Huey P. Newton (1942-1989) founded the Afro-American Society and was a co-founder of the Black Panther Party, serving as its minister of defense during much of the 1960s. Later he turned to community service for the poor.
Huey P. Newton was born February 17, 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana. The youngest of seven children, Huey was named for former Louisiana governor Huey Pierce Long. The Newton family moved to Oakland, California, in 1945 to take advantage of the job opportunities created by World War II wartime industries.
Huey attended the Oakland public schools where, he claimed, he was made to feel “uncomfortable and ashamed of being black.” He responded by constantly and consistently defying authority, which resulted in frequent suspensions. At the age of 14, he was arrested for gun possession and vandalism. In his autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, Newton wrote, “during those long years in the Oakland public schools, I did not have one teacher who taught me anything relevant to my own life or experience. Not one instructor ever awoke in me a desire to learn more or to question or explore the worlds of literature, science, and history. All they did was try to rob me of the sense of my own uniqueness and worth, and in the process they nearly killed my urge to inquire.”
According to Newton, he did not learn to read well until he had finished high school. “I actually learned to read—really read more than just ‘dog’ and ‘cat,’ which was about all I could do when I left high school—by listening to records of Vincent Price reading great poetry, and then looking up the poems to see how the words looked.” In order to prove that high school counselors were wrong in saying he was not college material, Newton attended Merritt College intermittently, eventually earning an Associate of Arts degree. He also studied law at Oakland City College and at San Francisco Law School.
Newton claimed he studied law to become a better burglar. He was arrested several times for minor offenses while still a teenager and he supported himself in college by burglarizing homes in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills area and running the “short change” game. In 1964, at age 22, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to six months in the Alameda County jail. Newton spent most of this sentence in solitary confinement, including the “soul breaker”—extreme solitary confinement.
While at Oakland City College, Newton had become politically oriented and socially conscious. He joined the Afro-American Association and played a role in getting the first black history course adopted as part of the college’s curriculum. He read the works of Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Chairman Mao Tse-tung, and Che Guevara. A child of the ghetto and a victim of discrimination and the “system,” Newton was very much aware of the plight of Oakland’s African-American community. Realizing that there were few organizations to speak for or represent lower class African-Americans, Newton along with Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966, with Seale as chairman and Newton as minister of defense. Like a wary panther that would not attack unless attacked, so too was the organization regarded.
Cop-haters since childhood, Newton and Seale decided the police must be stopped from harassing Oakland’s African-Americans; in other words, to “defend the community against the aggression of the power structure, including the military and the armed might of the police.” Newton was familiar with the California penal code and the state’s law regarding weapons and was thus able to convince a number of African-Americans of their right to bear arms. Members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense began patrolling the Oakland police. Guns were the essential ingredient on these patrols. Newton and other Black Panther members observed police procedure, ensured that African-American citizens were not abused, advised African-Americans of their rights, and posted bail for those arrested. In addition to patrolling the police, Newton and Seale were responsible for writing the Black Panther Party Platform and Program, which called for freedom, full employment, decent housing, education, and military exemption for African-Americans. But there was a darker side to the group, described in Former Panther Earl Anthony’s book, Spitting in the Winds a party created with the goal to organize America for armed revolution. Moreover, Washington, D.C., intelligence spent many years trying to bring down what they believed to be “the most violence-prone of all the extremist groups.”
Huey Newton proved to be as violent as the party he helped to create when he was thrust into the national limelight in October 1967; accused of murdering Oakland police officer John Frey. In September 1968 Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to two to 15 years in prison. In May 1970 the California Appellate Court reversed Newton’s conviction and ordered a new trial. After two more trials the State of California dropped its case against Newton, citing technicalities including the judge’s failure to relay proper instructions to the jury.
After his release from prison Newton overhauled the Black Panther Party, revised its program, and changed its rhetoric. While he had been imprisoned, party membership had decreased significantly in several cities, and the FBI had started a campaign to disrupt and eventually bring down the Black Panthers. Abandoning its Marxist-Leninist ideology, Newton now concentrated on community survival programs. The Black Panthers sponsored a free breakfast program for children, sickle-cell anemia tests, free food and shoes, and a school, the Samuel Napier Intercommunal Youth Institute. However, as before, the Black Panthers were not without controversy. Funding for several of their programs were raised as the result of the co-operation of drug dealers and prostitution rings.
Newton tried to shed his image as a firebreathing revolutionary, but he continued to have difficulty with the police. In 1974 several assault charges were filed against him, and he was also accused of murdering a 17-year-old prostitute, Kathleen Smith. Newton failed to make his court appearance. His bail was revoked, a bench warrant issued, and his name added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list. Newton had jumped bail and escaped to Cuba, where he spent three years in exile. In Cuba he worked as a machinist and teacher. He returned home in 1977 to face murder charges because, he said, the climate in the United States had changed and he believed he could get a fair trial. He was acquitted of the murder of Kathleen Smith after two juries were deadlocked.
