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Huey P. Newton

Huey P. Newton

Huey P. Newton (February 17, 1942August 22, 1989) was co-founder and inspirational leader of the Black Panther Party, a militant African-American activist group.

Huey P. Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana. He was named after governor Huey P. Long. Newton's family moved to Oakland, California in his childhood. Newton attended Merritt College, earning an Associate of Arts degree. He also studied law at Oakland City College and at San Francisco Law School.

Newton claimed he studied law to become a better burglar. He was arrested several times for minor offenses while still a teenager and he supported himself in college by burglarizing homes in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills. In 1964, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon after stabbing a man at a party and sentenced to six months in the Alameda County jail.

While at Oakland City College, Newton had become involved in the radical politics that dominated the Bay Area. He joined the Afro-American Association and played a role in getting the first black history course adopted as part of the college's curriculum. He read the works of Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Mao Tse-tung, and Che Guevara. It was during his time at Oakland City College that Newton along with Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966, with Seale as chairman and Newton as minister of defense.

Newton and Seale decided early on that the police must be stopped from harassing Oakland's African-Americans. From his study of the law, Newton was familiar with the California penal code and the state's law regarding weapons and was thus able to convince a number of African-Americans of their right to bear arms. Armed members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense began patrolling the Oakland police. In addition to patrolling, Newton and Seale were responsible for writing the Black Panther Party Platform and Program, which drew largely upon Newton’s Maoist influences. Former Panther Earl Anthony describes the part formation as being created with the goal to organize America for armed Maoist revolution.

Newton was accused of murdering Oakland police officer John Frey and in September 1968 Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to two to 15 years in prison. In May 1970 the California Appellate Court reversed Newton's conviction and ordered a new trial. The State of California dropped its case against Newton after two subsequent mistrials.

Newton's Autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, was published in 1973.

While he had been imprisoned, party membership had decreased significantly in several cities, and the FBI had been involved in a campaign to disrupt the Black Panthers. Newton concentrated on community outreach programs and the Black Panthers sponsored a free breakfast program, sickle-cell anemia tests, free food and shoes. Funding for several of their programs were raised as the result of the co-operation of drug dealers and prostitution rings. Bobby Seale later wrote about his knowledge of Newton’s involvement and attempted takeover of the Oakland drug trade. Seale admitted that Newton attempted to shake down pimps and drug dealers, and as a result a contract was taken out on Newton’s life.

In 1974 several assault charges were filed against him, and he was also accused of murdering a 17-year-old prostitute, Kathleen Smith. Newton failed to make his court appearance. His bail was revoked, a bench warrant issued, and his name added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted list. Newton had jumped bail and escaped to Cuba, where he spent three years in exile. He 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. He was acquitted of the murder of Kathleen Smith after two juries were deadlocked.

In 1971, between his second and third trials for the murder of John Frey, he visited China for ten days, where he met with Premier Chou En-lai and Chiang Ch'ing, the wife of Chairman Mao Tse-tung. While there he was offered political asylum. In 1985 Newton was arrested for embezzling state and federal funds from the Black Panthers' community education and nutrition programs. In 1989 he was convicted of embezzling funds from a school run by the Black Panthers, supposedly to support his alcohol and drug addictions. By this time the Panthers had turned to less violent activism.

On August 22, 1989, Newton was shot at the age of 47 during a drug deal gone bad.


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