Huey Newton bust debut highlights influential figure
It was the first time in decades that she had seen her glow.
At the California Foundry that shot a bust of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Percy Newton, his widow supervised as a bronze founder put the finishing touches on what will become the first permanent public artwork honoring the left in the city of its foundation.
“He just shone, like he did,” said Fredrika Newton. “Her skin just shone.”
The unveiling is scheduled for Sunday at Dr. Huey P. Newton Way and Mandela Parkway, near where Newton was assassinated in 1989. These are elders, descendants and others of Panther’s reunited to mark the 55th anniversary of a holiday that has long been both celebrated and vilified.
Newton remains a divisive figure. Many people still dismiss him as the leader of a bunch of beret-and-gun scammers – and no doubt lamented the prospect of an American city commemorating him with a statue. Others say his failures have been a drag on the Black Power movement.
Yet many love him to this day, revering him as a man who, along with Bobby Seale, sought to unite all black people, the poor and the oppressed against what they saw as the racist, capitalist and unjust interests of the ‘America. His influence on the Black Lives Matter movement is undeniable.
“Huey was perhaps the only man I have ever known who was a truly free man,” said his older brother, Melvin Newton. “He was universal. He felt that no one could be on his back if he stood up. And he always stood up straight like a ram.
The youngest of seven children, Newton was born on February 17, 1942 in Monroe, Louisiana.
Her parents, Walter and Armelia Newton, moved the family to Oakland during a wave of the Great Migration, when the promise of work and less overt racial oppression drew thousands of African-American families south of Jim Crow.
Newton struggled with his education, unable to read or write in high school, even though he was arrested for minor offenses. It wasn’t until after graduating from high school that his real education began; A self-taught reader, he has studied the work of WEB DuBois, Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin.
In his late thirties, he had a doctorate in social philosophy from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and he was well on his way to becoming famous and notorious globally.
After meeting at a community college in Oakland, Newton and Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966.
Newton, the Minister of Defense, and Seale, the President, were frustrated with the largely southerly civil rights movement led by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., which they said had failed to address black issues. in the North and West. .
Historian Robert W. Widell, Jr., who as a graduate student helped catalog Newton’s writings at Stanford University, said Newton was not a natural leader.
“I feel like he’s kind of pushed himself to be this public, confrontational figure on the streets,” said Widell, now director of the University of Rhode Island’s department of history.
“But I don’t know if that was his natural inclination, personality wise. He was more of a theorist. And I think he was quite surprised at how quickly (the Panthers) gained visibility, be it fame or infamy.
Newton and Seale wrote the Party’s Ten Point Platform, which outlined the party’s beliefs and demands. The party’s survival programs were enjoyed in nearly 70 communities in the United States and abroad where it had chapters. The Panthers were known for, among other things, free breakfast programs for schoolchildren and a pioneering sickle cell screening program.
The Panthers’ antagonistic relationship with law enforcement has long cast a shadow over its legacy. In 1967, Newton was jailed for the shooting death of an Oakland police officer who arrested him. Although Newton himself was shot during the encounter and denied being responsible for the officer’s death, he was tried and convicted of intentional manslaughter in 1968.
During his incarceration, the “Free Huey” campaign helped to make him a symbol of racial injustice in the American criminal justice system.
His conviction was overturned in 1970 and he was released from prison to find that the party had grown far beyond Oakland. Its image centered largely on armed self-defense, including violent and deadly encounters between the Panthers and police, both in Oakland and across the country.
“I think we also have to recognize the very real ways in which much of the violence that has surrounded the Panthers has been instigated and provoked by law enforcement themselves,” Widell said.
Newton sought to rehabilitate the Panthers’ image, urging members to focus on popular survival programs. He advocated for the rights of the black community to defend themselves against the police, but changed his mind that party members should openly carry guns to counter police brutality.
Peter Coyote, the American actor and founder of the Diggers, an improvisation troupe from San Francisco who worked with the Panthers early on, got closer to Newton. The actor said the two communicated by phone almost every week during Newton’s incarceration.
“He was funny,” Coyote said, “and he was deadly serious too. He knew he was risking his life and playing for good. And when you meet people like that, you don’t forget them.
Although in decline for several years, the Black Panther Party did not disappear until 1982. This was after years of police surveillance, as well as a decrease in the number of national members, internal struggles, allegations of embezzlement and scandals in which Newton was involved and criminally accused.
Newton’s addictions to alcohol and drugs caught up with him. On August 22, 1989, he was murdered in Oakland, California, by a drug dealer. He was 42 years old.
Newton’s bust, said Fredrika Newton, is meant to celebrate someone whose life and contributions to American history mean far more than his decline and demise.
“I would like people to see him as a full human being,” said Newton, co-founder of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation. “That he wasn’t just an iconic figure in a wicker chair. He was a man with vulnerabilities, feelings, insecurities, weaknesses, like everyone else.
Morrison, originally from Oakland, Calif., Is a member of the AP Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.