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Dr. Huey Percy Newton
Dr. Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) was an African-American political activist and revolutionary who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966. He continued to pursue an education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in social philosophy. In 1989 he was shot and killed in Oakland, California.
Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana. He was the youngest of seven children of Armelia Johnson and Walter Newton, a sharecropper and Baptist lay preacher. His parents named him after former Governor of Louisiana Huey Long. In 1945, the family migrated to Oakland, California, as part of the second wave of the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South to the Midwest and West. The Newton family was quite poor and often relocated throughout the San Francisco Bay Area during Newton's childhood, although he said his family was close-knit, and that he never went without food and shelter as a child. Growing up in Oakland, Newton stated that he was "made to feel ashamed of being black." In his autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, he wrote,
"During those long years in Oakland public schools, I did not have one teacher who taught me anything relevant to my own life or experience. Not one instructor ever awoke in me a desire to learn more or to question or to explore the worlds of literature, science, and history. All they did was try to rob me of the sense of my own uniqueness and worth, and in the process nearly killed my urge to inquire."
Newton graduated from Oakland Technical High School, in 1959, without being able to read, although he later taught himself; The Republic by Plato was the first book he read. Newton also attended Merritt College, San Francisco Law School, and the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he earned a bachelor's degree and, later, a Ph.D. As a teenager, he was arrested several times for minor offenses, including gun possession and vandalism at age 14.
After Newton taught himself to read, he started questioning everything. In his autobiography, Newton states, "Most of all, I questioned what was happening in my own family and in the community around me." This was the start of his involvement in the civil rights movement. Newton once wrote that he began his law studies to become a better criminal, although he said that he had been a "big-time fool" for having such narrow ambitions.
As a student at Merritt College in Oakland, Newton became involved in politics in the Bay Area. He joined the Afro-American Association, became a prominent member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, Beta Tau chapter; and played a role in getting the first African-American history course adopted as part of the college's curriculum. He read the works of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Mao Zedong, Durkheim, and Che Guevara. During his time at Merritt College, Newton and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966. Based on a casual conversation, Seale became Chairman and Newton became Minister of Defense. Newton learned about black history from Donald Warden, the leader of the party, but later decided that he offered solutions that didn't work. In his autobiography,  Newton says, "The mass media, the oppressors, give him public exposure for only one reason: he will lead the people away from the truth of their situation."
The Black Panther Party was an African-American left-wing organization working for the right of self-defense for African Americans in the United States. Many of the Black Panther Party's beliefs were greatly influenced by Malcolm X, in Newton's book  "Therefore, the words on this page cannot convey the effect that Malcolm has had on the Black Panther Party, although, as far as I am concerned, the testament to his life work." The Party achieved national and international renown through their deep involvement in the Black Power movement and in politics of the 1960s and 1970s. The Party's political goals, including better housing, jobs, and education for African Americans, were documented in their Ten-Point Program. The group believed that violence - or the threat of it - might be needed to bring about social change. They sometimes made news with a show of force, as they did when they entered the California Legislature fully armed in order to protest a gun bill.
Newton adopted what he termed "revolutionary humanism". Although he had earlier visited Nation of Islam mosques, he wrote that "I have had enough of religion and could not bring myself to adopt another one. I needed a more concrete understanding of social conditions. References to God or Allah did not satisfy my stubborn thirst for answers." Later, however, he stated that "As far as I am concerned, when all of the questions are not answered, when the extraordinary is not explained, when the unknown is not known, then there is room for God because the unexplained and the unknown is God." Newton later decided to join the Church after the party disbanded during his marriage to Fredrika.
