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Saturday, 19 February 2011

Huey P. Newton

Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) was a political and urban activist who founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

Early life

Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana, the youngest of seven children to Armelia Johnson and Walter Newton, a sharecropper and Baptist lay preacher. His parents named him after former Governor of Louisiana Huey Long.
In 1945, the family settled in Oakland, California.[1] The Newton family was destitute, and often relocated throughout the San Francisco Bay Area throughout Newton's childhood. Despite this, he contended that his family was close-knit and that he never went without food and shelter as a child. Growing up in Oakland, Newton claimed that "[he] was made to feel ashamed of being black."[1] In his autobiography Revolutionary Suicide, he wrote, "During those long years in 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 to 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 nearly killed my urge to inquire."
Although he graduated at Oakland Technical High School in 1960, Newton was illiterate. During his course of autodidacticism, he struggled to read Republic by Plato. He read it five times to better understand it, and it was this success that inspired him to become a political leader.[2]
As a teenager, he was arrested several times for minor offenses, and by age 14, had been arrested for gun possession and vandalism.[3] Newton supported himself in college by burglarizing homes in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills areas, and committing other petty crimes. Newton once claimed he studied law to become a better criminal.

Founding of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense

As a student at Merritt College in Oakland, Newton became involved in politics in the Bay Area. He joined the Afro-American Association, became a prominent member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Beta Tau chapter, and played a role in getting the first African-American history course adopted as part of the college's curriculum. He read the works of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara. It was during his time at Merritt College[4] that Newton and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966. Based on a coin toss, Seale became Chairman and Newton became Minister of Defense.[5]
The Black Panther Party was an African-American left-wing organization working for the right of self-defense for African-Americans in the United States. The Party achieved national and international impact and renown through their deep involvement in the Black Power movement and in politics of the 1960s and 1970s, as the intense anti-racism of the time is today considered one of the most significant social, political and cultural currents in United States history. The group's "provocative rhetoric, militant posture, and cultural and political flourishes permanently altered the contours of American Identity."[6]
Newton and the Panthers started a number of social programs in Oakland, including founding the Oakland Community School, which provided high-level education to 150 ghetto kids. Other Panther programs included the Free Breakfast for Children Program and other that offer dances for teen-agers and training in martial arts. According to Oakland County Supervisor John George: "Huey could take street-gang types and give them a social consciousness." [7]

Murder of John Frey

One of the The Black Panther Party's most influential and widely known programs was its armed citizens' patrols to evaluate behavior of police officers.[8] Oakland Police Department officer John Frey had stopped Newton before dawn on October 28, 1967, and attempted to disarm and discourage the Panther patrols. After fellow officer Herbert Heanes arrived for backup, shots were fired, and all three were wounded. Heanes testified that the shooting began after Newton was under arrest, and one witness testified that Newton shot Frey with Frey's own gun as they wrestled.[9][10] No gun on Frey or Newton was found.[10] Newton claimed that Frey shot him first, which made him subsequently "pass out" during the incident.[11] Frey was shot four times and died within the hour, while Heanes was left in a serious condition with three bullet wounds. With a bullet wound to the abdomen, Newton staggered into the Kaiser Hospital in Oakland. He was admitted, however was alarmed to find himself handcuffed to his bed.[12] Newton was convicted in September 1968 of voluntary manslaughter for the murder of Frey and was sentenced to 2–15 years in prison. In May 1970, the California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent mistrials, the California Supreme Court dropped the case.[12] According to journalist Hugh Pearson, Newton boasted to close friends that he did deliberately kill Frey.[13]

Death of Kathleen Smith

On Aug. 6, 1974, Kathleen Smith, a 17-year-old Oakland prostitute was shot and died three months later. According to the prosecutor handling the case[14] and other sources,[15] Newton shot Smith during an altercation in which she referred to him as "baby". After posting bond on an arrest for pistol whipping Preston Callins, his tailor, Newton was again arrested for the murder of Smith but was able to post an $80,000 bond and was released again. Newton and his girlfriend Gwen Fountaine, fled to Havana, Cuba to avoid prosecution for the charges living there until 1977.[16] Elaine Brown took over as chairperson of the Black Panther Party in his absence.[17] Newton returned to the United States in 1977 to stand trial for the murder of Smith and the assault on Callins.
In October 1977 three Black Panthers attempted to assassinate Crystal Gray, one of the prostitutes present the day of Kathleen Smith’s murder and a key prosecution witness in Newton's upcoming trial. Unbeknownst to the assailants, they attacked the wrong house and the occupant returned fire. During the shootout one of the Panthers, Louis Johnson, was killed and the other two assailants escaped.[18] One of the two surviving assassins, Flores Forbes, fled to Las Vegas Nevada with the help of Panther paramedic Nelson Malloy. Fearing that Malloy would discover the truth behind the botched assassination attempt, Newton allegedly ordered a “house cleaning”, and Malloy was shot in the desert and buried alive. Malloy miraculously recovered from the assault and told police that fellow Panthers Rollin Reid and Allen Lewis were behind his murder attempt.[19] Newton denied any involvement or knowledge and claimed the events “might have been the result of overzealous party members”.[14] During the assault trial Preston Callins changed his testimony several times and eventually told the jury that he did not know who assaulted him. Newton was acquitted of the assault in September 1978 but convicted on two counts of firearm possession. After two trials and two deadlocked juries, the prosecution decided not to retry Newton for Smith’s murder.

People’s Temple

In January 1977, Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones visited Newton in Havana.[20] After Jones fled to Jonestown, Guyana, Newton spoke to Temple members in Jonestown via telephone patch supporting Jones during one of the Temple's earliest "White Nights."[21] Newton's cousin, Stanley Clayton, was one of the few residents of Jonestown to escape the 1978 tragedy, during which more than 900 Temple members were ordered by Jones to commit suicide.[21]

Academic Achievements

Newton earned a bachelor's degree from UC Santa Cruz in 1974. He was enrolled as a graduate student in History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz in 1978, when he arranged to take a reading course from famed evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, while in prison. He and Trivers became close friends. Trivers and Newton published an influential analysis of the role of flight crew self-deception in the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.[22]
Newton earned a Ph.D. in social philosophy at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980.[23] His doctoral dissertation was entitled War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America.[24] Later, Newton's widow, Frederika Newton, would discuss her husband's often-ignored academic leanings on C-SPAN's "American Perspectives" program on February 18, 2006.


On August 22, 1989, Newton was fatally shot on the 1400 block of 9th street in West Oakland by a 24-year-old Black Guerilla Family member Tyrone Robinson during an attempt by Newton to obtain crack cocaine.[23][25] Robinson was convicted of the murder in August 1991 and sentenced to 32 years for the crime.[26] Official accounts claimed Robinson was a known drug dealer in Oakland.[4]
Robinson contended that Newton pulled a gun when the two met at a street corner in the neighborhood, OPD Sergeant Mercado said, "But investigators said they found no evidence Newton had been armed." The murder occurred in a neighborhood where Newton, as minister of defense for the Black Panthers, once tried to organize social programs to help African Americans in destitution, like feeding poor, young children in the community, before they would go to school.
Newton's last words, as he stood facing his killer, were, "You can kill my body, but you can't kill my soul. My soul will live forever!" He was then shot three times in the face by Robinson.[17]

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