Eldridge Cleaver The Fire Now

Eldridge Cleaver The Fire Now


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



We need a redistribution of wealth in America.  The form of ownership

of the means of production is no longer functional.  It is time for the present,

non-functional system to be abolished and replaced by a functional, humanistic

system that can guarantee a good life for everybody.



Books by Eldridge Cleaver


Soul on Ice Post-Prison Writings and Speeches  / Target Zero; A Life in Writing  / Conversation with Eldridge Cleaver


Being Black / Education and Revolution / Eldridge Cleaver  / Eldridge Cleaver Is Free


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The Fire Now

 By Eldridge Cleaver


A reassessment of national black leadership has been in order since the assassination of Malcolm X.  The assassination of Martin Luther King makes such a reassessment inevitable.  With the death of King, an entire era of leadership with a distinct style and philosophy, spanning some fifty years, draws to a final and decisive close.  A new black leadership with its own distinct style and philosophy, which has always been there, waiting in the wings and consciously kept out of the limelight, will now come into its own, to center stage.  Nothing can stop this leadership from taking over because it is based on charisma, has the allegiance and support of the black masses, is conscious of its self and its position, and is prepared to shoot its way to power if the need arises.

It is futile and suicidal for white America to greet this new leadership with a political ostrich response.  What white America had better do is find out what these leaders want for black people and then set out to discover the quickest possible way to fulfill their demands.  The alternative is war, pure and simple, and not just a race war, which in itself would destroy this country, but a guerrilla war which will amount to a second civil war, with thousands of white new-John-Browns fighting on the side of the blacks, plunging America into the depths of its most desperate nightmare, on the way to realizing the American Dream.

When the NAACP was founded in 1911, it vowed, in its preamble, that until black people were invested with full political, economic and social rights, it would never cease to assail the ears of white America with its protests.  Protest as the new posture of blacks toward white America was on its way in, and was destined to dominate the black struggle for the next fifty years.  On its way out was the era of begging and supplication, rooted in slavery and the plantation, personified in the genuflecting leadership of Booker T. Washington; chief amongst its myriad treasonous acts was giving black acquiescence to the Southern racist policy of segregation, in Booker T.’s notorious sell-out speech at the Atlanta Exposition in 1896.  In the same historic breath, the U.S. Supreme Court made segregation the law of the land when it approved the Separate But Equal doctrine in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.

Dissenting from this confluence of racist ideology, black submission and judicial certification, W.E.B. DuBois led the protest that was institutionalized in the founding of the NAACP; this held sway until 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court, recognizing that the racist ideology no longer had the necessary allegiance of black leadership, reversed itself and declared Separate But Equal, i.e. segregation, unconstitutional.  Black protest leadership, which was born to combat segregation, did not know that when it heard, with universal jubilation throughout its ranks, Chief Justice Earl Warren pronounce the death penalty upon that institution, it was, in fact, listening to its own death knell.  There was to be, however, a period of transition between the new outmoded protest leadership and a new prevailing leadership that had not yet defined itself.

The transitional leadership was supplied by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and Malcolm X, at his death, had laid the foundation of the new leadership that would succeed both him and King.  Martin Luther King was a transitional figure, a curious mélange of protest and revolutionary activism.  He embodied the first ideological strain in its fullest flower; he contained only a smidgin of the latter.  He seemed to be saying to white America: If you don’t listen to what I am saying, then you are going to have to deal with what I am doing.  As far as the willingness of the white power structure to deal with black leadership goes, Martin Luther King, and the type of leadership he personified, held sway from the launching of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 down to our own day, when the vestigial remains of leadership from King’s transitional era are still frantically trying to cling to power.  In reality their leadership is just as dead as that of the lieutenants of Booker T. Washington at the end of their era.

The difference between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as transitional leaders between the era of protest and our era of revolutionary activism, is that King’s leadership was based on the black bourgeoisie and Malcolm’s leadership was based on the black masses.  In the vernacular of the ghetto, King had House Nigger Power and Malcolm had Field Nigger Power.  What we have now entered, then, is an era in which Field Nigger Power and the grievances and goals of the Field Nigger—and the leadership of Field Niggers—will dominate the black movement for justice in America.

Field Niggers, Molotov Cocktails and Guns

Malcolm X used to tell a little story that points up the difference in perspective and perceived self-interest between the House Nigger and the Field Nigger.  The House Nigger was close to the slavemaster.  He ate better food, wore better clothes, and didn’t have to work as hard as the Field Nigger.  He knew that he was better off than his brothers, the Field Niggers, who were kept cooped up in the slave quarters, had only a subsistence diet this side of garbage, and had to work hard “from can’t see in the morning until can’t see at night.”  When the slavemaster’s house caught fire, the House Nigger, even more upset and concerned than the slavemaster himself, came running up to say: “Master, master our house is on fire!  What shall we do?”  On the other hand, the Field Nigger, viewing the conflagration from the distance of the slavequarters, hoped for a wind to come along and fan the flames into an all-consuming inferno.

The kernel of truth contained in that story has remained constant from the prison plantations of slavery’s South to the prison ghettos of oppression’s North, and the urban black, lacking the patience of his forefathers who prayed for a high wind, has opted in favor of the molotov cocktail.