In addition to organizing the Black Panther Party and serving as its minister of defense, Newton unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party in 1968. In 1971, between his second and third trials for the murder of John Frey, he visited China for ten days, where he met with Premier Chou En-lai and Chiang Ch’ing, the wife of Chairman Mao Tse-tung. While there he was offered political asylum. Newton studied for a Ph.D. in the history of social consciousness at the University of California in 1978. In 1985 the 43-year-old Newton was arrested for embezzling state and federal funds from the Black Panthers’ community education and nutrition programs. In 1989 he was convicted of embezzling funds from a school run by the Black Panthers, supposedly to support his alcohol and drug addictions. By this time the Panthers had turned to less violent activism. On August 22, 1989, Huey Newton was shot dead in Oakland, supposedly over a drug dispute. ironically in the same city streets of Oakland that saw the rise of the Black Panthers 23 years ago
Source: : http://www.africawithin.com/bios/huey_newton.htm
As a great inspirational leader of his time,Huey Newton co-founder of the Black Panther Party took opportunity to address the contentious issue of Gay Rights. In August 15 1970he gave this speech:
During the past few years strong movements have developed among women and among homosexuals seeking their liberation. There has been some
uncertainty about how to relate to these movements.
Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about
homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals
and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed
groups), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion.
I say ” whatever your insecurities are” because as we very well know,
sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the
mouth, and want a woman to be quiet. We want to hit a homosexual in
the mouth because we are afraid that we might be homosexual; and we
want to hit the women or shut her up because we are afraid that she
might castrate us, or take the nuts that we might not have to start
We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect and
feelings for all oppressed people. We must not use the racist attitude
that the White racists use against our people because they are Black
and poor. Many times the poorest White person is the most racist
because he is afraid that he might lose something, or discover
something that he does not have. So you’re some kind of a threat to
him. This kind of psychology is in operation when we view oppressed
people and we are angry with them because of their particular kind of
behavior, or their particular kind of deviation from the established
Remember, we have not established a revolutionary value system; we are
only in the process of establishing it. I do not remember our ever
constituting any value that said that a revolutionary must say
offensive things towards homosexuals, or that a revolutionary should
make sure that women do not speak out about their own particular kind
of oppression. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite: we say
that we recognize the women’s right to be free. We have not said much
about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual
movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and
through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not
given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the
most oppresed people in the society.
And what made them homosexual? Perhaps it’s a phenomenon that I don’t
understand entirely. Some people say that it is the decadence of
capitalism. I don’t know if that is the case; I rather doubt it. But
whatever the case is, we know that homosexuality is a fact that
exists, and we must understand it in its purest form: that is, a
person should have the freedom to use his body in whatever way he
That is not endorsing things in homosexuality that we wouldn’t view as
revolutionary. But there is nothing to say that a homosexual cannot
also be a revolutionary. And maybe I’m now injecting some of my
prejudice by saying that “even a homosexual can be a revolutionary.”
Quite the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most
When we have revolutionary conferences, rallies, and demonstrations,
there should be full participation of the gay liberation movement and
the women’s liberation movement. Some groups might be more
revolutionary than others. We should not use the actions of a few to
say that they are all reactionary or counterrevolutionary, because
they are not.
We should deal with the factions just as we deal with any other group
or party that claims to be revolutionary. We should try to judge,
somehow, whether they are operating in a sincere revolutionary fashion
and from a really oppressed situation. (And we will grant that if they
are women they are probably oppressed.) If they do things that are
unrevolutionary or counterrevolutionary, then criticize that action.
If we feel that the group in spirit means to be revolutionary in
practice, but they make mistakes in interpretation of the
revolutionary philosophy, or they do not understand the dialectics of
the social forces in operation, we should criticize that and not
criticize them because they are women trying to be free. And the same
is true for homosexuals. We should never say a whole movement is
dishonest when in fact they are trying to be honest. They are just
making honest mistakes. Friends are allowed to make mistakes. The
enemy is not allowed to make mistakes because his whole existence is a
mistake, and we suffer from it. But the women’s liberation front and
gay liberation front are our friends, they are our potential allies,
and we need as many allies as possible.
We should be willing to discuss the insecurities that many people have
about homosexuality. When I say “insecurities,” I mean the fear that
they are some kind of threat to our manhood. I can understand this
fear. Because of the long conditioning process which builds insecurity
in the American male, homosexuality might produce certain hang-ups in
us. I have hang-ups myself about male homosexuality. But on the other
hand, I have no hang-up about female homosexuality. And that is a
phenomenon in itself. I think it is probably because male
homosexuality is a threat to me and female homosexuality is not.
We should be careful about using those terms that might turn our
friends off. The terms “faggot” and “punk” should be deleted from our
vocabulary, and especially we should not attach names normally
designed for homosexuals to men who are enemies of the people, such as
Nixon or Mitchell. Homosexuals are not enemies of the people.
We should try to form a working coalition with the gay liberation and
women’s liberation groups. We must
always handle social forces in the
most appropriate manner."
As a radical revolutionary civil right activist,Huey was also a crowd puller as his clenching fist was always adored by his admirers.
Huey P. Newton, national defense minister of the Black Panther Party, raises his clenched fist behind the podium as he speaks at a convention sponsored by the Black Panthers at Temple University’s McGonigle Hall in Philadelphia, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 5, 1970. He is surrounded by security guards of the movement. The audience gathered is estimated at 6,000 with another thousand outside the crowded hall. (AP Photo)