January 12, 2014
From the Inkwell of: Bartholomew J. Worthington III
Born - February 17, 1942
Died - August 22, 1989
Huey Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana in 1942, and would become one of the most influential Black movement leaders of his time. Huey's family moved to Oakland, California while he was still young, and despite frequent run-ins with law enforcement as a teenager, Huey would eventually graduate from high school. Even though he had completed high school, Newton was functionally illiterate, and taught himself to read by studying poetry
Huey would enroll in Merritt College where he would meet fellow student Bobby Seale, and in 1966, the two would organize the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Seale served as the Black Panthers' chairman, while Newton took the title of the Minister of Defense.
The Black Panther Party was initially formed to protect members of the Black community from discrimination and police brutality. While his father had been an active NAACP member, Newton's Panthers were considered more militant than other prominent civil rights groups.
Together with Bobby Seale, Newton set forth the Black Panther Party's Ten Point Program, a manifesto that outlined their goals, which included Better Housing, Jobs and Education of Blacks. The Ten Point Plan also called for an end to the systematic police brutality that plagued many Black communities in large urban area.
Unlike most of the better known civil rights organizations of the era, Huey's Black Panthers advocated for aggressive Black self defense against systematic violence. In one notable instance, to protest a gun control bill proposed by then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, Newton and other Panther members marched into the California Legislature fully armed. This single act cemented Newton as one of the leading personalities in the Black militant Movement.
this notoriety became a double edged sword. While the Panthers would expand to have over 10,000 members in chapters in major cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia, it also earned Newton a spot on the FBI's Most Want List.
In 1968, Huey was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of an Oakland police officer. In 1970, this conviction was overturned, and two subsequent trials ended with hung juries.
While the Mainstream narrative of the Black Panthers would focus largely on their militant stance, and their frequent clashes with law enforcement, their most enduring legacy was the impact of the social programs they enacted in their communities. During their heyday, the Panthers established and operated educational facilities, food security programs and martial arts training for teenagers. The Panthers provided free breakfast for hundreds of neighborhood children before school, donated free shoes and sponsored schools.
While Huey's personal legacy would be marred by additional arrests for a murder in 1974 (he was acquitted after two trials), charges of stealing federal and state money disbursed to operate the Panthers' community and education fund in 1985, and additional embezzlement charges in 1989; there is no way to diminish the positive impact the Panthers had on thousands of lives on a daily basis.
Huey's late years were stained by allegations of his struggle with drug addiction, and on August 22, 1989, Newton was shot and killed in his hometown of Oakland by a member of the Black Guerrilla Family, a rival Black Power organization.
"Our position was: if you don't attack us, there won't be any violence; if you bring violence to us, we will defend ourselves."