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article imageOp-Ed: Whitewashing Huey Newton

By Alexander Baron     Oct 6, 2013 in Politics
Oakland - The Socialist Workers Party in Britain has recently published a eulogy to Black Panther leader Huey Newton. What is the truth about this people's champion?
According to Comrade Ken Olende, Huey Newton raised issues of women's and even gay liberation in one of his speeches.
If you haven't heard of the Black Panthers, you were probably not around in the 1960s. If you have heard of them, chances are you haven't heard the truth, or at best have heard only part of it. The original Black Panthers — not the comic outfit that emerged in the US recently — were a short-lived phenomenon, a product of the 60s, something that could have emerged only in the 60s, only in America, and probably only in California. Although the Black Panther Party was not a one-man band, its principal leader and centre of most of the attention was the charismatic Huey Newton.
Alas, plenty of psychopaths have charisma. Okay, Newton was no Ted Bundy, but he was no Mother Teresa either. He was a murderer though.
Here is the 26-year-old Newton in gaol discoursing on a wide range of subjects. The figure of 50 million Africans sold into slavery is not correct, though in view of the now generally accepted figure — from 12 million to 28 million — one hesitates to call this a gross exaggeration. It remains to be seen though what could have been its relevance to a black youth growing up in the 1950s. What doesn't remain to be seen is the Marxist rhetoric he espouses. From the way he talks about the intellectuals, it is clear he regarded himself as one. He would eventually earn a PhD in the History of Consciousness, the same pseudo-academic garbage peddled by Angela Davis. His dissertation — which was subsequently published in book form — was a self-promoting history of the Black Panthers, and contains the 10-point programme of the Black Panther Party which he wrote, and which itself contains what appear to be reasonable demands (apart from the one about full employment), but people like Newton are often strong on rhetoric.
Huey Newton was also known as Huey P. Newton; he was actually named after Huey P. Long — the Kingfish — the populist Governor of Louisiana who was assassinated in 1935. Newton was born in Louisiana in 1942; his middle name was Percy, which may be a fitting name for a comedy film, but doesn't quite gel for a "revolutionary."
Even before the founding of the Black Panther Party, Newton crossed swords with the law. In 1964, he stabbed a black man named Odell Lee at a party, but escaped with a six-month sentence.
In October 1967, Newton shot and killed a police officer during a traffic stop, like another self-styled revolutionary a decade-and-a-half later, Newton stood trial for murder. And, incredibly, the racist system convicted him only of voluntary manslaughter.
After a retrial and a third trial at which the jury could not agree, Newton walked away a free man.
Killing a paid servant of the ruling class is one thing, but what about a 17-year-old girl, and a prostitute at that? Unsurprisingly, in his short hagiography of the Black Panthers, Comrade Ken makes no mention of this.
Years after he shot and killed Officer Frey, Newton was charged with the murder of Kathleen Smith, who is usually alluded to as simply a prostitute. The case against him does not appear to have been particularly strong, but the racist system granted him bail, and he fled to Cuba. After three years he returned home, and after two trials walked free again.
Newton was also a pimp, something that doesn't go hand in hand with the claim made by Comrade Ken that he was opposed to sexism, and also like so many real politicians, he had sticky fingers. The Black Panthers were not all bad; in Oakland, California where Newton was based, they ran a free breakfast programme for underprivileged (ie black) schoolkids. Alas, there is no such thing as a free breakfast, and while the Panthers did not pay for this, Newton decided it was only fair for him to take a cut. This led to him being charged with embezzlement of state money, racist state money. He appears to have copped a plea bargain, because after some considerable delay, he pleaded no contest to one charge of encashing a $15,000 state cheque for his own use. He received a six-month gaol sentence and 18 months of probation, something that doesn't sound quite as romantic to "radicals" as "offing a pig" and getting away with it.
Huey Newton died a fitting death, shot in the head while on a mission to buy or more likely to scrounge crack in the small hours of August 22, 1989 at the age of just 47. His killer was not a white police officer but one of the oppressed people he championed. Like Newton himself, a legend has grown up around this, but here is a man who knows what he is talking about.
We are all imperfect human beings, but Huey Newton wasn't simply imperfect, he was bad to the bone. Remember this next time you hear someone who should know better but doesn't, eulogising the Black Panther Party.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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