Huey P Newton and the Intrepid Legacy of the Black Panther Party
By Larry Pinkney
Serious revolutionary political struggle is an ongoing, long and protracted affair - spanning many years - and it does not lend itself to romanticism. By the same token, it is extremely important to understand the role of various women and men freedom fighters who were trail blazers in this continuing struggle for justice, equality, and human rights in the United States and throughout the world. It is our consciously and clearly understood past that serves to gird us for the present and future struggles.
The corporate media endeavors, on virtually every level, to keep the masses of people dangerously ignorant of the reality of what is actually occurring contemporarily, as well as what transpired in the distant and not-so-distant past. Corporate media obfuscation and disinformation is the order of the day. In the not-so-distant past, the Black Panther Party represented stalwart resistance to such obfuscation and disinformation, and today its very legacy continues to stand as a beacon of unequivocal opposition to corporate media manipulation and misinformation.
In the year 2006, I wrote and still maintain that: “Perhaps no single political organization in modern U.S. history still evokes more joy, pride, hope, and debate in the hearts and minds of people than the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary, community based, national Black political organization founded in October of 1966, which by the end of the 20th Century had been physically decimated nationwide.” Of its various leading party activists, arguably the best known was its co-founder and chief theoretician, Huey P. Newton.
The political heart and soul of the Black Panther Party was its Ten-Point Program or platform [i.e. "What We Want and What We Believe"]. Moreover, the Black Panther Party directly served Black communities throughout the nation by establishing many programs including the Free Breakfast Program for Children, Free Clothing Program, Free Food Programs, Peoples Free Medical Research Health Clinic and Free Housing Cooperative Program, etc. There was nothing romantic about these programs that represented daily hard work by the Black Panther Party, in service to Black communities nationwide.
Ironically, the corporate media of that period was intensely attempting to discredit and “neutralize” every Black person (from Malcolm X, to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Huey P. Newton) who dared stand up for justice at home and abroad. In the 21st Century, the corporate media continues to be busily about the business of attempting to create, manufacture, and determine who the leaders of Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and White peoples will be. Conscious people, today as in the past, must reject this insidious form of manipulation, understanding that the corporate media never supports a person who stands for justice, equality, and human rights at home and abroad.
This is the month of February in the year 2008, and though February is known as "Black History Month," the reality is that every month is Black History Month. In fact, every single month of the year of survival by the masses of people (especially Black, Red, and Brown people) who are battling for our very lives against blood-sucking corporations, police brutality, and U.S. military adventurism, is a People’s History Month - that is - Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and White peoples.
The late Dr. Huey P. Newton correctly wrote that, “There can be no real freedom until the imperialist - world-enemy-number-one - has been stripped of his power and put in his rightful place as one of the people rather than the ruler of the people. Then and only then will unity and harmony truly prevail.” How much more so is this accurate today in the 21st Century. In this context, brother Huey P. Newton further poignantly observed that, “We recognize this when we admit that the United States is no longer a nation but an empire.” Precisely.
History must be studied and understood in the context not only of the past but just as importantly, the present and future. This present sham of American Democracy and media circus must be understood in this reality. To paraphrase the words of the French philosopher, Albert Camus, “What good does it do a man [or woman] to give him [or her] the vote and then tell him [or her] that he [or she] is free?” And as brother Huey put it, “Democracy means only that the majority will use us when they need us and cast us aside when they do not need us.” [See pages 39, 40, and 58, first edition of the book, To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton .
I reiterate: History must be studied and understood in the context of not only the past but just as importantly, the present and future. Some remember only the photographed image of Huey P. Newton, majestically sitting in a wicker chair in the black beret and leather jacket of the Black Panther Party - rifle in one hand and spear in the other. I remember Huey P. Newton as a comrade: a thinker and doer who did not hesitate to lay his life on the line for the people and in so doing incurred the ire of a racist, capitalist system determined to destroy him. A comrade with whom I sometimes disagreed but for whom I had and have an unquenchable love and respect. To be sure, he was no saint nor was he striving for sainthood. He was, however, like Brother Malcolm X before him, one of “our shining Black prince[s].” Notwithstanding his own human imperfections, Huey embodied the defiant and articulate Black man who in word and deed stood tall on behalf of Black people.
Like the Black Panther Party itself, Huey P. Newton was both a target and victim of the infamous (and no doubt ongoing) COINTELPRO U.S. government activities to “discredit, frame, murder, imprison, and murder” Black political activists. Though tragically murdered in August of 1989, allegedly during a drug deal gone bad, Huey P. Newton conveniently (for the U.S. Government and corporate media), did not live to dispute or present evidence of the events of that fateful day in August. However, one thing is certain: The U.S. corporate media, including the Associated Press, gleefully reported brother Huey’s death in an article dated August 23, 1989, titled, Black Panthers Created Image of "Defiance and Resistance." The Associated Press article ended by saying, “Today, the Panthers prowl no more.” The corporate media is wrong. The intrepid legacy of the Black Panther Party - of "defiance and resistance" - still “prowls” as long as there is injustice, inequality, militarism, and corporate greed.
Genuine and serious political activists do not function based upon popularity or political expediency. As the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so aptly put it:
“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”
So many sisters and brothers, from Harriet Tubman, to Fannie Lou Hamer, to Malcolm X, to Robert F. Williams, to Huey P. Newton have chosen the path of what is right over that of what is expedient. From the Deacons for Self Defense, to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to the Students for A Democratic Society, to the American Indian Movement, to La Raza Unida and the Brown Berets, to the Republic of New Africa, to the Black Panther Party, the legacy of the people’s struggle lives on in both word and deed to the consternation of the 21st Century corporate media.
So many have died that we might struggle to live in a real versus illusionary freedom. This struggle continues and on this February 17th, the birthday of brother Huey - if the fates are kind - I shall raise a toast to brother Huey P. Newton and all my comrade sisters and brothers of the Black Panther Party and to the peoples' liberation movements nationally and around the world.
Yes, the struggle continues unabated, and as the late, great Curtis Mayfield lyrically put it, “Let us teach the children freedom’s never been free…”
All Power To The People!
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Larry Pinkney, is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For more about Larry Pinkney see the book, Saying No to Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker, by William Mandel [Introduction by Howard Zinn].