The Black Muslims were the first organization of any significance in our history to understand and harness the volcanic passions of the molotov cocktail-tosser.  This organization, which was a transitional organization, rooted in the black masses, based on a protest philosophy with a pinch of revolutionary activism thrown in, made the major contribution of redirecting the dialogue between black leadership and the white power structure, changing it into a dialogue between black leadership and the black masses.  This was a necessary by-product of the Muslims’ bid to organize black people, because Elijah Muhammad  and Malcolm X, in order to get their points across, had to talk over the heads of protest leaders to make themselves heard by the black masses.

Standing toe to toe with the protest leaders, Malcolm and Elijah, talking over their heads, exposed these leaders for what they were, and these leaders, helping to prove the Muslims’ point by talking even louder than before, were talking over Malcolm and Elijah’s heads—but not to the black masses.  They were still chatting with Charlie, a note of desperation having slipped into their tone to be sure.  But essentially, what they were saying to Charlie now was that if Charlie didn’t listen to them, fund their picayune programs, then he was going to be faced with Malcolm and Elijah.

(Now, in the wake of King’s death, chatting with Charlie has been driven to the ludicrous, asinine length of Whitney Young pleading to Henry Ford, Rockefeller and George Meany to lead a white folk’s march on Washington to prove to blacks that all white folks aren’t killers of the dream.  The only salutary result of this bankrupt, ridiculous proposal, as far as the black masses are concerned, is that in singling out these three sterling figures, Young brushed them with his Judas kiss of death, identifying for the black masses three of their most culpable oppressors in the spheres of Big Fat Industry, Big Fat Finance and Big Fat Labor.  Maybe all whites aren’t killers of the dream, as Young suggests, but his three pals are exploiters of oppressed people, both home and abroad.)

When black leaders stopped chatting with Charlie and started cutting it up with the brothers on the block, a decisive juncture had been reached, and blacks had seized control of their own destiny.  A full ideological debate ensued.  The consensus of this debate was given to the world on a Mississippi dusty road, when young Stokely Carmichael leaped from obscure anonymity and shouted, with a roar of thunder, we want black power!  How to get it was the question as far as the black people were concerned.

There have been a lot of simple answers to this question, which is by no means a simple one.  Black Power, whatever the form of its implementation, has to solve the question of massive unemployment and underemployment, massive bad housing, massive inferior education.  It must also deal with the massive problems of institutionalized white racism manifested in subtle forms of discrimination that results in blacks being denied equal access to and use of existing public accommodations and services.  From access to medical facilities through the injustices suffered by blacks in the courts, to the pervasive problem of racist, repressive police practices, Black Power has to come up with solutions.

If the experience of other colonized people is relevant, then the answers given by Huey P. Newton, leader of the Black Panther Party, have to be dealt with.  The only real power that black people in America have, argues Huey, is the power to destroy America.  We must organize this destructive potential, he goes on, then we can say to the power structure that if black people don’t get their political desires and needs satisfied, we will inflict a political consequence upon the system.  

This is a  rejection of the Chamber of Commerce’s laissez faire myth of the market place that argues to blacks that if they go out and hustle, get themselves educated, learn skills (pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, etc., etc., ad nauseam), the American Free Enterprise System will do the rest, that if you don’t become President, you are sure at least to make a million bucks.  In the age automation and cybernation, the marketplace has been abolished by the computer.  We must make a frontal attack upon the system as a whole, Huey says.  

We need a redistribution of wealth in America.  The form of ownership of the means of production is no longer functional.  It is time for the present, non-functional system to be abolished and replaced by a functional, humanistic system that can guarantee a good life for everybody.  Everyman is entitled to the best and highest standard of living that the present-day level of technological development is capable of working is entitled to a job.  

If a man is incapable of working because of a physical inability, then society is responsible for taking care of him for as long as the physical inability exists, for life if necessary.  If the businessmen who now control the economic system are incapable of fulfilling the needs of society, then the economic system must be taken out of their hands and rearranged; then the people can appoint administrators to run the economy who can deliver.  This is the eternal right of a free people.

The viability of the Black Panther Party’s approach to solving problems is testified to by the fact that it has engineered two remarkable feats which constitute the foundation for a revolutionary movement that overlooks nothing, is afraid of nothing and is able to resolve the major contradiction of our time.  On the one hand, the Black Panther Party cemented a working coalition with the predominantly white Peace and Freedom Party.  On the other hand, it effected a merger with SNCC.  

This is the key center of the eye of the storm, because whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not, neither white radicals nor black radicals are going to get very far by themselves, one without the other.  In order for a real change to be brought about in America, we have to create machinery that is capable of moving in two different directions at the same time, machinery the two wings of which are capable of communicating with each other.  

The Black Panther Party, through its coalition with the Peace and Freedom Party and its merger with SNCC, has been the vector of communication between the most important vortexes of black and white radicalism in America.  Any black leadership in our era with national ambitions has to embody this functional flexibility without sacrificing its integrity or its rock-bottom allegiance to the black masses.

