By Nooria Alam and Saeed Mohamed
Huey Percy Newton was the co-founder and Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party (BPP). He was also a revolutionary, philosopher, intellectual, aggressor, and a tortured man. Huey’s accomplishments as well as his downfalls are part of his legacy in seeking self-determination for Afro-Americans.
His popularity, particularly from the success of the Free Huey campaign, led to both celebrity and vast amounts of pressure. Multiple assassination attempts, years in solitary confinement in prison, and the FBI’s harrowing counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) ultimately took their toll on Huey. He faced his demons during his later years, tackling mental health issues including paranoia, and eventually gained a cocaine addiction. He was shot and killed by a drug dealer in 1989.
The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man.
Huey grew up the youngest of 7 children, and had a troubled childhood which affected the overall quality of his education. He left high-school illiterate, but was able to graduate due to his sharp memory and diligence in teaching himself how to read. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree followed by a PhD in social philosophy, and later studied law at San Francisco Law School. While attending college, Huey met Bobby Seale. In 1966, the two formed the BPP with Huey as Minister of Defense and Bobby as Chairman.
Although Huey studied the law to become a better criminal, his legal knowledge helped envision the Panthers as a group that organized communities around self-defense. As the Party gained momentum, it formed armed community patrols that would resist and expose unlawful police interactions.
Through the BPP, Huey and others developed Survival Programs to address the immediate needs of their communities. Afro-Americans had to struggle to merely exist, and the Survival Programs organized people so that these struggles could be addressed collectively.
Huey understood the need for self-determination, and wanted to show his community that it was possible for black people to control their own institutions, money, education and housing. The demand for freedom and autonomy was codified in the 10-Point Program of the Party.
Huey was also an internationalist, coining the theory of intercommunalism and predicting the world’s shift to globalization. He saw how the top 1% of the world came together to protect capitalist imperialist interests by ghettoizing developing countries – much the same way the US government ghettoized the neighbourhoods he grew up in Oakland, California. He voiced that the only way for the capitalist imperialist system to be dismantled was through oppressed people of the world organizing around their shared interests and fighting against their common enemy, that is, through engaging in a struggle he termed as revolutionary intercommunalism.
Our suffering has been too long. Our sacrifices have been too great. And our human dignity is too strong for us to be prudent any longer.
Even though the BPP has often been framed as a terrorist organization or a black nationalist group, it is through Huey’s work in advancing the idea of intercommunalism that the Party made connections with the Young Lords, Brown Berets, American Indian Movement (AIM), Red Guard, Young Patriots. His words also gave birth to the White Panther Party. These were all organizations that worked around the specific conditions of their communities, and through intercommunalism, joined forces to fight for the survival of all.
Although the BPP did not succeed in creating a socialist revolution in the United States, Huey P. Newton’s contributions have had a lasting legacy. Many of the lessons of his time continue to be directly applicable to North America today. Police brutality, poor living conditions, and low wages for the working class in one of the world’s wealthiest regions are still a painful reality—and they will continue to be—unless we organize to build people’s power and work together to achieve liberation for all.