Leroy Eldridge Cleaver was born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, on August 31, 1935, and later moved to Phoenix and eventually to the Watts area of Los Angeles. After several small incidents throughout his youth, he was sent to prison in 1954 for marijuana possession, as described at the start of Soul on Ice. Between 1957 and 1958 he was out of prison, turning to rape of white women as a self-proclaimed means of fighting the system, before being sent to Folsom State Prison in California in 1958. He was later moved to San Quentin State Prison. During this period, he began writing more extensively and changed his attitudes, turning away from actual violence, and these writings constitute the main part of Soul on Ice. The Black Muslims, especially Malcolm X, were a major influence on him during this period.
Eventually he was granted parole in 1966 and a year later, in 1967, he joined the Black Panther Party, centered in Oakland, and became Minister of Information. Soul on Ice was released in 1968, and became a major founding text for the Black Power movement (CNN), as “it had a tremendous impact on an intellectual community radicalized by the civil rights movement, urban riots, the war in Vietnam and campus rebellions” (New York Times). He became famous and spoke at several major rallies against the war in Vietnam, but he again ended up in custody that same year after an ambush and a shoot-out between the police and the Black Panthers. This also ended his campaign for president as the candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party, running on a platform that argued for a revolution. This time, he decided to flee to Cuba, where he spent some time. Then he traveled to several communist countries, including North Korea and China. He spent some time in Algeria, trying to make the Black Panther Movement into an international organization, before going to France. During his travels, he became disillusioned with communism and turned to religion, as described at length in Soul on Fire. He eventually returned to the United States in 1977. Although he supported Carter in 1976, he soon joined the Republican Party, even ran for a seat in the House in 1984 and the Senate in 1986, and became a supporter of Ronald Reagan. He died on May 1, 1998 in Pomona, California.