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Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989), was co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, an African-American organization established to promote Black Power, civil rights and self-defense.


Early life

Huey P. Newton was born in Monroe, Louisianamarker to Armelia and Walter Newton, a sharecropper and Baptist minister; he was the youngest child in his family, and was named after Huey Long. Newton's family moved to Californiamarker when he was three. Despite completing his secondary education at Oakland Technical High Schoolmarker, Newton did not know how to read. During his course of self-study, he struggled to read Plato's Republic, which he understood after persistently reading it through five times. It was this success, he told an interviewer, that was the spark that caused him to become a leader. Newton once claimed he studied law to become a better burglar. As a teenager, he was arrested several times for minor offence and supported himself in college by burglarizing homes in the Oaklandmarker and Berkeley Hillsmarker areas and committing other petty crime. By age 14, he had been arrested for gun possession and vandalism.

Founding of the Black Panthers

While at Merritt Collegemarker, Newton had become actively involved in politics in the Bay Areamarker. He joined the Afro-American Association, became a prominent member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Beta Tau chapter, and played a role in getting the first black history course adopted as part of the college's curriculum. He read the works of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara. It was during his time at Merritt College that Newton, along with Bobby Seale, organized the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966. Seale assumed the role of Chairman, while Newton became Minister of Defense.

Work in the Black Panthers

Newton and Seale decided early on that the police's abuse of power in Oakland against African-Americans had to be stopped. From his law studies at college, Newton was well-versed in the California penal code and state law regarding weapons, and so was able to persuade a number of African-Americans to exercise their legal right to openly bear arms (as concealed firearms were illegal). Members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense bore their rifles and shotguns and began patrolling areas where the Oakland police were allegedly committing racially-motivated crimes against the community's black citizens. The street patrols had broad support in the local African-American community. Newton and Seale were also responsible for writing the Black Panther Party Platform and Program, derived largely from Newton’s Maoist influences. Newton was instrumental in the creation of a breakfast program feeding hundreds of children of the local communities before they went to school each day.

Accusation of murder

Newton was accused of murdering Oakland police officer John Frey.

Frey had stopped Newton before dawn on October 28, 1967, and attempted to disarm and discourage the Panther patrols. After fellow officer Herbert Heanes arrived for backup, shots were fired, and all three were wounded. Heanes testified that the shooting began after Newton was under arrest, and a surprise witness testified that Newton shot Frey with Frey's own gun as they wrestled. No gun for Frey or Newton was found. Newton himself claimed that Frey shot him first, which made him subsequently pass out for the rest of the incident; Newton also claimed that it appeared (from the courtroom testimony of the surviving officer) that the two police officers either shot each other, or there was a third shooter (most likely the former). Frey was hit four times and died within the hour, while Heanes was left in a serious condition with three bullet wounds. With a bullet wound to the abdomen, Newton staggered into the city's Kaiser Hospital. He was admitted but was later shocked to find himself chained to his bed. Newton also recalls in his book vague images of being operated on in the hospital while police were interrogating him.

Charged with murdering Frey, Newton was convicted in September 1968 of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 2–15 years in prison. In May 1970, the California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent mistrials, the State of California dropped the case.

While Huey was imprisoned, his party's membership declined significantly in several cities. The FBImarker, which deployed the counter-insurgency tactics of operation COINTELPRO, actively campaigned to eliminate the Black Panthers' 'community outreach' programs such as free breakfasts for children, sickle-cell disease tests, free food and free clothing. Funding for several of the programs was raised courtesy of the only independent commerce in the area: drug dealers and prostitution-ring leaders. Bobby Seale later wrote about his belief in Newton’s involvement and attempted takeover of the Oakland drug trade, further claiming that Newton attempted to 'shake down' pimps and drug dealers; as a result, a contract was taken out on Newton’s life. But this story was never proven. It is suggested that such mutual paranoia between the long-time friends and party co-founders, Seale and Newton, was created by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. The FBI sent what became known as the "brown" letters — fabricated letters (often bearing death threats) seemingly written by Panthers. The ensuing fear triggered sharp declines in membership, and the eventual failure of the Party.

Funding for the Black Panther Party survival programs, included free children's breakfasts, food and shoe give aways, free clinics, free sickle cell anemia testing, free lead poisoning testing, free senior citizen security and free pet control, always came from various sources. Primary sources were the poor people from the communities it served, independent vendors, and celebrities like Marlon Brando, Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Jim Brown, Jimi Hendrix and James Brown.

