Days of Rage
enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out white prey. I did this consciously, deliberately, willfully, methodically. . . . Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man’s law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women—and this point, I believe, was the most satisfying to me because I was very resentful over the historical fact of how the white man has used the black woman. I felt I was getting revenge.
    Sentenced to prison for rape, first at San Quentin and later at Folsom, Cleaver (like Malcolm) read voraciously, joined the Nation of Islam, and became a leader in the state’s burgeoning prison movement, pushing for books and classes in African history. In 1965 he wrote a radical Bay Area attorney named Beverly Axelrod, who took up his case. She gave some of Cleaver’s letters to editors at Ramparts , who enjoyed them so much that they promised to hire him, as they did, when Axelrod managed to secure Cleaver’s release, in December 1966. Cleaver, who became Axelrod’s lover, said years later that he had been romantically “gaming” her in a cynical bid to gain his freedom.
    At Ramparts , Cleaver became an instant celebrity, by far the most prominent black radical in the Bay Area. Angry, sometimes funny, and frequently sexual, his letters and articles portrayed Cleaver as a kind of cross between Malcolm and Barry White, an angry, charismatic lover man with his own revolutionary spin on hoary black stereotypes. Cleaver viewed blacks as sexual supermen, envied by whites and too often rejected by uppity black women. And, like Huey Newton, he argued that the most genuine “revolutionaries” were those who were most oppressed: black prison inmates and gangbangers—an idea that appealed strongly to white radicals yearning for a taste of black authenticity. Unlike Stokely Carmichael, Cleaver embraced white radicals, who adored him. They flocked to Black House, a kind of Black Power salon Cleaver co-founded, where he held court with every Movement figure who visited San Francisco. Cleaver’s rise would be capped in 1968, when his letters and Ramparts articles were packaged into a memoir, Soul on Ice , an international bestseller that sold more than two million copies in just two years. Critics hailed Cleaver as a powerful new literary talent, a symbol of black political and sexual repression. The New York Times named Soul on Ice one of the ten best books of 1968.
    After the confrontation outside Ramparts, Cleaver signed on as the Panthers’ “information minister,” editor of the party’s new weekly newspaper, the Black Panther , and—in the public’s mind, at least—Newton’s intellectual equal. But while the Newton-Cleaver marriage gave the Panthers instant legitimacy in radical circles, it introduced an ideological rift that would eventually split the party. Newton and Seale were using “armed self-defense” as a recruiting tool, a way to lure members to man the education, welfare, and free-breakfast programs the Panthers were putting into place; for all their tough talk, they had no intention of actually hunting policemen. Cleaver did. He wanted the bloody fight Malcolm and Rap Brown foresaw: a genuine revolution, Vietnam-style guerrilla warfare in America. Many found this hard to take seriously, but Cleaver was serious. Once, when asked what hemeant when he talked of an army, Cleaver responded, “A black liberation army! An army of angry niggas!” 2
    With Cleaver on board, the Panthers’ profile rose quickly. After a sheriff’s deputy killed an unarmed car thief named Denzil Dowell that April, the Panthers announced their own investigation. This outraged a group of state legislators, one of whom swore to “get” the Panthers by introducing a bill to ban the public display of loaded weapons. Newton’s dramatic response would make the Panthers a household name. On May 2, 1967, Bobby Seale led a team of two dozen armed

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