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Huey P. Newton

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Title: Huey P. Newton  
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Subject: Black Panther Party, Revolutionary Suicide, Elaine Brown, Black Power, David Hilliard
Collection: 1942 Births, 1989 Deaths, 1989 Murders in the United States, 20Th-Century African-American Activists, African-American History in Oakland, California, African-American Philosophers, African-Americans' Civil Rights Activists, American Anti-Fascists, American Humanists, American Maoists, American Marxists, American Murder Victims, American Philosophers, American Revolutionaries, American Socialists, American Sociologists, Burials at Evergreen Cemetery (Oakland, California), Cointelpro Targets, Crimes in Oakland, California, Deaths by Firearm in California, Maoist Theorists, Members of the Black Panther Party, Men Sociologists, Murdered African-American People, People from Monroe, Louisiana, People from Oakland, California, People Murdered by African-American Organized Crime, People Murdered in California
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Huey P. Newton

Huey P. Newton
High school yearbook photo, 1959
Born Huey Percy Newton
(1942-02-17)February 17, 1942
Monroe, Louisiana, US
Died August 22, 1989(1989-08-22) (aged 47)
Oakland, California, US
Ethnicity African-American
Education University of California, Santa Cruz (Bachelor's Degree) (PhD)
Alma mater University of California, Santa Cruz, (1980)
Occupation Activist
Years active 1966–87
Known for Co-Founder of the Black Panther Party
Notable work Revolutionary Suicide
Political party Black Panther Party
Spouse(s) Gwen Fontaine (1974–1983)
Fredrika Newton (1984–1989)
  • Armelia Newton
  • Walter Newton Sr
  • Brothers:
  • Lee Edward Newton
  • Walter Newton
  • Melvin Newton
  • Sisters:
  • Myrtle Lee Newton
  • Leola Newton
  • Doris Newton

Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) was an African-American political activist and revolutionary who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966. Newton had a long series of confrontations with law enforcement, including several convictions, while he participated in political activism. He continued to pursue an education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in social philosophy.[1][2] Newton spent time in prison for manslaughter due to his alleged involvement in a shooting that killed a police officer, but was later acquitted. In 1989 he was shot and killed in Oakland, California,


  • Biography 1
    • Background 1.1
  • Founding of the Black Panther Party 2
  • Fatal shooting of John Frey 3
  • Visit to China 4
  • Allegations of violence 5
  • Peoples Temple 6
  • Writing and scholarship 7
  • Death 8
  • Popular culture 9
  • Works 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14



Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana. He was the youngest of seven children of 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 migrated to Oakland, California as part of the second wave of the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South to the Midwest and West.[3] The Newton family was quite poor and often relocated throughout the San Francisco Bay Area during Newton's childhood. But he said his family was close-knit, and he never went without food and shelter as a child. Growing up in Oakland, Newton stated that he was "made to feel ashamed of being black."[3] 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."

Newton graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1959, without being able to read. He later taught himself to read, going on to read The Republic by Plato as his first book.[4] As a teenager, he was arrested several times for minor offenses, including gun possession and vandalism at age 14.[5]

Newton once wrote that he began his law studies to become a better criminal, although he said that he had been a "big-time fool" for having such narrow ambitions.[6][7]

Founding of the Black Panther Party

As a student at Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966.[3] Based on a casual conversation, Seale became Chairman and Newton became Minister of Defense.[8]

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 renown through their deep involvement in the Black Power movement and in politics of the 1960s and 1970s.[9] The Party's political goals, including better housing, jobs, and education for African Americans, were documented in their Ten-Point Program. The group believed that violence - or the threat of it - might be needed to bring about social change. They sometimes made news with a show of force, as they did when they entered the California Legislature fully armed in order to protest a gun bill.[10]

Newton adopted what he termed "revolutionary humanism".[11] Although he had earlier visited Nation of Islam mosques, he wrote that "I have had enough of religion and could not bring myself to adopt another one. I needed a more concrete understanding of social conditions. References to God or Allah did not satisfy my stubborn thirst for answers."[12] Later, however, he stated that "As far as I am concerned, when all of the questions are not answered, when the extraordinary is not explained, when the unknown is not known, then there is room for God because the unexplained and the unknown is God."[13] Newton later decided to join the Church after the party disbanded during his marriage to Fredrika.[14]

Newton would frequent pool halls, campuses, bars and other locations deep in the Black community where people gathered, to organize and recruit for the Panthers. Newton wrote in his autobiography, "I tried to transform many of the so-called criminal activities going on in the street into something political, although this had to be done gradually." He attempted to channel these "daily activities for survival" into significant community actions. Eventually, however, the illicit activities of a few members would be superimposed on the social program work performed by the Panthers, and this mischaracterization would lose them support in both the white and black communities.[15][16]

