“We had never been a racist organization,” he insisted. “The reason we don’t

have visible white allies today is that the white radical movement is dead.”

Books by Huey P. Newton

Revolutionary Suicide  /  War Against the Panthers  / Huey P. Newton Reader / To Die for the People / The Genius of Huey P. Newton

In Search of Common Ground  / Insights and Poems / Essays from the Minister of Defense

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Editorial Correspondence

Demythologizing Huey Newton

By Cornish Rogers


WHAT I FOUND most striking about Huey Newton was his eyes. We had been sitting for hours around a dining-room table in intense conversation, and his eyes had taken on an independent life of their own—appearing at times to be the only sure and unchanging reality I was confronting.

Perhaps it was because of the image of Huey Newtown, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, has for so long been clouded by myth and fantasy that I now had some doubts as to whether this was the real Huey or a figment of my imagination. He looked just as he does in his pictures, although shorter than I had expected. His handsome angular face rose above a superbly muscled upper torso. He seemed to be from another time and another world—the strident Afros—the only prominent black activist leader of that decade not now dead or in exile.

In appearance, this was the same Huey Newton who had been convicted of murdering an Oakland policeman in 1967 and had spent three years in prison only to be released in 1970 following a California appeals court’s overruling of his conviction. After two subsequent trials ended in hung juries, the state dropped it charges and he was set free.

In the view of many, the Huey who emerged from prison is an entirely different person from the brash young gun-toting militant who entered it back in 1968. He seemed to have won not only a second life but a markedly different one. Instead of stepping back into the image of Eldridge Cleaver and the media and projected of the Panthers, Huey adopted a nonmilitant profile for his organization. He moved quickly to banish from the party those gun-loving militants who had taken control during his incarceration. He introduced food and other aid programs for the poor. His most recent venture was into the political arena where his party campaigned vigorously on behalf of Bobby Seale’s unsuccessful but impressive effort to win election as mayor of Oakland.

The party’s new socially benign activities have led some observers to contend that Huey Newtown has changed from a “panther to a pussycat.” Some have even hinted that he must have been the victim, while in prison, of a macabre behavior-altering medical experiment—a “clock-work orange” type of treatment.

Refusing to respond to my queries by telephone, Huey instead of invited me to his apartment. Not far from a portrait of revolutionary leader Che Guevara (a gift from an admiring fellow prison) was a large telescope trained through the window on the county courthouse jail. According to Huey, it was focused on the very cell he had occupied for so long while awaiting trial. Asked whether he harbors nostalgia for the cell, he appeared amused at first; then, his eyes hardening, he said: “No, I look through that telescope each day not out of nostalgia but because, you might say, that’s my Moby Dick—my personification of evil.”

Thus began, for me, the process of separating myth from reality. When he told me that his father, whom he idolizes, is a Baptist preacher—and that as a boy he went to church several times a week—a new perspective on him and his work began to emerge. I was genuinely surprised that he professed to be deeply religious; he quoted liberally from Ecclesiastes, his favorite book of the Bible. While he expressed the prophet’s scorn for the religious establishment (“the black preachers did not support us in the mayoral election, but the members of their congregations did”), he praised the church’s ideas. Although not a traditional theist, he believes fervently that “wherever two or three are gathered together to serve the people, there is God.”

Explained Huey: “In order to understand me and the Black Panther Party today, you have to understand that we were always motivated solely by a determination to protect the people—the black people of Oakland. Everybody looks at that famous poster of me sitting in that wide basket-backed chair with a spear in one hand and a rifle in the other. But no one sees the shield there next to me. The shield explains us best: we intend to shield our people from the brutalities visited upon them by the policy and other racist institutions in the society.”

