We were a young revolutionary group seeking answers and ways to alleviate racism.

We had chosen to confront an evil head on and within the limits of the law.

But perhaps our military strategy was too much of “a great leap forward.”

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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Books by Eldridge Cleaver

 Soul on Ice Post-Prison Writings and Speeches  / Target Zero; A Life in Writing  / Conversation with Eldridge Cleaver

Being Black / Education and Revolution / Eldridge Cleaver  / Eldridge Cleaver Is Free

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The Defection of Eldridge Cleaver

& Reactionary Suicide

By Huey P. Newton

Only the People Can Create the Revolution

We must undoubtedly criticize wrong ideas of every description. It certainly would not be right to refrain from criticism, look on while wrong ideas spread unchecked and allow them to monopolize the field. Mistakes must be criticized and poisonous weeds fought, wherever they crop up.—Chairman Mao, Little Red Book

A revolutionary party is under continual stress from both internal and external forces. By its very nature a political organization dedicated to social change invites attack from the established order, constantly vigilant to destroy it. This danger is taken for granted by the committed revolutionary. Indeed, oppression first shaped the spirit of resistance within him, and so it can neither defeat nor destroy his resolve.

But he has two far greater enemies—the failure of vision and the loss of the original revolutionary concept. Either of these can lead to alienation from those the revolutionary seeks to set free. Eldridge Cleaver was guilty of both.

When I came out of prison in August 1970, the Party was in a shambles. This was understandable for a number of reasons: Bobby and I had been off the streets and in jail for a long time, and it had been difficult to direct the party on a day-to-day basis from prison cells. Then, too, the Party was harassed and beleaguered. Intelligence organizations throughout the country had become obsessed with the desire to destroy the Black Panther Party. Many of the brothers had been hunted down, imprisoned, or killed.

These external assaults were formidable. But there was a far more serious reason for the Party’s difficulties, one that threatened its very raison d’etre: the Party was heading down the road to reactionary suicide. Under the influence of Eldridge Cleaver, it had lost sight of its initial purpose and become caught up in irrelevant causes. Estranged from Black people, who could not relate to it, the Black Panther Party had defected from the community.

The Party was born in a particular time and place. It came into being with a call for self-defense against the police who patrolled our communities and brutalized us with impunity. Until then, there had been little resistance to the occupiers. We sought to provide a counterforce, a positive image of strong and unafraid Black men in the community. The emphasis on weapons was a necessary phase in our evolution, based on Frantz Fanon’s contention that the people have to be shown that the colonizers and their agents—the police—are not bulletproof. We saw this action as a bold step in making our program known and raising the consciousness of the people.

But we soon discovered that weapons and uniforms set us apart from the community. We were looked upon as an ad hoc military group, acting outside the community fabric and too radical to be a part of it. Perhaps some of our tactics at the time were extreme; perhaps we placed too much emphasis on military action. We saw ourselves as the revolutionary “vanguard” and did not fully understand then that only the people can create the revolution.

At any rate, for two or three years, our image in the community was intimidating. The people misunderstood us and did not follow our lead in picking up the gun. At the time, there was no clear solution to this dilemma. We were a young revolutionary group seeking answers and ways to alleviate racism. We had chosen to confront an evil head on and within the limits of the law. But perhaps our military strategy was too much of “a great leap forward.”

Nonetheless, I believe that the Black Panther approach in 1966 and 1967 was basically good and necessary phase. Our military actions called attention to our program and our plans for the people. Our strategy brought us dedicated members, and it gained the respect of the struggling peoples of the Third World. Most important, it raised the consciousness of Black and white citizens about the relationship between police and minorities in this country. It is difficult to realize now how much police relations with the Black community have changed in six short years.

Our communities are still not free from brutal incidents and corruption, but it is nonetheless true that police departments have become more sensitive to the problems of urban minorities. Today, it is the rare police commissioner who has not tried to establish some form of public relations between police and Blacks.