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 children from impoverished urban neighborhoods. Other Panther programs included the [17]

In 1982, Newton was accused of embezzling $600,000 of state aid to the Panther-founded Oakland Community School. In the wake of the embezzlement charges, Newton disbanded the Black Panther Party. After six years, the embezzlement charges were dropped in March 1989, after Newton pleaded no contest to a single allegation of cashing a $15,000 state check for personal use. Newton was sentenced to six months in jail and 18 months probation.[18] He had also expressed support for Palestinian independence.[19]

Fatal shooting of John Frey

Newton had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon for repeatedly stabbing another man, Odell Lee, with a steak knife in mid-1964. He served six months in prison[20] and by October 27–28, 1967, he was out celebrating release from his probationary period. Just before dawn on October 28, Newton and a friend were pulled over by Oakland Police Department officer John Frey. Realizing who Newton was, Frey called for backup. After fellow officer Herbert Heanes arrived, shots were fired, and all three were wounded.[21] 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.[22][23] No gun on either Frey or Newton was found.[23] Newton stated that Frey shot him first, which made him lose consciousness during the incident.[24] Frey was shot four times and died within the hour, while Heanes was left in serious condition with three bullet wounds. Black Panther David Hilliard took Newton to Oaklands's Kaiser Hospital, where he was admitted with a bullet wound to the abdomen. Newton was soon handcuffed to his bed and arrested for Frey's killing.[7] Dr. Thomas Finch and nurse Corrine Leonard attended to Newton when he arrived at the hospital, and described him as 'agitated' when he was asking for treatment.[25] Newton was convicted in September 1968 of voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Frey and was sentenced to 2 to 15 years in prison. In May 1970, the California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent trials ended in hung juries, the district attorney said he would not pursue a fourth trial, and the Alameda County Superior Court dismissed the charges.[26] In his autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, Newton wrote that Heanes and Frey were opposite each other and shooting in each other's direction during the shootout.

In his book Shadow of the Panther, writer Hugh Pearson alleges that Newton, while intoxicated in the hours before he was shot and killed, claimed to have willfully killed John Frey.[27] Although this claim has been repeated elsewhere based on Pearson's account,[28] the allegation remains contentious, and has not been corroborated by others.[29]

Visit to China

In 1970 after his release from prison, Huey received an invitation to visit the Peoples Republic of China. Once learning of Nixon's plan to visit China in 1972, Huey decided to visit before him. Huey made the trip in late September 1971 with two comrades, and stayed for 10 days.[30] At every airport in China, Huey was greeted by thousands of people waving copies of the little red book and displaying signs that said "we support the Black Panther Party, down with US imperialism" or "we support the american people but the Nixon imperialist regime must be overthrown". During the trip the Chinese arranged for him to meet and have dinner with a DPRK ambassador, a Tanzania ambassador, and delegations from both North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam.[31] Huey was under the impression he was going to meet Mao Zedong, but instead had two meetings with the first Premier of the People's Republic of China Zhou Enlai. One of these meetings also included Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing. Huey described China as "a free and liberated territory with a socialist government".[32]

Allegations of violence

On August 6, 1974, Kathleen Smith, an 18-year-old Oakland native, was shot; she died three months later. According to the prosecutor handling the case,[33] Newton shot Smith after a casual exchange on the street during which she referred to him as "Baby", a childhood nickname he hated. Pearson alleges that shortly after the killing, while staying with film producer Bert Schneider in Beverly Hills, Newton referred to the Smith killing as his "first non-political murder." [34]

Newton is also alleged to have assaulted his tailor, Preston Callins, after Callins called him "Baby". Newton posted bond after being arrested for pistol-whipping Callins. Newton was subsequently arrested a second time for the murder of Smith, but was able to post an additional $80,000 bond, thus securing his release until trial.

Newton and his girlfriend (later his wife) Gwen Fontaine then fled to Havana, Cuba, where they lived until 1977,[35] which prevented further prosecution on the two charges. Elaine Brown took over as chairperson of the Black Panther Party in his absence.[36] 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, a key prosecution witness in Newton's upcoming trial who had been present the day of Kathleen Smith's murder. 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.[37] 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 and buried alive in the desert. Although permanently paralyzed from the waist down, Malloy recovered from the assault and told police that fellow Panthers Rollin Reid and Allen Lewis were behind his attempted murder.[38] Newton denied any involvement or knowledge, and said that the events "might have been the result of overzealous party members".[33]

During Newton's trial for assaulting Preston Callins, 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 was convicted on two counts of illegal firearms possession.