Newton would frequent pool halls, campuses, bars and other locations deep in the Black community where people gathered, to organize and recruit for the Panthers. While recruiting, Newton sought to educate those around him about the legality of self-defense. One of the reasons, he argued, why Black people continued to be oppressed was their lack of knowledge of the social institutions that could be made to work in their favor. In Newton's book Revolutionary Suicide he writes, "Before I took Criminal Evidence in school, I had no idea what my rights were." Newton also wrote in his autobiography, "I tried to transform many of the so-called criminal activities going on in the street into something political, although this had to be done gradually." He attempted to channel these "daily activities for survival" into significant community actions. Eventually, however, the illicit activities of a few members would be superimposed on the social program work performed by the Panthers, and this mischaracterization would lose them support in both the white and black communities.
Newton and the Panthers started a number of social programs in Oakland, including founding the Oakland Community School, which provided high-level education to 150 children from impoverished urban neighborhoods. Other Panther programs included the Free Breakfast for Children Program and others that offered dances for teenagers and training in martial arts. According to Oakland County Supervisor John George: "Huey could take street-gang types and give them a social consciousness".
In 1982, Newton was accused of embezzling $600,000 of state aid to the Panther-founded Oakland Community School. In the wake of the embezzlement charges, Newton disbanded the Black Panther Party. After six years, the embezzlement charges were dropped in March 1989, after Newton pleaded no contest to a single allegation of cashing a $15,000 state check for personal use. Newton was sentenced to six months in jail and 18 months probation. He had also expressed support for Palestinian independence.
Newton had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon for repeatedly stabbing another man, Odell Lee, with a steak knife in mid-1964. He served six months in prison and by October 27–28, 1967, he was out celebrating release from his probationary period. Just before dawn on October 28, Newton and a friend were pulled over by Oakland Police Department officer John Frey. Realizing who Newton was, Frey called for backup. After fellow officer Herbert Heanes arrived, shots were fired, and all three were wounded. Heanes testified that the shooting began after Newton was under arrest, and one witness testified that Newton shot Frey with Frey's own gun as they wrestled. No gun on either Frey or Newton was found. Newton stated that Frey shot him first, which made him lose consciousness during the incident. Frey was shot four times and died within the hour, while Heanes was left in serious condition with three bullet wounds. Black Panther David Hilliard took Newton to Oaklands's Kaiser Hospital, where he was admitted with a bullet wound to the abdomen. Newton was soon handcuffed to his bed and arrested for Frey's killing. Dr. Thomas Finch and nurse Corrine Leonard attended to Newton when he arrived at the hospital, and described him as 'agitated' when he was asking for treatment. Newton was convicted in September 1968 of voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Frey and was sentenced to 2 to 15 years in prison. In May 1970, the California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent trials ended in hung juries, the district attorney said he would not pursue a fourth trial, and the Alameda County Superior Court dismissed the charges. In his autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, Newton wrote that Heanes and Frey were opposite each other and shooting in each other's direction during the shootout.
In his book Shadow of the Panther, writer Hugh Pearson alleges that Newton, while intoxicated in the hours before he was shot and killed, claimed to have willfully killed John Frey. Although this claim has been repeated elsewhere based on Pearson's account, the allegation remains contentious, and has not been corroborated by others.
Relations between Newton and factions within the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) had been strained for nearly two decades. Former Black Panther members who became BGF members in prison had become disenchanted with Newton for his perceived abandonment of imprisoned Black Panther members and allegations of Newton's fratricide within the party.
On August 22, 1989, Newton was fatally shot on Center Street in the Lower Bottoms neighborhood of West Oakland by 24-year-old BGF member and drug dealer Tyrone Robinson shortly after Newton left a crack house. The murder occurred in a neighborhood where Newton, as minister of defense for the Black Panthers, once organized social programs that helped destitute African Americans. Robinson said that Newton pulled a gun when the two met at the street corner, but Oakland police officers found no evidence that Newton had been armed. Newton's last words, as he stood facing his killer, were, "You can kill my body, and you can take my life but you can never kill my soul. My soul will live forever!" Robinson then shot Newton twice in the face.
Huey Newton was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland. Tyrone Robinson was convicted of the murder in 1991. He was sentenced to a prison term of 32 years to life.