Huey Newton, the youngest of seven children, was born in Monroe, Louisiana, on 17th February, 1942. His father, who named his son after the radical politcian, Huey P. Long, was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
At Merritt College in Oakland, California, Newton met Bobby Seale and in 1966 they formed the Black Panther Party. Initially established to protect local communities from police brutality and racism, it eventually developed into a Marxist revolutionary group. The Black Panthers also ran medical clinics and provided free food to school children. Other important members included Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Fred Hampton, Bobby Hutton and Eldridge Cleaver.
The activities of the Black Panthers came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Hoover described the Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and in November 1968 ordered the FBI to employ "hard-hitting counter-intelligence measures to cripple the Black Panthers".
The Black Panthers had chapters in several major cities and had a membership of over 2,000. Harassed by the police, members became involved in several shoot-outs. This included an exchange of fire between Panthers and the police at Oakland on 28th October, 1967. Newton was wounded and while in hospital was charged with killing a police officer. The following year he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
After being released from prison Newton renounced political violence. Over a six year period 24 Black Panthers had been killed in gun fights with the police. Another member, George Jackson, was killed while in San Quentin prison in August, 1971.
Newton now concentrated on socialist community programs including free breakfasts for children, free medical clinics and helping the homeless. The Panthers also became involved in conventional politics and in 1973 Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland and came second out of nine candidates with 43,710 votes (40 per cent of votes cast).
Newton published his book, Revolutionary Suicide in 1973. The following year he was arrested and charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Released on bail, Newton fled to Cuba but in 1977 he returned to the United States and was freed after two hung juries.
Newton returned to his studies at the University of California Santa Cruz and in 1980 he received a Ph.D. in social philosophy. His dissertation was entitled: War Against the Panthers: A Study in Repression in America.
Huey Newton came into conflict with Tyrone Robinson, a drug-dealer in Oakland. On 22nd August, 1989, Robinson pulled a gun on Newton. It is claimed that 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 Robinson.
My parents taught me to be unafraid of life and therefore unafraid of death. They were both very much involved in the NAACP through their church. My father was in fact a man of the church. Small man, wasn't very tall, but whenever he stood up in that pulpit on Sunday morning, he was the tallest man in the world to me. Hardworking man - he worked three or four jobs simultaneously to support us. He had to - there were seven children in the family - I'm the youngest one of seven. We were poor, of course I didn't know what that meant at the time, all I knew was that my father was away from home quite often and I resented him for that at that time. But now I realize that he did it because he loved us and we did love him in return even though he was what you might a call a benevolent tyrant - there was only one way of doing anything in this wide world and that was always my daddy's way.
One Monday morning Huey Newton called me up and said, "Bobby, come over to the house right quick." I went over to the house. Huey showed me the papers. He said, "Look here, Mulford is up in the legislature now, trying to get a bill passed against us. We don't care about laws anyway, because the laws they make don't serve us at all. He's probably making a law to serve the power structure. He's trying to get some kind of law passed against us." He said, "I've been thinking. Remember when I told you we have to go in front of a city hall, in front of a jail, or do something like we did in Martinez, to get more publicity, so we can get a message over to the people?" This was Huey's chief concern, getting the message over to the people.
So Huey says, "You know what we're going to do?" "What?" "We're going to the Capitol." I said, "The Capitol?" He says, "Yeah, we're going to the Capitol." I say, "For what?" "Mulford's there, and they're trying to pass a law against our guns, and we're going to the Capitol steps. We're going to take the best Panthers we got and we're going to the Capitol steps with our guns and forces, loaded down to the gills. And we're going to read a message to the world, because all the press is going to be up there. The press is always up there. They'll listen to the message, and they'll probably blast it all across this country. I know, I know they'll blast it all the way across California. We've got to get a message over to the people."
Huey understood a revolutionary culture, and Huey understood how arms and guns become a part of the culture of a people in the revolutionary struggle. And he knew that the best way to do it was to go forth, and those hungry newspaper reporters, who are shocked, who are going to be shook up, are going to be blasting that news faster than they could be stopped. I said, "All right, brother, right on. I'm with you. We're going to the Capitol." So we called a meeting that night, before going up to the Capitol, to write the first executive mandate for the Black Panther Party. Huey was going to write Executive Mandate Number One.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense calls upon the American people in general and the black people in particular to take careful note of the racist California Legislature which is now considering legislation aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder, and repression of black people.
