History and Historiography

Eldridge Cleaver: The Mormon Years

By Jesse Walker, Reason

When Eldridge Cleaver ascended the Marriott Center stage on June 28, 1981, the Black Panther Party wasn’t quite dead. The organization’s last remnants were running an alternative school in Oakland, California, and that final Panther project didn’t peter out until 1982. But Cleaver, who a decade earlier had been head of the party’s International Section in Algeria, didn’t have anything to do with the group anymore. Far from Oakland and even farther from Algiers, he was standing before a sea of neatly dressed Mormons in Provo, Utah, where he spoke for more than an hour about the evils of Communism, the glory of God, and why he wanted the United States to export democracy to the world. Cleaver had once warned that America’s institutions were instilling ugly ideals in its citizens, driving them to the point where that “the shit gets all fucked up and twisted up and you end up in the John Birch Society.” Now the same man was warmly namechecking a prominent Bircher, saying he’d been “running around with Dr. W. Cleon Skousen.”

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