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Huey P. Newton

 

Huey P. Newton was the founder and leader of The Black Panther Party, an African-American revolutionary socialist organization in the late 1960s into the early 1980s. Newton was a highly educated man who held a PhD in Social Science from University of California Santa Barbara. Although he was more educated than most African American males during this time, that did not prevent him from having trouble with the law. His problems with the law resulted from his passionate social activism rather than intent to hurt people around him. Newton was murdered at the age of 47 by the leader of the Black Guerilla Family. Although Newton died at an early age, he played a large role in the African American population gaining social equality in America. He is one of the most influential African Americans in the United States’ history but his efforts have been viewed negatively in the aftermath of the Black Panther Party. 

 

Early Life

 

Newton grew up in Oakland, California where he graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1959. Newton graduated high school without being able to read and was constantly in trouble with the law. By the time he was 14, he had already been arrested for both gun possession and vandalism. Newton never paid much attention to what he was being taught in school. He believed that he was able to learn more through experiences and self-education. He wrote in his auto-biography, “Throughout my life all real learning has taken place outside school. I was educated by my family, my friends, and the street. Later, I learned to love books and I read a lot, but that had nothing to do with school. Long before, I was getting educated in unorthodox ways" (2). Newton was also critical of the public school system in Oakland during this time period. He believed that it was racialized and prejudiced against African-Americans propelled by the actions of the teachers. Newton wrote

 

     “The clash of cultures in the classroom is essentially a class war, a socio-economic and racial warfare being waged on the battleground of      our schools, with middle-class aspirating teachers provided with a powerful arsenal of half-truths, prejudices and rationalisations, arrayed      against hopelessly outclassed working-class youngsters. This is an uneven balance, particularly since, like most battles, it comes under the      guise of righteousness.” (1).

 

It was through these experiences where Newton began to self educate. He began to teach himself how to read and eventually attended Oakland City College where he came truly interested in rights for the African American population. 

 

Malcom X (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Malcolm_X_NYWTS_2a.jpg)

Newton and Bobby Seale (http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2011/10/6/1317895828482/Bobby-Seale-Huey-Newton-007.jpg)

 

Oakland City College/Origins of Black Panther Party

 

While at Oakland City College, Newton joined the Afro-American Association and began to become interested in African American rights. He read the work of famous revolutionaries but took great interest in the messages published by Malcom X. Newton explains why he took such a great interest in the work of Malcom X,

 

     “Malcolm X impressed me with his logic and with his disciplined and dedicated mind. Here was a man who combined the world of the      streets and the world of the scholar, a man so widely read he could give better lectures and cite more evidence than many college      professors. He was also practical. Dressed in the loose-fitting style of a strong prison man, he knew what the street brothers were like, and      he knew what had to be done to reach them” (2). 

 

There were striking similarities between Newton and Malcom X. They both were well educated African Americans who played an enormous role in the fight for equality. What set them apart from other Civil Rights Activists was that they both believed that violence was necessary to achieve equality. The lessons learned by Newton from Malcom X as well as Mao Zedong and Che Guevara inspired Newton to to found the Black Panther Party with his peer Bobby Seale.

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Panther Party

 

In 1966, Newton and Seale founded The Black Panther Party. Their original reason for founding the party was to stop the police violence in Oakland. Newton and Seale took a different approach to recruiting members than many social groups. Newton believed that the best way to gain support from their community was to show that they were not afraid of white power or death. He wrote,

 

     “To recruit any sizeable number of street brothers, we would obviously have to do more than talk. We needed to give practical applications      of our theory, show them that we were not afraid of weapons and not afraid of death. The way we finally won the brothers over was by      patrolling the police with arms.” (2)

 

The reason that this is significant is because it ushered in a new way of revolution that the United States had not seen during this time period. Previous Civil Rights efforts had been based on the idea of nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” Newton and the Black Panthers refuted this view and openly advocated for African Americans to arm themselves. The Black Panthers began to arm themselves and openly patrol the streets of Oakland in an effort to limit police brutality. As they began to gain more support from the community, they saw police brutality decline. According to Newton, “Many citizens came right out of jail and into the party, and the statistics of murder and brutality by policemen in our communities fell sharply.” (2). This shows that the work of Newton and Seale was beginning to benefit the African American Community as the amount of police violence was dropping. Newton also gained support for the party through highly controversial  actions. In 1967, the California Legislature was going to pass a bill that would prevent citizens from carrying a loaded weapon in the state of California. The Black Panthers at this time had a minuscule membership and were known for their propensity to bear arms rather than their desire to help the African American community. Newton, with the help of Eldridge Cleaver, devised a plan where the Black Panthers would go to Sacramento and protest the bill. Twenty-Six Black Panthers entered into the State Assembly Chamber carrying loaded weapons with no intention to harm anyone but rather to gain publicity for their cause. Only fifteen days after the protest in Sacramento the Black Panthers published their platform which was written by Newton and Seale. The “Ten-Point Program” established guidelines for the party’s members and let the rest of the nation know what the goals of the party were. 

