Newton, Huey P.

Newton, Huey P. (1942-1989), African American political activist and cofounder of the black nationalist organization, the Black Panther Party (see Black Nationalism in the United States).

Huey Newton grew up in Oakland, California, a place that would become the West Coast center of the American black nationalist movement. While attending Merritt College in Oakland, California he met Bobby Seale, and the two began to work together on a project to diversify the school's curriculum. Inspired by nationalist struggles in the Third World, and revolutionaries such as Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong, Newton became critical of the racist oppression of blacks in the United States and the capitalist system he saw as underpinning that exploitation (see Socialism).

As a response to the condition of black America, Newton and Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, later simply called the Black Panther Party. "We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace," concluded the organization's ten-point program, which Newton coauthored. Patrolling black neighborhoods with shotguns, which were deemed legal as long as they were visible, the Panthers set themselves up as monitors of the police. These "justice patrols" sought to inform African Americans of their rights and counteract a history of police brutality against blacks. Not surprisingly, the Panthers developed a hostile relationship with the police, with Newton becoming a magnet for police antagonism.

On October 28, 1967, Newton was charged with the murder of a police officer, and wounding another. He pleaded innocent, and the trial provoked an intensive "Free Huey" campaign, drawing thousands to Black Panther rallies and rapidly boosting Panther membership and visibility. Viewed by many as a political prisoner, Newton continued to address political issues from prison.

In 1970, after his 1968 conviction was overturned because of procedural errors, Newton left prison to return to the Black Panther Party. He found the party weakened by regional conflict, in part because of disputes about the militant programs of Eldridge Cleaver, who influenced an East Coast-based movement. Leading a West Coast faction, Newton advocated political education and programs that he believed would link the Panthers to the broader African American community.

As his prominence in the Panthers declined, conflict with the law continued to trouble Newton. In 1974, he was accused of killing a woman and fled to Cuba. Three years later, he returned to face the murder charge of the woman victim, which after two hung juries, the state eventually dropped. He was retried and convicted for the 1967 murder of the policeman, but the conviction was later overturned.

In 1980, Newton received a Ph.D. in social philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz; he wrote a thesis on the "War Against the Panthers A Study of Repression in America." Newton's life began a downward spiral after the Panthers were finally disbanded in 1982. Rumors about drug abuse surrounded him, and he was arrested in 1989 for embezzling funds from an Oakland children's nutritional program founded by the Panthers. He served six months of jail time. Later that year, he was killed in what was believed to be a drug-trade related incident.

 

Contributed By:
Marian Aguiar