The average citizen, too, has a greater awareness of police abuses that was once systematically overlooked. This advance in consciousness is due in large part to our military phase. Ho Chi Minh said that military tactics made public for military reasons are unsound, while military tactics made for political reasons are perfectly correct. We have done as he said. Our military strategies are now known for political reasons.

But revolution is not an action; it is a process. Times change, and policies of the past are not necessarily effective in the present. Our military strategies were not frozen. As conditions changed, so did our tactics. Patrolling the community was only one step in our ten-point program and had never been regarded as the sole community endeavor of the Black Panther Party.

As a matter of fact, the right to bear arms for protection appeared near the end of our program, as Point 7, and came only after those demands we considered far more urgent—freedom, employment, education, and housing. Our community programs—now called survival programs—were of great importance from the beginning; we had always planned to become involved in Black people’s daily struggle for survival and sought only the means to serve the community’s needs.

But the Party was sabotaged from within and without.  For years the Establishment media presented a sensational picture of us, emphasizing violence and weapons. Colossal events like Sacramento, the Ramparts confrontation with the police, the shoot-out of April 6, 1968, were distorted and their significance never understood or analyzed. Furthermore, our ten-point program was ignored and our plans for survival overlooked. The Black Panthers were identified with the gun.

Eldridge Cleaver identified with other negative aspects of the Party. It is not a coincidence that he joined the Party only after the Ramparts confrontation. What appealed to him were force, firepower, and the intense moment when combatants stood at the brink of death. For him this was the revolution. Eldridge’s ideology was based on the rhetoric of violence; his speeches abounded in either/or absolutes, like “Either pick up the gun or remain a sniveling coward.”

He would not support the survival programs, revolutionary process, a means of bringing the people closer to the transformation of society. He believed this transformation could take place only through violence, by picking up the gun and storming the barricades, and his obsessive belief alienated him more and more from the community. By refusing to abandon the position of destruction and despair, he underestimated the enemy and took on the role of the reactionary suicide.

Long before Eldridge’s actual defection from the Party he had taken the first steps of his journey into spiritual exile by failing to identify with the people. He shunned the political intimacy that human beings demand of their leaders. When he fled the country, his exile became a physical reality. Eldridge had cut himself off from the revolutionary’s greatest source of strength—unity with the people, a shared sense of purpose and ideals.

His flight was a suicidal gesture, and his continuing exile in Algeria is a symbol of his defection from the community on all levels—geographic, psychological, and spiritual.

From a dialectical point of view, something positive has arisen out of Etheridge’s defection. While he and his followers still identify with aspects of the Party that once alienated us from the community, the Party has moved in a different direction. He has taken the media’s image squarely upon his own shoulders. We are glad to be free of the burden. What little we lost in credibility we have gained in a wider acceptance of the Party by the community. We have reached a more advance state. There has been qualitative leap forward, a growth in consciousness.

Camus wrote that the revolutionary’s “real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” This, he says, grows out of an intense love for the earth, for our brothers, for justice. The Black Panther Party embraces this principle. By giving all to the present we reject fear, despair, and defeat. We work to repair the breaches of the past. We strive to carry out the revolutionary principle of transformation, and through long struggle, in Camus’s words, “to remake the soul of our time.”

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Post- Katrina Conversation With Miriam  

Miriam: Oh, I’m not about to get in the middle of yall’s stimulating dialogue because both Arthur’s poem and your prose rebuttal are strong pieces.  Do we have to choose between Walker and Turner, Wells and Church, Dubois and Garvey, King and Malcolm, the Movement and Black Power?  All those African Americans were committed to the Cause but went about their Work in different ways.  I’m with you, Arthur, in subscribing to the power of the Word and the Pen, but I have tremendous admiration for Nat Turner too, Rudy, along with Denmark Vesey and all the other race rebels.  Bottom line:  We got to pull together, Brothers.

