He would’ve been 81 years young today!
Huey P. Newton was born on February 17, 1942 in Monroe, Louisiana. The youngest of 7 siblings, Newton and his family moved to Oakland when he was still young. There, he became a leading figure in the Black Power movement, creating real change for poor and disenfranchised people that transformed an entire generation. The activist’s groundbreaking legacy was marred by a host of criminal charges and accusations that he never fully shook. During one period in Newton’s life, he fled to Cuba, later earning his doctorate before the party’s breakdown and his tragic murder in 1989.
Today, Newton is revered as a revolutionary and freedom fighter, and his personal sacrifices for the betterment of the people do not go unnoticed. In honor of what would have been his 81st birthday, here are 5 important things you should know about Huey P. Newton, courtesy of Biography.com:
He was illiterate as a child but still earned a doctorate degree.
As a child, he struggled in school; although he graduated high school in 1959, he was considered illiterate. Inspired by his older brother Melvin’s college academic success, Newton began educating himself, learning to read on his own. During the mid-1960s, he enrolled at Merritt College, eventually attending the University of San Francisco School of Law. Newton would go on to publish a memoir in 1973 entitled Revolutionary Suicide and earn his doctorate degree in social philosophy from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1980.
Newton was the founder and Chairman of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP).
It was at Merritt College that Newton met Bobby Seale, the two coming together to form their own political party, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP). The group veered from the thoughts of other groups, taking a more militant stance towards Black justice issues and summarizing their political goals in a declaration entitled the Ten-Point Program. They outlined their demands for better housing, jobs, and education for African-Americans as well as an end to our collective economic exploitation.
His wrongful murder conviction sparked a “Free Huey” movement.
Part of the BPP’s strategy involved grand showmanship, showing up at government offices armed in all Black or patrolling their communities against the threat of police brutality by showing up during arrests in droves. This led to tension between Panther members and police officers, leading to the tragic killing of party treasurer Bobby Hutton when he was just a teen in 1968. Tensions had already been brewing and just a year prior, Newton was wrongfully arrested for the alleged killing of an Oakland police officer. He was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 2 to 15 years, sparking the “Free Huey” movement that helped shine a light on the holes in the case, leading to the appeal and overturning of Newton’s conviction in 1970.
Newton was an advocate for democratic socialism and services for the poor.
After his release, Newton continued to develop the BPP, advocating for community-centered programs for the poor that included free lunch programs and urban health clinics. A vocal democratic socialist, Newton emphasized his belief that the power was with the people, and the BPP should continue to serve the people.
He developed international relationships and at one time fled to Cuba.
Newton developed international relations for the BPP, even speaking on behalf of the party in China in 1970, National Archives reports. Once when Newton was facing another slew of criminal charges, he fled to Cuba to avoid prosecution before being acquitted 3 years later. Unfortunately, the development of international connections led to factions within the party. While Newton wanted to continue focusing efforts on Black communities in the states, Eldridge Cleaver, the party’s Minister of Information, felt the focus should be taken internationally, continuing to connect with revolutionary movements. The FBI was later revealed to have a hand in this rift, and it led to violence between the factions and the eventual breakdown of the party.
Today, Newton’s legacy continues, the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation established to preserve the history of the party and its beloved co-founder. In 2021, a mini-museum was opened at the West-Oakland home where Newton was killed and later that year, community organizers and Newton’s widow, Fredrika Newton, unveiled a bronze bust in his honor. We remember the revolutionary on his born day. Because of Huey P. Newton, we can!
5 important things you should know about Huey P. Newton/Photo Courtesy of David Fenton/Getty Images