Concentration Camps

Algiers in the summer of 1969 was perhaps the perfect place, and the perfect moment, for Eldridge Cleaver. Since winning its bloody war for independence from France in 1962, the government had forged close relations with the Soviet Union and allowed scores of revolutionary groups, from Angola to Palestine, to maintain offices in its diplomatic community. A London paper termed Algiers in 1969 the “headquarters of world revolution.” Cleaver, figuring he could demand an embassy too, invited any number of other Panther fugitives to join him. A half dozen followed suit, including a trio of California skyjackers; Donald Cox of “radical chic” fame, a Panther field marshal fleeing a murder indictment in Baltimore, who arrived in May 1970; and Sekou Odinga, who with two other Panthers reached Algiers via Havana three months later. Cox became Cleaver’s aide-de-camp, Odinga his unofficial No. 3 man.

It took a full year of on-and-off negotiations, however, for the Algerian government to approve official recognition of the “international section” of the Black Panther Party. While waiting, Cleaver embarked on a series of trips, leading Panther delegations to the Soviet Union, China, North Vietnam, and his personal favorite, North Korea, where he spent two months. In Algiers, Cleaver rented a spacious apartment in the Pointe Pescade section, where he gave frequent interviews. Finally, in June 1970, Cleaver received the Algerian government’s formal recognition, which came with a monthly stipend, identification cards, the right to obtain visas, and, best of all, the Panthers’ own embassy, a white two-story villa in the suburb of El Biar previously used by the North Vietnamese. Cleaver held a press conference to announce it all, telling reporters the “Nixon clique had begun to group the black people in concentration camps, escalating repression to the level of overt fascist terror against those who dare resist the oppression of the diabolical system under which the blacks of the United States are suffering. We reject the temple of slavery, which is the United States of America, and we intend to transform it into a social system of liberty and peace.”