Stokely Carmichael is Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party.  Rap Brown is its Minister of Justice.  James Foreman is its Minister of Foreign Affairs, and George Ware is its Field Marshal.  At the same time, Huey Newton, Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, is running for Congress on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket.  

The Black Panther Party’s nomination for President of the United States, running on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, is Robert F. Williams, the black leader in exile in the People’s Republic of China.  Williams picked up the gun against white racism as far back as 1959.  If the Black Panther Party succeeds in getting the Peace and Freedom Party to see the wisdom of picking Williams as its Presidential candidate,* then a bid for the new national black leadership will begin to come into sharper focus.  

And America will be astounded by this fact: not only will this leadership bear a charismatic relationship to the black masses, but it also will exercise charismatic leadership upon the white masses as well, and it will reach down into the bowels of this nation, amongst the poor, dispossessed and alienated, and it will set aflame a revolutionary wave of change that give America a birth of freedom that it has known hitherto only in the dreams of its boldest dreamers.  And it will kill, once and for all, all the killers of the dream.

Eldridge Cleaver, author of Soul On Ice (McGraw-Hill), wrote the above article from a jail cell in California.*Since this was written, the author has been selected for this office.

Source: Commonweal, 14 June 1968 / 

The FBI 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

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


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#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to accept—or at least endure—the universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.

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Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000

By Adam Fairclough

Better Day Coming is intended, in author Adam Fairclough’s words, as “neither a textbook nor a survey, but an interpretation” (p. xiv) of the circuitous struggle for racial equality pursued by African Americans and their occasional allies between 1890 and 2000. Chronologically organized, the narrative moves from an evaluation of the hard-pressed, contending forces vying for ascendancy in the black South at the nadir to the interwar period and well beyond, into the urban cauldron of the northern ghettoes at the high point of the Black Power movement. Fairclough brings to his project a fluent understanding of the shifting institutional configurations of opposition to Jim Crow and a keen sensitivity to the ways in which the efforts of those who fought it were hampered, circumscribed, and occasionally crushed by the pressures of operating in a society formally committed—for most of the period under discussion—to aggressive defense of the racial status quo.

Fairclough’s “basic argument” seems at first glance uncontroversial: that “although blacks differed . . . about the most appropriate tactics in the struggle for equality, they were united in rejecting allegations of racial inferiority and in aspiring to a society where men and women would be judged on merit rather than by race or color” (p. xii).

But his ultimate aim is more ambitious: he sets out to rehabilitate the accommodationist tradition represented by Booker T. Washington which, though “apparently unheroic,” in the author’s view “laid the groundwork for the militant confrontation of the Civil Rights Movement” (p. xiii).—h-net

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A Matter of Justice

Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution

By David. A. Nichols

David A. Nichols  takes us inside the Oval Office to look over Ike’s shoulder as he worked behind the scenes, prior to Brown, to desegregate the District of Columbia and complete the desegregation of the armed forces. We watch as Eisenhower, assisted by his close collaborator, Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr., sifted through candidates for federal judgeships and appointed five pro-civil rights justices to the Supreme Court and progressive judges to lower courts. We witness Eisenhower crafting civil rights legislation, deftly building a congressional coalition that passed the first civil rights act in eighty-two years, and maneuvering to avoid a showdown with Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, over desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High. Nichols demonstrates that Eisenhower, though he was a product of his time and its backward racial attitudes, was actually more progressive on civil rights in the 1950s than his predecessor, Harry Truman, and his successors, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. . . . 

In fact, Eisenhower’s actions laid the legal and political groundwork for the more familiar breakthroughs in civil rights achieved in the 1960s.

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The Black Hearts of Men

Radical Abolitionists and The Transformation of Race

By John Stauffer

John Stauffer’s new volume  The Black  Hearts of Men introduces us to four nineteenth-century civil rights activists who attempted to live as if the future they needed had already come.  And hence Stauffer’s study reminds us that the future of cross-racial and cross-cultural alliances may depend upon remembering that such alliances have had an honorable past, one that allowed individuals to transcend such political constructs as race, gender, class, age, or the other boundaries created by societies. Stauffer’s study, an intertwined biography of four men–two white, two black–recounts, in its basic story line, the events and experiences that led them to found a political party based upon their Christian beliefs concerning the necessity of bringing about a new future for American slavery, race relations, and democracy. Convening a small conference in Syracuse, New York, in the summer of 1855, Gerrit Smith, James McCune Smith, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown founded the Radical Abolition Party, which lasted five years, and polled a few thousand votes in its various political campaigns between 1855 and 1860.

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Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction

By Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ”Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.” Indeed, Ms. Salaam’s stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to

Ancient, Ancient

, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ”Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf’s Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini’s body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.”

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 15 June 2012




Home   Eldridge Cleaver Table James Baldwin Table

Related files: Cleaver Bio   Retrospective on Soul on Ice By Sharif   Cleaver Speaks to Skip Gates   Tearing the Goats Flesh    The Fire Now    Ishmael Reed’s Preface

Maxwell Geismar’s “Introduction”   Black Panther Platform & Program   Daniel Berrigan on Cleaver  Fire Last Time  The Du Bois-Malcolm-King

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