The decline of the Panther membership only took place after the FBI succeeded in dividing the Panther leadership in 1971. Panther membership at its height in 1970 was 5,000 to 7,000.In 1974, several charges were filed against Newton, and he was also accused of murdering a 17-year-old prostitute, Kathleen Smith. Newton did not appear in court. His bail was revoked, a bench warrant was issued and Newton was added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 'most wanted' list. Newton had jumped bail and escaped to Cubamarker, where he spent 3 years in exile.

In January 1977, Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones visited Newton in Cuba. After Jones fled to Jonestownmarker, Guyanamarker, Newton spoke to Temple members in Jonestownmarker via phone patch supporting Jones during one of the Temple's earliest "White Nights." 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. Newton returned home in 1977 to face murder charges because, he said, the climate in the United States had changed, and he believed he could get a fair trial. Because the evidence was largely circumstantial and not solid beyond hearsay, Newton was acquitted of Smith's murder after two trials were deadlocked.

Later life

Newton earned a bachelor's degree from University of California, Santa Cruzmarker in 1974. He was enrolled as a graduate student in History of Consciousness at University of California, Santa Cruzmarker 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 influential analysis of the role of flight crew self-deception in the crash of Air Florida Flight 90marker. 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, mentioning that Newton earned a Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz in 1980. His doctoral dissertation was entitled "War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America."

In 1985, Newton was charged with embezzling state and federal funds from the Black Panthers' community education and nutrition programs. He was convicted in 1989. It was later rumored that Newton had embezzled the money to support an alcohol and drug addiction. He volunteered for alcohol/drug treatment at Alta Bates' treatment center in Berkeley and was successfully completing treatment when San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, made Newton's circumstances public. Under a barrage of news coverage, Newton left Alta Bates prematurely.


On August 22, 1989, Newton was fatally shot on the 1400 block of 9th street in West Oaklandmarker by a 24-year-old Black Guerilla Family member, Tyrone Robinson. Robinson was convicted of the murder in August 1991 and sentenced to 32 years for the crime. Official accounts claimed that the killer was a known drug dealer in Oakland.

Robinson contended that Newton pulled a gun when the two met at a street corner in the neighborhood, Sergeant Mercado said, but investigators said they found no evidence Newton had been armed. The killing occurred in a neighborhood where Newton, as minister of defense for the Black Panthers, once tried to set up social programs to help destitute blacks.

Newton's last words, as he stood facing his killer, were, "You can kill my body, but you can't kill my soul. My soul will live forever!" He was then shot three times in the face by Robinson, who went by the street name "Double R".

In popular culture

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, "Same Thing" by Flobots, "Dreams" 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. 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.


  • Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power. (Anchor Books: 1993) ISBN 0-385-47107-6.
  • Philip S. Foner (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)
  • Hilliard, David and Keith and Kent Zimmerman. Huey: Spirit of the Panther (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006)
  • Jeffries, Judson L. Huey P. Newton, The Radical Theorist (University of Mississippi Press, 2002)
  • Pearson, Hugh. Shadow of the Panther: Huey P. Newton and the Price of Black |Power in America (Addison Wesley, 1994)
  • Seale, Bobby. Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (Random House, 1970)
  • Obituary in New York Times by Dennis Hevesi, (August 23, 1989). "Huey Newton Symbolized the Rising Black Anger of a Generation"

Books, articles, and oral histories by or with Huey P. Newton

  • Huey Newton Speaks oral history by Huey P. Newton (Paredon Records, 1970)
  • Huey!: Listen Whitey! protest songs/spoken word by Huey P. Newton; produced by American Documentary Films; released by Folkways Records (1972)
  • 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
  • The Genius of Huey P. Newton by Huey P. Newton
  • The original vision of the Black Panther Party by Huey P Newton
  • 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. Seale, Bobby, Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton, p 62
  2. "Witness Says Newton Shot Policeman", New York Times, Aug 8, 1968
  3. "State Opens Case of Black Panther", New York Times, Aug 6, 1968
  4. The Huey P. Newton Reader by Huey P. Newton, chapters "crisis: October 28, 1967" and "trial"
  5. Hillard, David Huey: Spirit of the Panther Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006.
  6. Reiterman, Tim, Tom Reiterman, and John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of Reverend Jim Jones and His People. Dutton, 1982. ISBN 0-525-24136-1. p. 284.
  7. Reiterman, Tim, Tom Reiterman, and John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of Reverend Jim Jones and His People. Dutton, 1982. ISBN 0-525-24136-1. p. 369.
  8. Trivers, R.L. & Newton, H.P. Science Digest "The crash of flight 90: doomed by self-deception?" November 1982.
  9. Los Angeles Times, 10-10-91, pA22; 12-5-91, pA19.
  10. Pearson, Hugh, (1994) The Shadow of the Panther, p. 315
  11. .

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