Key Facts & Summary
- Huey Percy Newton was the founder and leader of the Black Panther Party, which sought to protect the rights of the Black Community.
- In 1967, with the help of his Party, he created the Ten Point Program (inspired by Marxism), which stated what the party wanted to achieve.
Huey Percy Newton was born on February 17, 1942 in Monroe (a city northeast of Louisiana). He was an African-American activist that fought for the ‘black power’ and was also the co-founder of the Black Panther Party.
As a child, he moved with his family to Oakland, in California, where he managed to graduate from high-school as an illiterate. However, he learnt how to read before he started attending the Merritt College (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2000), and subsequently obtained a Bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D from the University of California (Santa Cruz) (National Archives 2016).
Whilst he attended Merritt College, Huey was able to introduce (as a student) a course on African-American History, and also founded the left-wing Black Panther Party for Self Defence with Barry Seale, in which Newton covered the role of Minister of Defence, whereas Seale became the Chairman (National Archives 2016).
Thanks to Newton’s dedication to the rights of the Black Community, he rapidly became known on an international scale. In fact, in 1970, he was invited to China: as soon as he set foot on the Chinese soil, people greeted him by ‘waving copies of the little red book and displaying signs supporting the Black Panthers Party and criticising the U.S. imperialism’ (National Archives 2016). However, Newton and his party also committed several acts of violence such as attacks, assaults, and they were also charged for murder. For this reason, he was obliged to flee to Havana (Cuba) where he remained for three years. Nonetheless, upon his return in the United States, the cases against Newton had been dropped, and he was no longer considered guilty.
In 1989, Huey Newton was brutally shot in Oakland by the drug dealer Tyrone Robinson (who was part of the Black Guerrilla Family). Whilst being killed, the last words Newton uttered were: ”You can kill my body, and you can take my life but you can never kill my soul. My soul will live forever!” (National Archives 2016).
Following the murder, Robinson was arrested for murder in 1991, and sentenced to 32 years in prison (National Archives 2016).
The Black Panther Party
Influenced by the ideologies, perspectives, and the assassination of Malcolm X (an American Muslim minister and human rights activist), in 1966 by Huey Newton, his college classmate Bobby Seale, and his childhood friend David Hilgard founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defence.
The Black Panther Party rose from the concerning increase of police violence against black citizens in Oakland (California). In fact, the organisation ‘sought to challenge racism by mobilising against police brutality’ (University of California Press no date).
Newton’s party was much different from other African-American associations with nationalist tendencies (such as the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the Nation of Islam): in fact such groups viewed ‘all white people as oppressors’, whereas ‘the Black Panther party distinguished between racist and non racist whites, and allied themselves with progressive members of the latter group (Duncan 2000).
Unlike Martin Luther King’s non-violent and unarmed movement, the Black Panther Party believed that the members should act aggressively in order to defend themselves whenever the police forces violated their rights. In essence, they were convinced that ‘violence, or at least the threat of violence’ was required in order to ‘bring about social change’ (National Archives 2016).
The leaders of the party would carry guns (since in 1966 it was legal in California to carry guns around), tape recorders, and legal casebooks. They considered this tactic as a way to educate the community and to confront the police in regards to their rights. In essence, the police would be obliged to live up to those rules and those rights.
Moreover, the Black Panthers worked for social reform: for instance, they created a free breakfast program for children in need, medical services for those who could not afford it, and educational lectures in black history and politics. In addition to such initiatives, the Black Panthers ‘launched more than thirty-five Survival Programs’ and contributed to the general welfare of the community by providing black people with ‘education, tuberculosis testing, legal aid, transportation assistance, ambulance service, and the manufacture and distribution of free shoes to poor people’ (Duncan 2000).
Soon, the Black Panther Party spread across the United States, and associations were opened across the country (including major cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta. When the party reached its peak in 1960, there were over 2,000 adherents to the Panthers (Duncan 2000).
For the African-American community, the Black Panthers were heroes. Yet, since they employed aggressive rhetoric, military-style clothing, and openly displayed weapons, the FBI and other large organisations, started to consider them a threat.
Ten Point Program
The Black Panthers had a clear set of goals when they formed in 1966. These goals made up the Ten Point Program: it was influenced by Marxism and was released in 1967 via the Black Panthers’ newspaper.
In this section are the ten main issues that Huey Newton and the Black Panthers sought to tackle. The following points are the official ones that Newton had established for his party, and described what they wanted to achieve.
- We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black community.
- We want full employment for our people.
- We want an end to the robbery by the White man of our Black community.
- We want decent housing, fit for shelter [of] human beings.
- We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
- We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
- We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people.
- We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county, and city prisons and jails.
- We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black communities. As defined by the constitution of the United States.We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.
(Source: University of California Press 2017).
Conditions of the Black community in America during the 1960s
During the 1960s, African-American people did not have equal opportunities within society. In fact, social injustices and preferences would reign, and the mentality ‘white people are privileged and more entitled’ persisted.
In essence, black people were less likely to get good jobs and good housing: if they did get a job, they were not entitled to an equal salary as white people (they only got half as much as their white counterpart) (Digital History 2016). African-American children had half the chance of completing their education, and – as a matter of fact ‘schools for white children were almost always better than schools for black children’ (American History no date). It was only in 1954 that separate schools for black and white kids were outlawed since they were considered unequal. However, various cases of inequality caused much resentment on the black community, which finally culminated in organisations such as the Black Panthers that aimed to protect and promote rights for black people.
For instance, here are some examples of cruel and unethical treatment of the people belonging to the African-American community:
- In September 1957, a black girl named Elizabeth Eckford – having ‘tried to enter an all-white school’ in Arkansas – caused angry and violent reactions from the crowd that not only ‘screamed at her’, but also placed guards in order to block her from entering the school. It was only following a federal court order that Elizabeth and other seven black students were allowed to enter the school (American History no date).
- In 1962, James Meredith applied to the University of Mississippi: he was denied entry by the School’s officials, and Meredith had to appeal to President John Kennedy who allowed him to enrol. He ‘became the first black person to graduate from the University of Mississippi’ (American History no date).
- In the North of the US, black people had to endure ‘humiliation, insults, embarrassment and discrimination’ (Digital History) simply because of the colour of their skin.
- In South America, black people were not allowed to sit anywhere on public transportation. In fact, they were forced to sit at the back of the bus. In 1955, the exemplary African-American woman Rosa Parks: she was sitting at the back of a bus in Montgomery (Alabama), and after becoming overcrowded, the bus driver ordered Parks to give her seat to one of the white people that were standing. Rosa Parks refused to do so, and was arrested.
- After the discrimination Park had to endure, Martin Luther King another black citizens in Montgomery refused to take the busses for over a year. African-Americans were the people that used public transportation the most. Therefore, their boycotting of the system caused a massive decrease in the bus company’s earnings. For this reason, ‘racial separation on the buses in Montgomery was declared illegal’ (American History no date).
[1.] American History (no date). Civil Rights Movement: in the 60s a struggle for Equality in the U.S. [online. Available from: http://www.manythings.org/voa/history/213.html
[2.] Digital History (2016). The State of Black America in 1960. [online] Available from: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=332
[3.] Duncan, G.A. (2000). Black Panther Party. [online] Britannica. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Black-Panther-Party
[4.] National Archives (2016). Huey P. Newton. [online] Available from: https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/individuals/huey-newton
[5.] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2000). Huey P. Newton,. [online] Available from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Huey-P-Newton
[6.] University of California Press (2017). The Black Panther Party’s Ten-Piunt Program. [online] UC Press Blog. Available from: https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/25139/the-black-panther-partys-ten-point-program/