Justin Gifford on Eldridge Cleaver, with Robyn C. Spencer

OCT 29, 2020 | 6:00 PM TO 7:00 PM

Justin Gifford, Robyn C. Spencer



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


October 29, 2020: 6:00 PM-7:00 PM





The figure who embodied the militant and controversial spirit of the Black Panther Party more than anyone was Eldridge Cleaver. Charismatic, brilliant, and courageous, Cleaver built a base of power and influence that struck fear deep in the heart of white America. It was therefore shocking to many left-wing radicals when Cleaver turned his back on black revolution, the Nation of Islam, and communism in 1975. While Cleaver seemed sincerely disillusioned with radicalism, his erratic behavior over the next two decades revealed something that had been a latent part of his psyche all along—his narcissistic megalomania. His influence declined significantly through the 1980s until he found himself back on the streets committing petty crimes. By the time he died, in 1998, he was largely viewed as a turncoat who had betrayed the cause of black freedom. How can we make sense of Cleaver’s precipitous decline from a position as one of America’s most vibrant black writers and activists? Revolution or Death provides the first life story of one of the most notorious black revolutionaries in history.

Former Leon Levy Fellow Justin Gifford is an associate professor of English literature at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the author of Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing and Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim. 

Robyn C. Spencer is a historian whose research centers on social protest after World War II, urban and working-class radicalism, and gender. She is an Associate Professor of History at Lehman College, City University of New York and part of the corsortial faculty in the History Department at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party. She is currently working on her second book, To Build the World Anew: Black Liberation Politics and the Movement Against the Vietnam War, and a biography of Angela Davis.