Birthday of Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers


In 1942 on this day, Huey Newton was born in Louisiana. The youngest child of a sharecropper and Baptist minister, he moved to California with his family when he was three. He began burglarizing homes as a young teenager. He attended Merritt College, where he became politically active joining the Afro-American Association, Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and pushing the school to adopt a black history course as part of the curriculum. While at school, he and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in 1966. The Black Panther party was an outgrowth of the Black Power movement, which advanced ideas of racial pride, Black cultural, economic and political empowerment and autonomy. The Black Panthers originally called for protection from police brutality in black communities, especially in their home community of Oakland, California. Seale and Newton both espoused communist ideologies, although not all Black Panthers were pro-Communist. As the group grew, it became a symbol of the counter-culture of the 1960s. Their militant actions, as well as antipathy toward the authority figures, led to a fraught relationship with the government. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, called the Black Panthers, “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and used the FBI to monitor and eavesdrop on the organization. In 1967 Newton was accused of shooting a police officer named John Frey. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1968 but the California Appellate Court reversed the decision and called for a new trial in 1970. This led to two mistrials, after which the state dropped the case. In 1974 he received his degree from University of California, Santa Cruz. He later completed a Ph.D. there in History of Consciousness in 1980. In 1989 he was shot three times in the face in Oakland. In 1996 after his death, a one-man play came out titled, A Huey P. Newton Story, about his life. The Black Panther party remains an important, though controversial, touchstone in American history and culture.

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