Part 16: My Friend the Devil
My duties included secretary, driver, body guard, editor of his newsletter and photographer. As body guard he gave me a 45 automatic which I carried in my camera bag. Cleaver did not fear anyone, certainly not his former radical comrades, but we came to not trust the white Christian mafia we were dealing with. We realized we were dealing with gangsters and began to act accordingly. Even Art DeMoss, the rich white Christian who bailed out Eldridge with his stock, was a "former" mafioso. And Billy Zeoli, a producer of Christian films was "former" mafia. When he came to speak in San Diego, I invited Sherely Williams to attend. When she saw the white Christians seated on the podium with Cleaver, she whispered, "Those guys look like gangsters." And sometimes they used aggressive tactics, especially in regard to the love offering. Of course they "dipped into the pot," as all Christian officials are known to do. And often there was a delayed accounting of the offering. Sometimes they would send us plastic bags full of money taken after his testimony. Of course we didn't know the actual amount of the offering. When he appeared on Jerry Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour, after repeated long distance calls, they finally gave us an accounting of forty thousand dollars, but they didn't want to send Eldridge the checks because they could add the names to their mailing lists for more money--rather than us do the same to expand our list and become independent. They wanted the power of attorney to cash the checks. We had to send a man back to Lynchburg, VA to get the money--I don't think we got the checks.
In short, we didn't trust them, just as they didn't trust us. On a visit to Canada we were searched several times reentering the US. Now understand it was impossible to make a distinction between the Christians and government agents since they were/are one and the same. During slavery were not all white men deputized to arrest black men and women, especially runaway slaves or those breaking the black codes, i.e., three or more standing around doing nothing as in plotting or conspiring a revolt?
When we arrived in Seattle from a speech he'd given in Canada we were taken into a room at the airport and searched and searched again when we arrived at San Francisco airport. Apparently the Christians and the Government (which are one) didn't really know what Cleaver was about and weren't taking any chances. They didn't know if he was an agent of some Communist nation such as North Korea, China, Russia or what, even though he had professed belief in Jesus Christ. Sometimes a Christian would accompany us on the road and we knew he was reporting to the police. He was a racist devil who stole family pictures from Cleaver's house that later appeared in the book Soul on Fire. This Christian devil was an associate of Mr. Clean Christian, Pat Boone. Cleaver wanted to kill him, especially when a picture of his mother appeared in the book, but Papa Rage restrained himself.
The Christians suspected I was his body guard even though he was twice my size. They would say to me, "You're not his photographer, are you?" I would reply, "Of course I am, what makes you think otherwise?" Hell, I was merely an actor, trained in the Black Arts Movement. My attitude was too hell with these white Christians, they've lied to us for four hundred years. And as James Baldwin said to me in our 1968 interview, "Our condition proves the lie of everything these Christians say."
The sight of my camera really brought out their racism, envy and jealousy. When Cleaver asked me to be his photographer, I told him to get me the best camera in the world, Leica, the Rolls Royce of Cameras. He went down to Brook's Cameras in San Francisco and paid $2,000.00 for my camera. Kathleen was mad at her husband for wasting money like that, but the white devils were even angrier that a nigguh had such a camera. They would turn red when they saw the label. It got so uncomfortable I had to put tape over the label to escape their evil vibes. During our travels I photographed General MacArthur, Donald Rumsfeld, Senator Frank Church, Charles Colson, Jim and Tammy Baker and others.
But their constant question was, "Is he for real? Did he really see Jesus in the moon? Was he on drugs?" I would reply, "Sure, he's for real." And of course they would ask me when I found the Lord? This usually happened at dinners after his testimony. Since I was usually silent, eventually they would turn to me with the question. I would reply, "One Tuesday night!" They seemed relieved and continued their conversation and socializing with Cleaver.