At the same time that the American government is waging a racist war of genocide in Vietnam, the concentration camps in which Japanese Americans were interned during World War II are being renovated and expanded. Since America has historically reserved the most barbaric treatment for non-white people, we are forced to conclude that these concentration camps are being prepared for black people who are determined to gain their freedom by any means necessary. The enslavement of black people from the very beginning of this country, the genocide practiced on the American Indians and the confining of the survivors on reservations, the savage lynching of thousands of black men and women, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now the cowardly massacre in Vietnam, all testify to the fact that toward people of color the racist power structure of America has but one policy: repression, genocide, terror, and the big stick.
Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetrated against black people. All of these efforts have been answered by more repression, deceit, and hypocrisy. As the aggression of the racist American government escalates in Vietnam, the police agencies of America escalate the repression of black people throughout the ghettoes of America. Vicious police dogs, cattle prods, and increased patrols have become familiar sights in black communities. City Hall turns a deaf ear to the pleas of black people for relief from this increasing terror.
The Black Panther Party for Self-defense believes that the time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late. The pending Mulford Act brings the hour of doom one step nearer. A people who have suffered so much for so long at the hands of a racist society, must draw the line somewhere. We believe that the black communities of America must rise up as one man to halt the progression of a trend that leads inevitably to their total destruction.
When I went to prison in 1967, I met George. Not physically, I met him through his ideas, his thoughts and words that I would get from him. He was at Soledad Prison at the time; I was at California Penal Colony.
George was a legendary figure all through the prison system, where he spent most of his life. You know a legendary figure is known to most people through the idea, or through the concept, or essentially through the spirit. So I met George through the spirit.
I say that the legendary figure is also a hero. He set a standard for prisoners, political prisoners, for people. He showed the love, the strength, the revolutionary fervor that's characteristic of any soldier for the people. So we know that spiritual things can only manifest themselves in some physical act, through a physical mechanism. I saw prisoners who knew about this legendary figure, act in such a way, putting his ideas to life; so therefore the spirit became a life.
And I would like to say today George's body has fallen, but his spirit goes on, because his ideas live. And we will see that these ideas stay alive, because they'll be manifested in our bodies and in those young Panther bodies, who are our children. So it's a true saying that there will be revolution from one generation to the next.
What kind of standard did George Jackson set? First, that he was a strong man, he was determined, full of love, strength, dedication to the people's cause, without fear. He lived the life that we must praise. It was a life, no matter how he was oppressed, no matter how wrongly he was done, he still kept the love for the people. And this is why he felt no pain in giving up his life for the people's cause.
The state sets the stage for the kind of contradiction or violence that occurs in the world, that occurs in the prisons. The ruling circle of the United States has terrorized the world. The state has the audacity to say they have the right to kill. They say they have a death penalty and it's legal. But I say by the laws of nature that no death penalty can be legal - it's only cold-blooded murder. It gives spur to all sorts of violence, because every man has a contract with himself, that he must keep himself alive at all costs.
We had seen Watts rise up the previous year. We had seen how the police attacked the Watts community after causing the trouble in the first place. We had seen Martin Luther King come to Watts in an effort to calm the people, and we had seen his philosophy of nonviolence rejected. Black people had been taught nonviolence; it was deep in us. What good, however, was nonviolence when the police were determined to rule by force? We had seen all this, and we recognized that the rising consciousness of Black people was almost at the point of explosion. Out of this need sprang the Black Panther Party. Bobby Seale and I finally had no choice but to form an organization that would involve the lower-class brothers.
They have the audacity to say that people should deliver a life to them without a struggle; but none of us can accept that. George Jackson had every right, every right to do everything possible to preserve his life and the life of his comrades, the life of the People.
George Jackson, even after his death, you see, is going on living in a very real way; because after all, the greatest thing that we have is the idea and our spirit, because it can be passed on. Not in the superstitious sense, but in the sense that when we say something or we live a certain way, then when this can be passed on to another person, then life goes on. And that person somehow lives, because the standard that he set and the standard that he lived by will go on living ...
Even with George's last statement - his last statement to me - at San Quentin that day, that terrible day, he left a standard for political prisoners; he left a standard for the prisoner society of racist, reactionary America; surely he left a standard for the liberation armies of the world. He showed us how to act.