Huey Newton

Huey Newton

Huey Newton co-founded the Black Panther Party alongside Bobby Searle. He was a radical activist who advocated ‘Black Power’ as a way of achieving rights for African Americans. His radical politics led the FBI to label Newton and the members of the Black Panthers, ‘Public Enemy Number One’.

Born on 17 February 1942, Huey Norton moved with his family to Oakland, California at the age of three. His father, a member of NAACP, hoped to take advantage of better job opportunities in California.

At school, Newton felt increasingly aware of racial prejudice. Whilst still a teenage he was having brushes with the law and was suspended from school on many occasions.

He later said: “All they (the teacher) did was to try to rob me of the sense of my own uniqueness and worth, and in the process they nearly killed my urge to inquire.”

When Newton left high school in 1959, he was barely literate. However, he was determined to succeed and he taught himself to read by studying poetry. He went on to college where he gained an Associate of Arts degree. He also studies at Oakland City College and the San Francisco Law School.

However, Newton had not turned his back on the criminality of his teenage years. To fund his studies, Newton resorted to burglary. At the age of 22, he was arrested and found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. He received a six-month jail sentence in a county jail.

Whilst studying law at Oakland City College, Newton became politicised. He was inspired by the writings of Mao Zedong, Che Guevara and Malcolm X. At Merritt College he had met Bobby Seale, with whom he started the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence in October 1966. The Black Panthers used a militant approach to fight for racial justice, political power for African Americans and an end to all forms of discrimination. Bobby Seale was charmian, while Newton took the position of ‘minister of defence’.

The Black Panthers first target was the Oakland Police. They believed that the authorities were at the heart of the harassment of black communities. They used their “right to bear arms” to police the police.

Newton worked with Seale to compose the ‘Black Panther Party Platform and Program’, which laid out the organisation’s objectives. These included full employment for the African American community, full civil rights, good housing, good educational facilities and the right to control their own affairs.

Unlike the previous nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers were willing to use violence if necessary. The FBI infiltrates the movement and provided J Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, with intelligence reports regarding the violent intentions of the Black Panthers.

Newton was arrested in 1967 for allegedly killing an Oakland police officer, John Frey, during a traffic stop. He was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to two to 15 years in prison. But public pressure—"Free Huey" became a popular slogan of the day—helped Newton's cause. The case was eventually dismissed after two retrials ended with hung juries. However, the accusation convinced the Black Panthers that they would never succeed when faced with a discriminative legal system.

Newton took a new approach to activism after being released from prison. The BPP had lost members as a result of his imprisonment so he began to focus on social issues to help African Americans at a local level. Free breakfast schemes and free clinics were among the ways Newton tried to help the black community.

However, he could not shake off the controversy and was accused of murdering a prostitute, Kathleen Smith in 1974. Newton failed to make his court appearance. His bail was revoked, a bench warrant was issued, and Newton's name was added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 'most wanted' list. Newton had jumped bail and fled to Cuba, where he spent three years in exile. When he returned to the US in 1977 he was acquitted of Smith’s murder.

Newton earned a Ph.D. in history of consciousness from the University of California in 1980.

On 22 August, 1989, Huey Newton, aged 47, was shot dead, apparently by a drug dealer in a botched up drug deal.

See also: Bobby Searle 

MLA Citation/Reference

"Huey Newton". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Huey Newton
Birth Date: 17 February 1942, Monroe, Louisiana
Death: 22 August 1989, Oakland California
Occupation: Political activist
Known For: co-counding the Black Panther Party