After the assassination attempt on Crystal Gray, she declined to testify against Newton. After two trials and two deadlocked juries, the prosecution decided not to retry Newton for Smith's murder.[39]

Peoples Temple

In January 1977, Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones visited Newton in Havana.[40] 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."[41] 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.[41]

Writing and scholarship

Newton received a bachelor's degree from University of California, 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 analysis of the role of flight crew self-deception in the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.[42]

Newton earned a Ph.D. in social philosophy at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980.[43] His doctoral dissertation was entitled War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America.[44] 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.


Relations between Newton and factions within the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) had been strained for nearly two decades. Former Black Panther members who became BGF members in prison had become disenchanted with Newton for his perceived abandonment of imprisoned Black Panther members and allegations of Newton's fratricide within the party.[45]

On August 22, 1989, Newton was fatally shot on Center Street in the [36]

Huey Newton was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland.[47] Tyrone Robinson was convicted of the murder in 1991. He was sentenced to a prison term of 32 years to life.[48]

Popular culture

  • The movie Panther is a loose depiction of the history of the Black Panther Party and features Marcus Chong as Newton.
  • In the comic strip and cartoon show The Boondocks, the main character Huey Freeman, a 10-year-old African-American revolutionary, is named after Newton; another reference comes when Freeman starts an independent newspaper, dubbing it the Free Huey World Report.[49]
  • In 1996, A Huey P. Newton Story was performed on stage by veteran actor Roger Guenveur Smith. The one-man play later was made into an award-winning 2001 film directed by Spike Lee.[50]
  • A song on American musician St Vincent's Grammy Award winning self-titled album is named after Newton.
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is a documentary about the Black Panther Party released in 2015.
  • The song Up in Arms by American songwriter Bhi Bhiman is based on Newton's life.[51]


  • Huey Newton Speaks oral history by Huey P. Newton (Paredon Records, 1970)
  • To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton Toni Morrison (editor) (Random House, 1972)
  • Revolutionary Suicide with J. Herman Blake (Random House, 1973; republished in 1995 with introduction by Blake)
  • Insights and Poems by Huey P. Newton, Ericka Huggins 1975)
  • War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America by Huey P. Newton (Harlem River Press, 1996: the published version of Newton's PhD thesis)
  • The Huey P. Newton Reader David Hilliard and Donald Weise (editors) (Seven Stories Press, 2002)
  • Essays from the Minister of Defense by Huey P Newton, Black Panther Party, 1968, Oakland (Pamphlet)
  • The Genius of Huey P. Newton by Huey P. Newton, Awesome Records (June 1, 1993)
  • The original vision of the Black Panther Party by Huey P Newton, Black Panther Party (1973)
  • Huey Newton talks to the movement about the Black Panther Party, cultural nationalism, SNCC, liberals and white revolutionaries by Huey P Newton
  • Huey Spirit of the Panther by David Hillard with Keith and Kent Zimmerman (Thunder's Mouth Press)
  • To Die for the People by Huey Newton (City Lights Publishers, 2009)

