Huey Newton was one of the founding members of the Black Panther movement that radicalised the civil rights campaign in America. The FBI was to label Newton and his colleagues in the Black Panthers as ‘Public Enemy Number One’.
Huey Newton was born on February 17th, 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana. In 1945, the family moved to Oakland, California, in an effort to take advantage of job opportunities there. The area around Oakland had seen industrial growth as a result of the requirements for World War Two. However, the racism that would have existed in Louisiana at the time the family lived there was not changed for harmony in Oakland, where the family also experienced racism, though possibly not as overtly as in Louisiana.
|“All they (the teachers) 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." (Newton)|
Newton left high school barely literate but wanted to prove to those who classed him as a failure, that they were wrong. He taught himself to read by studying poetry and he went to college where he gained an Associate of Arts degree. Newton also studied law at Oakland City College and at the San Francisco Law School.
However, to finance his studies, Newton took to burglary – something he had also done as a teenager. When he was 22, he was arrested and found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. He received a six-month jail sentence in a county jail. He spent most of this time in solitary confinement.
While at Oakland City College, Newton became politicised. He read the writings of Mao Zedong, Ché Guevara and Malcolm X. With no party around Oakland to represent the black community there, Newton, along with Bobby Seale, started the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence in October 1966, which would represent the black community. Better known just as the Black Panthers, the organisation became organised and militant. The chairman was Seale and Newton was the ‘minister of defence’.
The Black Panthers first targeted the police of Oakland. They believed that the police had a history of harassing the black community of the city and they decided to police the police to ensure that the black community got a fair deal from them. The Constitution gave American citizens the “right to be arms" and this is exactly what the Black Panthers did.
After his release from prison, Newton changed the direction of the movement. While Newton was in prison, membership of the Black Panthers had declined and the FBI had done a great deal to tarnish its reputation. Newton targeted community issues within the black community that he felt needed addressing. The movement provided free breakfasts for children, provided free shoes and sponsored a school.
In 1978, Newton studied for a Ph.D at the University of California. By now the violent activism of the Black Panthers had lessened. But controversy was never far away. In 1985, Newton was arrested for stealing federal and state money that had been paid into the Black Panther’s community education and nutrition fund. In 1989, he faced the same charge of embezzlement from the funds of a school set-up by the Black Panthers. It is said that Newton did this to fund his alcohol and drug addictions.
On August 22nd, 1989, Huey Newton, aged 47, was shot dead, apparently by a drug dealer in a drug deal that went wrong.