Part 21: My Friend the Devil
There were weeks while on the Born Again circuit that we saw no black people. Eldridge was only giving his testimony in white Churches. He appeared more than once at Rev. Robert Schuller's Hour of Power television show at the Crystal Cathedral--actually I think the Cathedral was under construction so he spoke at the old building. We were in the dressing room with Dr. Schuller as he prepared to go on the air. There were numerous back yard bar-b-ques where thousands of dollars were raised for Eldridge's defense since he was still facing charges from the April 8,1968 shootout in Oakland, at which the OPD murdered little Bobby Hutton in cold blood before a crowd of onlookers who were horrified at what they witnessed. At one affair there was a black present, O.J. Simpson's black wife who was Born Again. O.J. wasn't present.
But again, there were weeks of praying and eating with only white Christians. Sometimes a black preacher would be present but most black preachers had no status especially if they had not graduated from an accredited theological seminary, such as Fuller's. A black preacher who said he got called one Tuesday night did not work with the Born Again crowd. And nor did most black gospel groups who were simply too strong for the whites who couldn't stand that strong black gospel sound. Only Andre Crouch was acceptable at the time. There was no Yolanda Adams, although the Edwin Hawkins singers might perform on a program with Eldridge occasionally.
The white Christians were forever trying to control Eldridge, control him from becoming completely independent of them by establishing his own ministry, which was the main reason he hired me.
He had me fire the Jewish booking agent because he was working Eldridge to death, wanted him to speak in Minnesota during a terrible snow storm. We were in Florida where it was snowing and read about a man freezing to death in Minnesota. He told me to call the booking agent, Harry Walker, and tell him to go to hell, he was not going to Minnesota. Harry was angry Cleaver refused to go since it was thousands of dollars involved, including Harry's 30%. Cleaver refused to talk with him, after all, he was paying me to talk for him.
And then there were those nice Christian white girls who were beating down Eldridge's hotel door before we got there. Enough said!
After weeks of urging, I finally convinced him to speak at a black church. He had refused all requests to speak at black churches for a number of reasons, most of them financial. But there were other reasons such as sound system, air conditioning and the usual second class treatment blacks live under and relate to each other with. But finally he relented after Rev. Ernestine Reems of Oakland's Center of Hope begged me to get Eldridge to her church on MacArthur, a few blocks from the recent killing of four police and the suspect Louvelle Mixon.
Before speaking, she wanted us to visit her facility, so we did. The first thing she did was point us to the ceiling, showing us bullet holes from the previous renters, the Nation of Islam under Minister Billy X or Rabb Muhammad, brother of Dr. Yusef Bey of Your Black Muslim Bakery. We don't know why Minister Billy shot into the ceiling, maybe he was angry about having to move since he had a history of not paying rent. This is the same brother who had some men attack sister Nisa Islam when she brought him a message from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad saying that he must step down. Outside this building now occupied by Sister Reems, Nisa claims she and her lieutenants were attacked and beaten. She says she was saved from death only because Lt. Joan (Tarika Lewis) blocked the blows to her head.
Anyway, Pastor Reems convinced Eldridge to give his testimony. After that, he continued speaking at black churches, including Rev. Don Green's San Francisco Center, and on this occasion Cleaver's mother was in attendance. But on the whole, going into the black church was a negative except for the music which was awesome, compared to music in the white churches which was totally boring. Black sacred music is beyond this world, except for the mythology of pie in the sky after you die. It is a message on one level reflecting our slavery teachings but on a deeper level it is rooted in Egyptian or African mythology, as is Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Read Dr. Ben.
But as I've said, the black church was a step down for Cleaver. Today there are mega black churches but circa 1977, the churches where he delievered his testimony often lacked proper sound equipment and most especially air conditioning. One Negro preacher had Cleaver speak in a high school gym where the temp outside was over one hundred degrees, yet no air conditioning inside. Cleaver almost fainted while speaking.
And the black church worked Cleaver like a Hebrew slave or rather American slave. They would make him speak at service after service, and then come up with a love offering of a few hundred dollars. Of course the preacher had to dip in the pot, as they say. I would sometimes go into a room with the pastor to count the money, and when I would see the amount it was laughable, compared to the white church. No wonder Eldridge had wanted to avoid the black church, but I had insisted he do so, after all, I was exhausted from the Born Again whites. I mean, have you ever listened to a white man pray, then compared it with a black man? Have you ever listened to white people sing, then compared it with black singing? The only church I know where white people sing like black people is San Francisco's Glide Church, under Rev. Cecil Williams. He has niggerized his mostly white congregation.