See also


  1. ^ Stein, Mark A.; Basheda, Valarie (August 22, 1989). "Huey Newton Found Shot to Death on Oakland Street: Black Panthers Founder Killed in High Drug Area". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  2. ^ Pearson 1994, p. 276.
  3. ^ a b c "Huey P. Newton biography". Africa Within. Biography Resource Center. Archived from the original on June 17, 2011. 
  4. ^ Gates, Anita (February 13, 2002). "An American Panther, In His Own Words". New York Times. Retrieved April 25, 2009. 
  5. ^ Jones, Jackie (February 17, 2009). "Black History Month Faces and Places: Huey P. Newton". Archived from the original on March 13, 2009. 
  6. ^ Smith, Roger Guenveur. "A Huey P. Newton Story – Huey – Bio". Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Hillard, David (2006). Huey: Spirit of the Panther. Thunder's Mouth Press. 
  8. ^ Seale (15 November 1996). Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton. Black Classic Press. p. 62.  
  9. ^ Stephen, Curtis (Sep–Oct 2006). "Life of A Party". Crisis 113 (5): 30–37. 
  10. ^ The Biography Channel Website. "Heuy P. Newton biography". © 1996–2013 A+E Television Networks, LLC. 
  11. ^ Stephen C. Finley, Torin Alexander (2009). African American Religious Cultures.  
  12. ^ Judson L. Jeffries (2006). Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist.  
  13. ^ Newton, Huey P.; David Hilliard, Donald Weise (2002). The Huey P. Newton Reader.  
  14. ^ Hillard, David (2006). Huey: Spirit of the Panther. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 277.  
  15. ^ Austin, Curtis (2006). Up Against the Wall. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. p. 150. 
  16. ^ Newton, Huey P (2009). Revolutionary Suicide. Penguin. pp. 17–18. 
  17. ^ "Nation: The Odyssey of Huey Newton". Time. November 13, 1978. 
  18. ^ Stein, Mark A.; Basheda, Valarie (August 22, 1989). "Huey Newton Found Shot to Death on Oakland Street: Black Panthers Founder Killed in High Drug Area". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  19. ^ "The long history of Black-Palestinian solidarity", Liberation, February 27, 2014.
  20. ^ Pearson 1994, p. 68.
  21. ^ Pearson 1994, pp. 145–147.
  22. ^ "Witness Says Newton Shot Policeman". New York Times. August 8, 1968. 
  23. ^ a b "State Opens Case of Black Panther". New York Times. August 6, 1968. 
  24. ^ Newton, Huey P.; David Hilliard, Donald Weise (2002). ""Crisis: October 28, 1967" and "Trial"". The Huey P. Newton Reader.  
  25. ^ Sarasota Journal; Associated Press; August 14, 1968
  26. ^ December 15, 1971. "Case Against Newton Dropped". The Dispatch (Lexington, North Carolina) via UPI. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  27. ^ Pearson 1994, pp. 7, 221.
  28. ^ Kane, Gregory (Mar 15, 1997). "Killer raises some troubling questions we need to hear". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  29. ^ Charles E. Jones, ed. (1998). The Black Panther Party (Reconsidered). Baltimore: Black Classic Press. p. 11.  
  30. ^ Revolutionary Suicide Penguin classics Delux Edition" page 349
  31. ^ Revolutionary Suicide Penguin classics Delux Edition" page 351
  32. ^ Revolutionary Suicide Penguin classics Delux Edition" page 352
  33. ^ a b "The Odyssey of Huey Newton". Time Magazine. November 13, 1978. 
  34. ^ Pearson 1994, p. 265.
  35. ^ Wilbur C. Rich (2007). African American Perspectives on Political Science. Temple University Press. p. .  
  36. ^ a b Pearson 1994, p. 315.
  37. ^ "Gunmen Try To Kill Witness Against Black Panther Leader".  
  38. ^ Turner, Wallace (December 14, 1977). "Coast Inquiries Pick Panthers As Target; Murder, Attempted Murders and Financing of Poverty Programs Under Oakland Investigation". New York Times. 
  39. ^ "Huey Newton Wins In Retrial". Milwaukee Journal. AP. September 28, 1979. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  40. ^ Reiterman, Tim, with John Jacobs (1982). Raven: The Untold Story of Reverend Jim Jones and His People. Dutton. p. 284.  
  41. ^ a b Reiterman and Jacobs (1982). Raven: The Untold Story of Reverend Jim Jones and His People. p. 369. 
  42. ^ Trivers, R. L., & H. P. Newton (November 1982). "The crash of flight 90: doomed by self-deception". Science Digest. 
  43. ^ a b "Suspect Admits Shooting Newton, Police Say". Associated Press in  
  44. ^ Newton, Huey P. (June 1, 1980). "War Against The Panthers: A Study Of Repression In America". University of California, Santa Cruz. 
  45. ^ Pearson 1994, p. 6.
  46. ^ "Newton Death Suspect Linked to Drug World". Durant (OK) Daily Democrat. AP. August 27, 1989. p. 7. Retrieved February 1, 2011. 
  47. ^ Pearson 1994, p. 325.
  48. ^ "Newton's Killer Gets 32 Years to Life". Los Angeles Times. December 5, 1991. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  49. ^ Datcher, Michael (October 2003). "Free Huey: Aaron McGruder's Outer Child is Taking on America". Crisis. pp. 41–43. 
  50. ^ "Awards for A Huey P. Newton Story". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 24, 2008. 
  51. ^ "In 'Rhythm,' Bhi Bhiman's Music Isn't Limited By National Borders". Retrieved 6 October 2015. 

Further reading

  • Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power. (Anchor Books: 1993) ISBN 0-385-47107-6.
  • Foner, Philip S. (editor) The Black Panthers Speak – The Manifesto of the Party: The First Complete Documentary Record of the Panther's Program (Dial, 1970)
  • "People of the state of California, plaintiff & respondent, vs. Huey P. Newton, defendant and appellant: Appellant's opening brief" (ERIC reports)
  • Obituary in the New York Times by Dennis Hevesi, (August 23, 1989). "Huey Newton Symbolized the Rising Black Anger of a Generation"

External links

  • Civil Rights Greensboro: Huey P. Newton
  • Video interview on African American History Channel
  • Online audiorecordings and video of Huey Newton via UC Berkeley Black Panther site
  • 1968 interview with Newton
  • Newton Discography on Folkways
  • A Huey P. Newton Story, Official Film Site
  • A Huey P. Newton Story, directed by Spike Lee, as shown on PBS
  • Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation
  • Black Panther Tours
  • Huey P. Newton's doctoral dissertation
  • The Women's Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements: Speech given by Huey Newton
  • "Huey P. Newton".  
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