Huey placed much of the blame on the media and Eldridge Cleaver, his former minister of information, for the distorted image of the Black Panthers as a paramilitary, cop-hating group of violent revolutionaries. Cleaver, he claimed, had severe personal problems which he tried to translate into political terms. But Huey accepted some of the blame for the Panthers’ militant image himself: he coined the term “pigs”; he caused a sensation by sending Panthers armed with loaded rifles into the California state legislature to protest a proposed antigun bill; and he fostered the Panthers’ audacious practice of following the police around town to observe their treatment of citizens they stopped—a practice regarded by the public as cop-baiting.

If the prison authorities were unable to inflict psychosurgical or biomedical “therapy” upon Huey, his enforced solitary confinement must have accomplished a similar purpose—but without destroying his basic motivation. He emerged from prison convinced that the Panthers’ “destructive tactics” had severely harmed their “strategic interests.” Operating on the assumption that politics is indeed an extension of the war by other means, he launched the Panthers on their campaign for Bobby Seale, but with a deeper reason as well: to acquaint the grass-roots black community with a new image of the Panthers, and to create a viable network which could be used for other community efforts. His ultimate political goal in Oakland, he said, is not to take over, but “to get effective representation of our poor and black community in every governmental institution that’s supposed to be serving us.”

Huey predicted that the Panther programs around the country will become more regionally directed and will be designed to meet local community needs instead of relating to Third World international interests. He explained: “I’m not really very interested in running a worldwide organization. My first interest is to establish justice in this community. This is why we got started—to protect black and poor people in Oakland.”

Huey reiterated that it was Eldridge Cleaver, under the influence of white radicals, who turned the Panthers into a feared revolutionary vanguard. Also, according to Huey, he had to resist Stokely Carmichael’s insistence that the Panthers have nothing more to do with white groups. “We had never been a racist organization,” he insisted. “The reason we don’t have visible white allies today is that the white radical movement is dead.”

But the original Panther image is not dead, especially outside the United States. Angry young oppressed people everywhere still identify with that image of strident militancy. Young Filipino activists paint “power to the people” on walls in Manila. Not long ago in Australia, young aborigine “panthers,” with white student support, staged a sit-in against the government at Canberra and reaped a violent confrontation with the police. “Black Panthers” in Israel are agitating for better treat of the Western Jews. And I recall very vividly the group handsome young New Zealand “Panthers”—Malay and Fiji Islanders, proudly sporting huge “Afros who, after I had spent an evening with them, told me the “black power” handshake and sped more my way with raised fists and shouts of “Power to the people!”

I could not help wondering, as Huey continued to puncture myths about the Panthers, how their image change would affect all those groups who life styles are patterned on the angry rhetoric of fearless posturing of the original Huey. Will they understand and accept the explanation of his original purpose as symbolized by the shield? Will they understand the old African saying that Huey had become found of quoting at his basic motivation I am we”? Now that Huey Newton has been demythologized, will they continue to believe? If they do, perhaps, like the older and wiser Huey, they too will come of age.

Source: The Christian Century • August 15–22, 1973

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The Caged Panther the Prison Years of Huey P. Newton—J. Herman Blake—We also had some very rich exchanges in discussing the ideas of Emile Durkheim—a French sociologist considered one of the founders of the discipline Sociology. His works are cited at the beginning of any introduction to sociology course. I was interested in Durkheim’s ideas about “collective consciousness” and group behavior. Newton had also read Durkheim and was much more interested in his development of the social causes of suicide. Newton had read an article in EBONY Magazine that a fellow inmate had shared, discussing Herbert Hendin’s study of the rising incidence of suicide among African Americans—particularly males. This was a new and surprising trend and apparently a subject of intense discussion during the mealtimes he shared with other inmates. Newton and I talked about Durkheim’s articulation of the major types of suicide: Anomic, Altruistic, Egoistic, and Fatalistic.