Rudy: Well, the Walker-Turner thing that’s a game Wilson Moses and I play. He knew my response before I responded. This is the kind of thing we’ve been doing for several summers now. I am not quite sure why Arthur felt a need to put in his two cents about Turner when he doesn’t know anything about Turner. I have never really thought about David Walker. There’s nothing that matches, nothing at all that draws me to him. My interest in all of this is thinking, the kind of thinking now afoot.

That is, after murdering a city, you’d think we would desire a different kind of thinking. And so I want to examine thinking that speaks to the needs of our times, in which the leaders are themselves the issue, because it has become self-evident, evidence in an abundance, they have moved far away from the people. Once we were a fifth; then Skip put us in thirds. And the lower third ain’t worth caring about. The ghastly rumors spread by Nagin and his police chief against their own people is emblematic of the rupture we have in community. It’s a dangerous, threatening situation.

So bring forth as many names as you think will have something to say how we can develop a leadership that is not so far distant from the interests of the bottom third of our society. Don’t you think it is time to examine this thinking within our own communities that looks down on the poor and sees them through the same eyes as those who think of them as looters, rapists, and murderers. Well we talked much about community in the 60s and 70s, not so much so in the 80s and 90s.

Huey P. Newton was an authority on community organizing in speaking and writing about the need of establishing community and ways to go about that. Within his seeking he coined the concept “revolutionary suicide.” Community begins with the individual but he ends steeped in community–the I becomes a we. That is, how we think determines what kind of community we have. Well that doesn’t exist now? Why? Can it be?

For me that’s a revolutionary way of looking at things and I just find it fascinating. Huey says he learned what it was to be free in prison. He discovered it for himself. He discovered freedom through the mastery of himself and his appetites. Are those ideas relevant, too dated, for today’s black adolescents? Would not the actions that too many of our youth involve themselves come under the category of what Huey calls ” reactionary suicide,” and the romance of the gun. Or is it that only white authored ideas have staying power, that last the years, eras, ages?

Can the people you wish to bring forth, can they testify on the issue of “electoral politics” and “party politics.” And the failures that the poor have endured as a result of their ascent? Can they speak on it for our contemporary situation in which black electoral officials have failed one third of our community and have no plans to alleviate the disparities. These wise guys got no other program than for us to vote Democratic.

Those are their masters, not we the people. They owe their allegiance to corporations and the coffers they fill. Is there no other kind of politics, for the poor and the powerless? Is that’s all that’s left to them? That which Cosby recommends? Aren’t we, they more deserving? What would WEB say about these hyenas? Would he say vote when every vote sinks you deeper into your poverty. Voting however is just another social control.

We are at a loss. We no longer know how to teach our own children or what to teach them if we had the resources to teach them. What black teachers and principals do today is make education more mechanical than whites dare with their own children. We tighten the controls to make them more malleable for the System and its way of thinking, mere followers, automatons, rather than leaders. By the time most black kids get in their 20s they are confused. They don’t know who they are. Contradictions are overwhelming!

All they know is that they have been through the gauntlet of public education, which has prepared them not but for the role of good soldiers. The creative and thinking we produce in one generation is not successfully transmitted from one generation to the next, except on the lowest levels. That’s a serious problem if we are about what we say we about, namely, community. Community must be wanted, a line of security and defense, and you got to want it, fight for it with all your heart. Then we must define just what we mean really. It’s got to be more than just color and oppression. Huey’s notion of “revolutionary suicide” seems to go beyond those limitations.

I do not think that we have taken his full measure until we read him. Until we question him on how we find ourselves where we are today—dispersed. There’s no getting together until we discover why we are not together. Huey provides a mechanism for examining that very question, and others, like what it means to be free and existential.

post 30 September 2005

*   *   *   *   *

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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DVDs — A Huey P. Newton Story 2001  / What We Want, What We Believe The Black Panther Party Library 

The Spook Who Sat By the Door  / Passin’ It On; The Black Panthers’ Search for Justice /

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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.—



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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.

