by Norman (Otis) Richmond
BASICS # 15 (Sep / Oct 2009)
Twenty years ago in Oakland, California, during the month of August, Huey P. Newton was murdered.
It is August 22, 1989, at about 8:30 am in the morning. Gwen Johnston, the co-owner of Third World Books and Crafts (Toronto’s first African-Canadian-owned bookstore) phoned me —- the news is shocking, dreadful even. Mrs. Johnston is in tears, saying, “Otis, they have killed Huey”. Mrs. Johnston and her husband Lennie were huge supporters of Newton, the Black Panther Party and the struggle for African liberation and the liberation of humanity.
Whatever Huey’s shortcomings, Newton led many of us ideologically. For a brief moment in the history of Africans in America, Newton was “the tallest tree in the forest”.
Malcolm X was the first national leader in the African community in the United States to oppose the war in Vietnam. Dr. Martin Luther King later followed Malcolm’s lead on this issue. Newton took it to the next level: In 1970, when was released from prison in California, his first act was to offer troops to fight in Vietnam on the side of the Vietnamese people against American imperialism. On August 29, 1970, Newton wrote: “In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity, the Black Panther Party hereby offers to the National Liberation Front and provisional revolutionary government of South Vietnam an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism. It is appropriate for the Black Panther Party to take this action at this time in recognition of the fact that your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is the American imperialist who is the leader of international bourgeois domination.”
Huey led the way on other major questions as well, raising the questions of women and gay liberation in the African liberation movement. At that moment in our history, this was not fashionable. Nationalists, Pan-Africanists and even some socialist formations did not wish to touch the hot potato of gay rights. Newton did. He was the bold one. His speech on August 15, 1970 created a firestorm in the African liberation movement. At that time in history, I did not support Newton’s thoughts on the issue of gays and lesbians.
Newton said, “We should be careful about using those terms that might turn our friends off. The terms ‘faggot’ and ‘punk’ should be deleted from our vocabulary, and especially we should not attach names normally designed for homosexuals to men who are enemies of the people, such as Nixon or Mitchell. Homosexuals are not enemies of the people. We should try to form a working coalition with the gay liberation and women’s liberation groups. We must always handle social forces in the most appropriate manner.”
As we commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Black August (see this issue of BASICS for our article on Black August) and the 20th Anniversary of Newton joining the ancestors, we should remember the words of Mumia Abu-Jamal: “Huey was, it must be said, no godling, no saint. He was, however, intensely human, curious, acutely brilliant, a lover of the world’s children, an implacable foe of all the world’s oppressors.”