 

Free Huey Rally (https://history369.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/hi-res.jpg)

The Black Panther Newspaper (3)

 

Newton and Officer John Frey’s Murder

 

On the night of October 28, 1967, Newton was pulled over by Officer John Frey and after an altercation ensued Frey had been shot and killed. According to witness testimony, Newton killed Frey with a concealed firearm. Newton was eventually convicted of voluntary manslaughter which carried a sentence of two to five years in prison. Newton’s conviction sparked outrage throughout the Oakland African American population and culminated in the Free Huey! campaign. This movement was monumental in cities throughout America as African Americans rallied around the imprisoned Newton. The Black Panthers held a rally in Oakland where prominent leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) gave speeches about Newton and how his imprisonment was a symbol of African American oppression. Newton became a larger than life figure for the African American community and according the Black Panther News, the Free Huey! campaign was a fight not just for Newton’s freedom but for something much more pressing.

 

“Free Huey Newton! is not an appeal for mercy or a legal recourse; it is a challenge to the death to imperialism and racism in the U.S. that becomes a thundering battle cry of the Afro-Americans and of the peoples and combatants of Africa. Asia and Latin America, who have rallied together in a historic and decisive battle.” (3)

 

Newton had become a figure that all minorities could rally around. He had transformed from the leader of a socialist organization to a cultural icon embodying  the fight against racism in the United States. While still being held in prison, he ran for Congress as a write in candidate for the 17th Congressional District of Alameda County. The Black Panther News advocated for Newton to be elected to this seat based on his implementation of the “Ten-Point Program” and “He offers something new to political arena which is revolutionary politics, which should be known as the people’s revolution.” (3). Newton was now considered the leader of the fight against racism and that the success of his programs would help the African-American population no longer suffer from the oppression of whites. As seen in the picture, there was an overwhelming amount of support for Newton during his trial. This picture was taken outside of the Federal Building in California at one of the numerous Free Huey! rallies. Newton had the unwavering support of the African American population and he was now the icon of oppression during this time. 

 

 

The Negative Impact of Newton’s Actions

 

Newton had successfully rallied the African American community to fight for their rights. However, Newton and the Black Panthers began to be recognized more for their violent actions rather than their desire for equality. Members were dying at a rapid rate because they continuously fought with police officers in different cities. There were rifts between leaders as Newton and Cleaver could not agree on what the main goal of the organization should be. Once released from prison, Newton believed that the Black Panthers should focus more on their social survival programs rather than armed violence. (4) This shift caused disagreements between Newton and Cleaver, and Cleaver eventually left the Black Panthers all together. Newton and the rest of the Black Panthers also faced negative reaction from government officials such as J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover is quoted as saying that the Black Panthers were “the greatest internal security threat to the country.” (8) The Black Panthers are often viewed negatively because they put so many Americans in dangerous situations. They also willingly murdered members of the organization who threatened to hurt them. For example, Betty Van Patter was a book keeper for the Black Panthers who discovered irregularities in the organization’s finances. It was revealed that Newton ordered the murder of Van Patter even though he was not in the United States. Newton’s violent actions and drug addiction led to his demise when he was murdered by a member of the Black Guerilla Family, a prison and street gang with the same goal as the Black Panthers. As time wore on, the argument arose that the Black Panther’s use of guns had caused a surge in gang violence, especially in their hometown of Oakland. The New Black Panther Party was formed in 1989 in Dallas, Texas and despite their name they are not officially related with the original Black Panther Party. However, their profoundly violent tactics are strikingly similar to those employed by Newton and the Black Panthers. 

 

Conclusion

 

Newton has had an immeasurable impact on the history of the United States through his founding of the Black Panther Party. Although there is debate whether his lasting impressions are positive or negative, he was a revolutionary who furthered the African-American fight for equality in the United States. 

 

Sources

 

1. ”Black History Month Faces and Places: Huey P. Newton." Black History Month Faces and Places: Huey P. Newton. February 17, 2009. Accessed December 15, 2014. http://web.archive.org/web/20090313040704/http://www.blackamericaweb.com/?q=articles/life_style/home_family_life_style/691

 

2. ”Notes and Quotes from Huey Newton." Beat Knowledge RSS. February 17, 2012. Accessed December 15, 2014. http://www.beatknowledge.org/2012/02/17/notes-and-quotes-from-huey-newtons-autobiography/.

 

3. ”Free Huey Newton! Appeal for the Freedom of Huey Newton." The Black Panther, September 14, 1968

 

4. Baggins, Brian. History of the Black Panther Party. Marxists Internet Archive (marx.org), copyleft 2002. Retrieved on (today's date). URL: http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/workers/black-panthers/

 

5. Pearson, Hugh. The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub., 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

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