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Gordon Parks, Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria, 1970

In 1970, Life magazine commissioned Gordon Parks to report—through words and images—on the Black Panthers and their leaders, with a focus on Eldridge Cleaver, then the Panther minister of information. At the time, Cleaver was living with his wife Kathleen and their 5-month-old son, Maceo, outside of Algiers, having fled there after the authorities ordered Cleaver back to prison because of his involvement in a Panther-police incident. Through his photographs and accompanying text, Parks makes clear both Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver's importance as groundbreaking activists and revolutionaries. He wrote:

Cleaver was now living with his wife Kathleen and their five-month-old son, Maceo, outside of Algiers in one of those yellowish-white concrete houses that line the Mediterranean coast. It was wet, windy and unusually cold for Algiers. He was slumped in a chair, his legs stretched out, the infant slung across his shoulder. He gently massaged the boy’s back. In the soft, rain-filtered light from the sea, he looked like any other father trying to burp his child. But his mind was on a tragic, more violent thing—the killing of his fellow Panthers, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, by Chicago police. “It was cold-blooded murder,” he said in a low voice.

I handed him some clippings from the American press, most of which, I felt, condemned the police action in the killings. Cleaver started to read and I watched for some type of reaction. As his eyes moved over the print his dark face was immobile. Maceo finally burped. Eldridge called Kathleen. “Come get this Panther.” As she took Maceo away, Eldridge frowned. “That little cat will give them hell one of these days.” He lit a cigarette, took a healthy swallow of Scotch and started reading again. I got up and looked about the house.

There were five rooms, counting a tiled kitchen that also faced the sea. Emory Douglas, the Panthers’ minister of culture, and his wife, Judy, occupied one room. Connie Matthews, an attractive girl who represented the Panthers in Scandinavia, had the other room. Off a dark hallway was the “workshop,” littered with typewriters, mimeograph machines, printing materials, Emory’s posters and Party leaflets in several languages. The large living room­bedroom in which I had left Eldridge was the gathering point.

There was very little laughter in that house. Too many brothers were in coffins or prisons. The cold evenings were spent talking of friends, revolution and death, thinking and planning to Otis Redding’s blues, to Elaine Brown’s protest songs and to the soul-stirrings of Aretha Franklin and James Brown. It was the cluttered, temporary shelter of a black man in exile—where bags stay packed and all precious things are portable. Cleaver had finished reading the clippings when I returned. “Well, what do you think?” I said.

“Crap. Unadulterated objective crap. So we have to be shot up and murdered in our homes before people become indignant. We have charged the police with ambush and murder over and over again. Now, after twenty-eight murders, people are taking a look. What are we supposed to do, pray for deliverance?” He asked the question in a soft, dispassionate voice, then answered it himself. “Their deaths will have to be avenged. The cops who murdered them must be punished in the same way they committed the crime.”

“Right on, Papa Rage,” Kathleen snapped. Her blue­green eyes were smoldering beneath a great copper­colored bushy Afro. Her face, pale, strong and intense, revealed a fearlessness equal to her husband’s. “Right on,” she repeated. Maceo began to cry. Eldridge picked him up. “He’s angry. He was born angry—like a real Panther.”

Parks's article, however, ended on a somber note:

That night I left Cleaver on a wet, wind-swept street. It was strange that his last words were about social justice, the kind that is irrespective of a man’s color. I thought about other brilliant young black men like Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, one self-exiled, two long since gunned down. I couldn’t help but feel that Cleaver’s promise, like their dreams, would go unfulfilled. Social justice, it seems, is much more difficult to come by than martyrdom.

Kathleen Neal Cleaver was honored at The Gordon Parks Foundation Annual Dinner and Auction held on May 24, 2016. Cleaver has traveled internationally since childhood. In 1967 she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and has continued to engage in human rights work to free wrongfully imprisoned activists and to advance social justice. She became an early leader in the original Black Panther Party (1967), and in 1970 collaborated with her late husband Eldridge Cleaver to establish the Black Panther’s International Section in Algeria.

Kathleen Cleaver graduated summa cum laude from Yale College in 1982, and earned a J.D. at Yale Law School in 1989.  She is a member of the faculty at Emory Law School in Atlanta, Georgia. Her writings have been published in numerous books, magazines, and newspapers, including Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party (2001) which she co-edited with George Katsiaficas, and as the editor of Eldridge Cleaver’s Target Zero: A Life in Writing (2006). Kathleen Cleaver has appeared in numerous documentary films, most recently Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, directed by Stanley Nelson (2015).

Section 2

Gordon Parks, Eldridge Cleaver, his wife, Kathleen, and their son, Ahmad Maceo Cleaver, Algiers, Algeria, 1970



Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Kathleen Cleaver, and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 

Peter W. Kunhardt Jr., Sarah Arison, Swizz Beatz, Kathleen Cleaver, and Usher Raymond IV

Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Peter Kunhardt Jr., Sarah Arison, Gene Young