Here’s a contemporary source on Cleaver:
Perhaps Brownmiller’s analysis of the Till murder would not have been so outrageous had it not been for the intervention of a curious figure. In the aftermath of the Till holocaust, Eldridge Cleaver became a rapist. He analyzes this conscious decision in Soul on Ice — how he had a minor breakdown, when, upon seeing a picture of Carolyn Bryant, he got turned on. His next step was to learn how to defile white man’s property. After practicing on Black women, he learned the trade and reached journeyman’s status: a certified rapist of white women.
The point is not to defend Eldridge Cleaver. For all his selfanalysis and introspection, he still finds it more comfortable to manufacture exhibitionistic men’s trousers called, of course, “Cleavers,” than to maintain the fight against racism or sexism. But Cleaver did have some useful insights into rape that went beyond his individual psyche: victims of white supremacy are apt to vent their anger on women, who symbolize white man’s property. In other words, white supremacy is a contributing cause of male supremacy, at least insofar as it affects relations between Black men and white women. An interesting analysis could be made along these lines. At the very least, Cleaver and others shocked the nation into looking at racism more seriously, by connecting it to what is nearest and dearest to white men: their female property. Brownmiller, however, misses all this. To her, Cleaver is nothing but a rape peddler.
In the 70s and 80s Eldridge had a change of heart, or rather many changes of heart. He became a Moonie, and then a Christian, and a Republican. Those of us who knew him, saw these various incarnations as a political street hustle, designed to secure new support systems for an extraordinary individual who lacked a moral center. Still, it took a certain courage and integrity to tell even a part of the truth. It meant, for example, detaching himself from the radical gravy train, which was just beginning to cash in on the criminal past. His Panther comrades David Hilliard, Bobby Seale, and Elaine Brown were busily taking advantage of a national false memory syndrome which recalled the Panthers not as the street thugs they were but as heroes of a civil-rights struggle they had openly despised. (In their heyday, Panther leaders liked to outrage their white supporters by referring to its leader as “Martin Luther Coon.”)