by Eldridge Cleaver
Soul on Ice is pure expression. It's raw, it's frightening, at times it's repulsive; yet somehow Cleaver was able to lay the groundwork for a piece that is ultimately hopeful and encouraging, a piece that's representative of the time and place from which it grew. By providing a lyrical look at the sorrow and hatred that existed amidst the civil rights movement, Soul on Ice symbolizes a faction of militant thought and action that diverged from the popular mainstream. Young, radical, and inspired, Cleaver was angry with the status quo and put pen to paper to prove it.
Written over a span of five years from the confines of Folsom prison, this collection of essays succeeds in articulating the turbulent cultural and political atmosphere that has become synonymous with the rise of awareness to civil rights in the 1960s. An early leader of the Black Panther Party and ardent admirer of Malcolm X, Cleaver discusses the tumultuous race relations of his time, his own self-discovery of racial identity, gender relations, and black liberation ideology. Ultimately, Soul on Ice is an account of one man's search for the American Dream, the right to better oneself and one's community, the right to access the tools used for success, and the civil right of equality. Cleaver reminds us that sometimes you must fight for these rights.
While reading you may at times attempt to hold the book as far away as possible, with the hope that the distance might lesson its impact. You won't agree with some of the ideas that are introduced, nor some of the actions that are graphically detailed. At other times though, you may not be able to hold it close enough as you clutch it to your heart, for its truths and hopes for a better future mirror your own.
Read as a cultural critique, Soul on Ice most frightens me not due to its controversy or the fury that percolates from the page, but due to its relevance. It does not read as a dated account of what was - rather it acts as a cautious reminder of what could be, or worse yet, what still is.