inside)and celebrities. Power is taken out of political and economic context and plainly debased to the level of good sportsmanship. James Baldwin was an author who wrote "Native Son" and "White Negro." Cleaver, inspired by Baldwin, felt that police brutatily was not caused by the hatred for the black man, but for social, economical, and political reasons. Blacks, having their freedom for approximately 100 years as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, were still treated as "part of someone's invetory of assests."
After the most violent negro uprisings, the Burning of Watts, the white power structure pacifies the black community by appointing John Roseboro, an African American baseball player for the dodgers, to consultant for community relations. Cleaver also writes about the Vietnam War. Black soldiers are called upon to sacrafice their lives for freedom in Vietnam. In Watts they are killed because of their desire for freedom. Cleaver felt the black man should stay and die here for a better life.
Cleaver's first imprisonment in 1954, for a drug charge, set the tone for his next 9 year term. Cleaver hung a poster of a white woman in his cell like the other prisoners. One of the guards came by and tore the poster down. The guard would only allow Cleaver to hang a picture of a black woman. Cleaver realizes that his attraction to the white women is not because of beauty or sexual appeal but because of their status and symbol. The white woman displays a symbol of freedom while the black woman is a symbol of slavery. "I will not be free until the day i can have a white woman in my bed and a white man minds his own business."
Although Cleaver's actions were not always moral nor did he go about things in a peaceful way, his fight was to allow the black race to revive their eradicated identity. From the moment the blacks were brought to this country from Africa, the white man imposed their culture and heritage upon them. Cleaver's quote, dealing with the white woman in bed, hits the nail on the head. He does not care for trivial freedoms and rights such as drinking from the same water fountain or riding at the front of the bus, he cares for the freedom where he can do what he wants, when he wants, without the white man looking over his shoulder. "One task that we have in the black community is a coupe de'etat against our present leadership, to strip them from that machinery that controls the community. So that new ideas and new people can percualate up, then we can have a new agenda."
I thorougly enjoyed this book because Cleaver moves from hate and violence towards an understanding of himself and humanity. I recommend this book to anyone who is willing to gain a better understanding of the black struggle in the 1960's.