First of all, Newton was troubled by the increasing suicide rate among Black males. He was dissatisfied with the way the trend was discussed in the article for he felt the writer accepted the pattern as understandable even if not acceptable. In talking about the social forces used to explain suicide, Newton began to use Durkheim’s paradigm to analyze these forces and develop an expanded version of the theory. In Newton’s view, fatalistic suicide as explained by Durkheim resulted from situations where individuals felt oppressed and reacted by killing themselves as an escape from their oppression. Newton theorized that when faced with overwhelming social forces to kill oneself was “reactionary suicide.” However, if the individual had a strong desire to fulfill their life, they would move against their oppressors and seek to liberate themselves and their people. Even if the oppressors had much greater forces leading to the individual’s death, the revolutionary act of moving against oppression rather than self-destruction would result in “revolutionary suicide” a form of liberation.

In other words, “revolutionary suicide” resulted from such an overwhelming desire to live free that one would take action against an oppressor in spite of the odds. As he developed the idea of “revolutionary suicide” in his reflections on the writings of Herbert Hendin and the theories of Emile Durkheim, Huey Newton seemed to become liberated himself. Newton ruminated at length about Durkheim’s formulation of how social forces—either tightly woven or very loose—might lead a person to kill oneself. However, he argued further that if social forces were overwhelmingly constraining, the revolutionary act would be to move against the social forces and their agents—even if that action led to one’s own death.

When he originally articulated the concept of revolutionary suicide, Newton saw it as another one of the abstract ideas we were developing to stimulate his mind during his time in his jail cell. While excited by his own analytical development of the concept, he did not envision going further with the idea. It was one of many ideas we discussed in relation to social conditions of poor people around the world in general and Black people in America in particular. Eventually it was to become the title of the autobiography that emerged from our collaboration. Initially the concept revolutionary suicide was ensconced in an intellectual array of ideas to be discussed with other inmates in lieu of brothers on the block. At that time, there was no indication Newton wanted to pursue the idea further or promote the concept. We talked about it and went on to other matters.—Springer

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Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) was an American political and urban activist who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. . . .

There are many references to Huey Newton in popular music, including in the songs “Changes” by Tupac Shakur, “Welcome To The Terrordome” by Public Enemy, “Queens Get The Money” by Nas, “Sunny Kim” by Andre Nickatina, “Just A Celebrity” by The Jacka, “Same Thing” by Flobots, “Dreams” and “911 Is A Joke(Cop Killa)” by The Game, “You Can’t Murder Me” by Papoose, “Police State” by Dead Prez, “Propaganda” by Dead Prez “We Want Freedom” by Dead Prez, “Malcolm, Garvey, Huey” by Dead Prez, “SLR” by Lupe Fiasco, “Bill Gates Freestyle” by Fabolous feat. Paul Cain, “Huey Newton” by Wiz Khalifa & Currensy,”Hiiipower” by Kendrick Lamar, “My Favorite Mutiny” by The Coup, and “Dream Team” by Spearhead. In the comic strip and cartoon show The Boondocks, the main character Huey Freeman, a ten 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. 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.—Wikipedia

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Revolutionary Suicide

By Huey P. Newton, Ho Che Anderson (Illustrator), Fredrika Newton (Introduction)

Eloquently tracing the birth of a revolutionary, Huey P. Newton’s famous and oft-quoted autobiography is as much a manifesto as a portrait of the inner circle of America’s Black Panther Party. From Newton’s impoverished childhood on the streets of Oakland to his adolescence and struggles with the system, from his role in the Black Panthers to his solitary confinement in the Alameda County Jail, Revolutionary Suicide is smart, unrepentant, and thought-provoking in its portrayal of inspired radicalism.

Huey P. Newton (1942-1989) was an activist and inspirational leader of the Black Panther Party. Fredrika Newton joined the Black Panther Party as a youth member in 1969 and married Huey P. Newton in 1984. She established the Huey P. Newton Foundation, a non-profit educational organization, in 1993. Ho Che Anderson was born in London in 1969 and named after the Vietnamese and Cuban revolutionaries Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara. He is primarily known for his comic books King, I Want to Be Your Dog, Wise Son, and Scream Queen.

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Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist. Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.


Manning Marable’s new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.

Reaching into Malcolm’s troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents’ activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

posted 14 May 2006