Huey P. Newton founded the Afro-American Society and was co-founder of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. He was also the minister of defense in this organization, but later turned to community service for the poor. Newton said, “The original vision of the Black Panther Party was to serve the needs of the oppressed people in our communities and defend them against their oppressors.” He also realized that they lived n a country that became one of the most repressive governments in the world.
Huey P. Newton was born Feb. 17, 1942, in Monroe. He was the youngest of seven children. Newton was named after the former Louisiana governor Huey Pierce Long. The Newton family moved to Oakland in 1945 for the job opportunities created by World War II industries. His family moved several times in California. They were victims of discrimination and segregation.
During Huey’s childhood he attended Oakland public schools. He said that he was made to feel uncomfortable and ashamed of feeling black. He responded by defying authorities, which resulted in multiple suspensions.
According to Newton, he did not learn to read until he finished high school. In order to prove that high school counselors inaccurately labeled him, he attended Merritt College to earn an Associate of Arts degree.
He then studied law at Oakland City College and at San Francisco Law School.
While Huey attended Oakland City College, he became politically oriented and socially conscious. He then joined the Afro-American Association, and adopted the first black history course as part of the colleges’ curriculum. When Huey was a student at this institution, he supported himself by burglarizing homes in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills area.
At the age of 22, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced six months in extreme solitary confinement.
Realizing that there were few organizations to speak for or represent the lower class African Americans, Newton and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party for self-defense in October 1966.
Seale was chairman and Newton was the minister of defense. In addition to patrolling the police, Newton and Seale were responsible for writing the book titled ” The Black Panther Platform and Program.” It called for freedom, full employment, decent housing, education, and military exemption for African Americans.
In 1967, Huey Newton was accused of killing Oakland police officer John Ferry. In September 1968 he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to prison. The State of California dropped its case against Newton in 1970. After being released from prison, Newton revised the Black Panther Party.
The organization sponsored free breakfast programs for children, sickle-cell anemia tests, free food and shoes, and a school named Samuel Napier Youth Institute. Funding for several of these programs was raised as the result of cooperation of drug dealers and prostitution rings.
After being accused of murdering a 17-year-old prostitute, Kathleen Smith, he escaped to Cuba where he worked as a machinist and a teacher. In between the trials for the murder of the police officer, he visited China for 10 days. There he met 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 charged with embezzling state and federal funds from the Black Panthers’ community education and nutrition programs to support his alcohol and drug addictions. He was convicted in 1989. He volunteered for treatment at Alta Bates treatment center in Berkeley, until columnist Herb Caen made Newton’s circumstances public. Huey then left Alta Bates.
On Aug. 22, 1989 in the Acorn Projects, 47-year-old Huey P. Newton’s last words 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 24-year-old Tyrone Robinson who went by the street name “Double R.”
The killing occurred in a neighborhood where Newton, as minister of defense for the Black Panthers Party, once tried setting up social programs to help destitute blacks. Robinson was convicted of the murder in 1991 and was sentenced to 32 years for the crime.