Part Six: My Friend the Devil
A few weeks before my Black House exit, a dramatic event had taken place in Cleaver’s life.He had gone to Fisk University to attend a conference with black radicals, including members of SNCC: Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), Imam Jamil Alamin( H. Rap Brown), Kathleen Neal and others. The police in Nashville, Tenn marched Cleaver onto a plane back to California for allegedly starting a riot. But the riot was in his soul, his ice was melting, he had met the love of his life, Kathleen Neal, the daughter of a diplomat, but she had chosen revolution and would soon choose Eldridge as her husband, much to the grave disappointment of her family. After all, what black bourgeoisie family would want their daughter to marry a former convict and especially a convicted rapist?
Nevertheless, when he returned from Nashville, nothing but talk of Kathleen came from his lips.We wished he would shut up talking about the sister, but our wish didn’t matter to this madman in love—as though love doesn’t produce madness in everyone. But EC had the love bug, was strung out like a heroin addict or meth freak. Kathleen, Kathleen, Kathleen. We were impressed when she finally arrived at Black House, a fine, high yellow sister. When I finally met Eldridge’s mother, I saw the resemblance between her and Kathleen.
After returning from the Fisk conference, his parole agent put Mr. Soul on Ice under house arrest. I don’t think he was even allowed to cross the Bay Bridge, so when Ramparts magazine wanted him to interview Muhammad Ali about the draft, Eldridge couldn’t go. He arranged for me to go to Chicago instead. It took several days before I caught up with Muhammad Ali at the home of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. When I arrived, I was ushered in the living room and sat down while Ali was in conversation with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. When Ali came from the room with Elijah, he said his teacher told him not to do the interview because he had said enough about the draft, especially in the white devil’s media which I represented. Ali said to me, “This is the man I’m willing to die for, what he says, I do.” Ali asked me if I needed any money, and of course I say yes. As I recall, he probably handed me a couple hundred dollars. I departed the house without seeing the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, although Sister Clara did come into the room and nod at me. She was the first lady of the Nation of Islam and we are still waiting on an authoritative biography of her, the woman who ran the Nation of Islam for the twelve years Elijah was away: seven years of flight after Master Fard Muhammad appointed him supreme minister upon departing. Even his own brother, Kallot had disagreed with the appointment, along with other brothers who declared they would hunt Elijah down and kill him.
One brother said he would eat one grain of rice a day until he caught Elijah. After seven years, Elijah returned but was then arrested for treason and draft evasion during WWII, so he was away a total of twelve years. His son Wallace or Warithdeen was twelve when his father returned, thus his close identification with his mother Clara and alienation from his father who he finally denounced when he became head of the Nation of Islam.
When I returned to the Bay, Ramparts was naturally disappointed I didn’t conduct the interview, but they got over it and eventually they did a story on Muhammad Ali’s draft case. But it was soon after my meeting with Ali that I found myself on the run behind the draft. While at Black House I had lost my college deferment because I’d dropped out of San Francisco State College/University. But after joining the Nation and even before doing so, I knew I was not about to serve in the white man’s army. Elijah told his followers to go to prison as he had done, but I was also under the influence of the Black Panthers. Eldridge had tainted me with, “We must not only resist the draft but resist arrest as well.” I soon found myself in Toronto, Canada as a draft resister, along with several other brothers.