Huey Percy Newton was an African American leader and co-founder of the Black Panther Party. He was the youngest of seven children born to Armelia Johnson and Walter Newton on February 17, 1942 in Monroe, Louisiana and named after the former Governor of Louisiana, Huey Long. His family was not very well off, and often moved from place to place. Although he graduated from Oakland Technical High School, he could hardly even read by the time he finished. Newton recalls the sense of shame he was made to feel by his teachers for being African American, and said that never once had he been taught anything useful. Deciding to take matters in his own hands, Newton began to learn how to read and write on his own.
He had a troubled childhood, and was arrested several times as a teenager for gun possession and vandalism. After high school, he enrolled at Merritt College in Oakland where he continued to be involved in criminal activities such as burglary and similar petty crimes. Ironically enough, he studied law at college, which he initially intended to use to become a better criminal. He soon became involved in local political activities and used his influence to establish a course in African American history at the college. In October 1966, Newton and his associate Bobby Seale, founded the “Black Panther Party for Self Defense” which worked exclusively for the benefits and rights of African Americans. Influenced by the works of Marx, Lenin, Malcolm X and Che Guevara, Newton and Seale established a “Ten Point Program” as the party’s agenda, including education, housing and jobs as its priorities.
One of the main points of focus for the Black Panther Party was the right of self defense. Newton believed and preached that violence, or even the threat of it, is sometimes necessary to accomplish your goals. Black Panther Party members once stormed the California Legislature while fully armed in order to protest the outcome of a gun bill. He recruited new members at social gatherings such as bars and parties. He started a number of social reforms such as the Free Breakfast for Children Program, martial arts training for teenagers, and education programs for children from impoverished backgrounds.
One of Huey P. Newton’s causes was police brutality, but he himself was arrested on charges of killing a white policeman named John Frey. He was charged with voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 2-15 years in prison. However, due to immense public pressure, a retrial was held and Newton was acquitted. Another criminal case he was involved in was the murder of a 17 year old girl named Kathleen Smith. Newton fled to Cuba with his girlfriend and stayed there for 3 years. The key witness in the trial was Crystal Gray, and three Black Panther party members attempted to assassinate her before she gave her testimony. Newton returned from Cuba and stood trial, but denied any involvement in the matter. The jury was deadlocked, and Newton was eventually acquitted. In 1982, he was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 18 months of probation on charges of embezzling party funds.
Newton also pursued a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz in History of Consciousness. His doctoral thesis was titled “War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America”. Several factions had broken away from the main party, and one of these was the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF). On August 22, 1989, Newton was assassinated by a member of the BGF named Tyrone Robinson. Huey P. Newton was 47 years old at the time of his death. In 1991, Robinson was convicted of Newton’s murder and sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.