There were and are so many courageous black leaders throughout our history, unfortunately, unless they died for a white cause they were erased from the pages of time. This story is the last in a week long articles paying homage to a few of the bravest black revolutionary leaders of our time. In my opinion, what they did and the stand they took for black people is unmatched and profound.
Huey P. Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana, on February 17, 1942. You may find this surprising, but he was named after former Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long. Brother Huey’s legacy began in 1966 with co-founder Bobby Seale when they founded the left-wing Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
The organization was central to the Black Power movement, making headlines with its inflammatory rhetoric and militaristic style, becoming a leading figure in the black power movement of the 1960s in Oakland, California. The most significant thing Newton did was the create of what became known as the Head Start Program that over the years has provide benefits to million of poverty stricken children. What a great legacy!
The Black Panthers mission was to improve life in black communities and established social programs to help those in need. They also fought against police brutality in black neighborhoods by white cops. Members of the group would go to arrests in progress and watch for abuse. Newton himself was arrested in 1967 for allegedly killing an Oakland police officer during a traffic stop.
The case was eventually dismissed after two retrials ended in hung juries. He was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 2 to 15 years in prison. But public pressure – “Free Huey” became a popular slogan of the day – helped Newton’s cause.
Despite his legal run-ins, Newton began to take his education seriously. Although he graduated high school in 1959, Newton barely knew how to read. He became his own teacher, learning to read by himself and eventually earned a Ph.D. In the mid-1960s, Newton decided to pursue his education at Merritt College where he met Bobby Seale. The two were briefly involved with political groups at the school before they set out to create one of their own.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in 1966. Unlike many of the other social and political organizers of the time, they took a militant stance, advocating the ownership of guns by African Americans, and were often seen brandishing weapons. A famous photograph shows Newton – the group’s Minister of Defense – holding a gun in one hand and a spear in the other.
The group believed that violence – or the threat of violence – might be needed to bring about social change. They set forth their political goals in a document called the Ten-Point Program, which included better housing, jobs, and education for African Americans.
It also called for an end to the economic exploitation of black communities. Still the organization itself was not afraid to punctuate its message with a show of force. They vigorously protest a gun bill in 1967, Newton and other members of the Panthers entered the California Legislature fully armed. The action was a shocking one that made news across the country.
The Panthers became in disarray mainly because of efforts by the J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and initiatives like COINTELPRO. Most don’t know that what we now know as Head Start was developed by the Black Panther Party. FBI Director Hoover said, “The biggest internal threat to the country’s internal security was the Panthers program to feed the children of the black community.”
During the Party’s existence, members of the group clashed with police many times. The party’s treasurer, Bobby Hutton, was killed during one of these encounters in 1968. In the 1970s, the Black Panthers began to fall apart key members left the group. During this time Newton faced more criminal charges and to avoid prosecution, he fled to Cuba in 1971, but he returned three years later.
Despite his legal run-ins, Newton began to take his education seriously and returned to school, earning a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1980. In his final years, however, it is believed that he suffered from a drug problem. The once popular revolutionary died on August 22, 1989, in Oakland, California, supposedly after being shot on the street for what “they” said was a failed drug deal gone badly. However, it smelled of a COINTELPRO plot by most.
Huey Newton was a man of profound stature and, in my opinion, had the courage to make selfless sacrifices for the benefit of a people at a time when the community needed it most. He once said, “You can jail a Revolutionary, but you can’t jail the Revolution.” If you stop struggling, then you stop life. Black Power Movement in it purest form was simply about giving power to people who have not had the power to determine their destiny.” And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…
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