Dr. Huey P. Newton
Activist, Leader, Educator, Pan-African
“Black Power is giving power to people who have not had power to determine their destiny."
Huey P. Newton was an African American activist best known for founding the militant Black Panther Party with Bobby Seale in 1966.
Who Was Huey P. Newton?
In 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the left-wing Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, California. The organization was central to the Black Power movement, making headlines with its controversial rhetoric and militaristic style. Newton faced a number of criminal charges over the years and at one point fled to Cuba before returning to the U.S. and earning his doctorate. Struggling with drug and alcohol addiction in his later years, he was killed in 1989 in Oakland.
Background and Early Life
Huey Percy Newton was born on February 17, 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana. Newton helped establish the African American political organization the Black Panther Party, and became a leading figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s. The youngest of seven siblings, he and his family moved to Oakland, California when Newton was a toddler. Though later stating he was close to his family, the youngster had a difficult time early in life, which was reflected in highly erratic behavior at school and on the streets.
Despite having multiple suspensions and run-ins with the law as a teen, Newton began to take his education seriously, finding inspiration when his older brother Melvin earned a masters in social work. Although Newton graduated high school in 1959, he was considered barely literate. He nonetheless became his own teacher, learning to read by himself.
Creation of Black Panthers
In the mid-1960s, Newton decided to pursue his education at Merritt College, during which time he received a months-long prison term for a knife assault, and later attended the University of San Francisco School of Law . It was at Merritt where he met Seale. The two were briefly involved with political groups at the school before they set out to create one of their own. Founded in 1966, they called their group the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Unlike many of the other social and political organizers of the time, they took a more militant stance to the plight of Black communities in America. A famous photograph shows Newton — the group's minister of defense — holding a gun in one hand and a spear in the other.
The group set forth its political goals in a document entitled the Ten-Point Program, which called for better housing, jobs and education for African Americans. It also called for an end to economic exploitation of Black communities, along with military exemption. The organization itself was not afraid to punctuate its message with dramatic appearances. For example, to protest a gun bill in 1967, members of the Panthers entered the California Legislature armed. (Newton actually wasn't present at the demonstration.) The action was a shocking one that made news across the country, and Newton emerged as a leading figure in the Black militant movement.