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Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas —The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, formed in the aftermath of the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, remains one of the most controversial movements of the 20th-century. Founded by the charismatic Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, the party sounded a defiant cry for an end to the institutionalized subjugation of African Americans. The Black Panther newspaper was founded to articulate the party’s message and artist Emory Douglas became the paper’s art director and later the party’s Minister of Culture. Douglas’s artistic talents and experience proved a powerful combination: his striking collages of photographs and his own drawings combined to create some of the era’s most iconic images, like that of Newton with his signature beret and large gun set against a background of a blood-red star, which could be found blanketing neighborhoods during the 12 years the paper existed. This landmark book brings together a remarkable lineup of party insiders who detail the crafting of the party’s visual identity. —Publisher Rizzoli

Douglas was the Norman Rockwell of the ghetto, concentrating on the poor and oppressed. Departing from the WPA/social realist style of portraying poor people, which can be perceived as voyeuristic and patronizing, Douglas’s energetic drawings showed respect and action. He maintained poor people’s dignity while graphically illustrating harsh situations.—Wikipedia

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Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party

A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy

By Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiasficas’s

If this volume of essays only offered us documentation and insight into the contributions and wide-ranging influence of the Black Panther Party, it would have immense historical significance. But Kathleen Cleaver’s and George Katsiasficas’s collection does much more. It creates intriguing and provocative conversations among scholars, activists, contemporary political prisoners and original members of the BPP that invite us to extricate ourselves from the numbing nostalgia that often accompanies invocations of black berets and leather jackets.

It invites us to re-imagine our relationship to this past and to think critically about the meaning of liberation today.—Angela Y. Davis, Professor, History of Consciousness, UC Santa Cruz

The history of the Black Panther Party is an indispensable part of the dramatic account of black struggle in this country, and this book is an important contribution to that history. The essayists have impressive credentials as either members of the Party or keen observers of its activities, and because they carry the story into the present day the book becomes especially valuable.—Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States.

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A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story

By Elaine Brown

Brown here relates the dramatic story of her youth, her political awakening and her role in the Black Panther Party when she succeeded her lover Huey Newton to become the group’s first female leader. Though smoothly written, the book contains much reconstructed dialogue that may daunt readers. Brown’s memoir takes her from a Philadelphia ghetto to California, from college to cocktail waitressing, from wanting to be white to joining the black power movement. She meets Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson and Bobby Seale, goes to jail, visits North Korea and North Vietnam, debates Marxism and gets involved in Oakland, Calif., politics. When other Black Panthers seemed to lose sight of the revolution and seek power for its own sake, Brown, with a growing feminist consciousness, left the group.

She now lives in France and expresses ambivalent feelings about the party she once loved. Having made her acquaintance, the reader wonders about her present life.—Publishers Weekly

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Panther Baby

A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention

By Jamal Joseph

In the 1960s he exhorted students at Columbia University to burn their college to the ground. Today he’s chair of their School of the Arts film division. Jamal Joseph’s personal odyssey—from the streets of Harlem to Riker’s Island and Leavenworth to the halls of Columbia—is as gripping as it is inspiring. Eddie Joseph was a high school honor student, slated to graduate early and begin college. But this was the late 1960s in Bronx’s black ghetto, and fifteen-year-old Eddie was introduced to the tenets of the Black Panther Party, which was just gaining a national foothold. By sixteen, his devotion to the cause landed him in prison on the infamous Rikers Island—charged with conspiracy as one of the Panther 21 in one of the most emblematic criminal cases of the sixties. When exonerated, Eddie—now called Jamal—became the youngest spokesperson and leader of the Panthers’ New York chapter.

He joined the “revolutionary underground,” later landing back in prison. Sentenced to more than twelve years in Leavenworth, he earned three degrees there and found a new calling. He is now chair of Columbia University’s School of the Arts film division.

update 25 July 2012