Download a collection of essays from the Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton in .pdf format
Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) Born in Monroe, Louisiana. In 1945 his family settled in Oakland, California, where the boy was raised. During his youth, Newton fought frequently; in classrooms he fought with schoolteachers who tried to impose discipline on him, and on the streets he fought with other youngsters to establish a reputation for toughness. He fought, in part, because of derogatory chants that his peers made up from the initial of his middle name (“Huey P. goes wee, wee, wee”), and because of insults centering around his baby-faced good looks. Tongue-tied, with a high-pitched voice that would accompany him into manhood, Newton was not skilled at “capping”—the ghetto ritual of verbal duels. (“Motorcycle, motorcycle, going so fast / You momma’s got a pu**y like a bulldog’s ass.”) Rather, violence was the language with which he grew up feeling most comfortable.
As a teenager and into his twenties, Newton worked as a pimp, strong-armed the weak, pulled off armed robberies, and ran short-change scams. He burglarized homes in the Berkeley hills and commonly loitered near the emergency entrances of hospitals, where he stole valuables from the cars of people rushing in on desperate errands. Later on, Newton discovered a rationale for what had always come to him naturally, when, in his desultory reading, he came across a phrase from the French socialist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: “Property is theft.” The corollary, very much a Sixties construct, followed easily for Newton: “I felt that white people were criminals because they plundered the world…. To take what the white criminals called theirs gave me a feeling of real freedom.”
In October 1967, Newton shot and killed Oakland police officer John Frey. The facts of the case were beyond dispute: Newton was present at the scene of the crime (and had threatened to kill a policeman in the past), the physical and forensic evidence was compelling, and there was even a black eyewitness to the shooting. But Newton’s attorney, Charles Garry, alleged that because the American justice system, from the police through the courts, was thoroughly infested with racism, it would be impossible for a young black man like Newton to get a fair trial anywhere in the country. “The system,” Garry claimed, was responsible for putting so many innocent black males in jeopardy.
Chronically out of money, Newton spent his last days stalking dope, either cadging it or, when that failed, “jacking” the small-time dealers awed by his reputation. (“Don’t you know who I am? I’m Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party!”) He talked constantly about death, which he called the “Big Boss.”
On August 22, 1989, a destitute, perpetually stoned, Newton was murdered by a black drug dealer whom he had failed to pay. As his body was laid to rest amid eulogies by Elaine Brown, Bobby Seale, and others who had conspired with Newton and learned to fear him, the 2,000 or so Bay Area radicals and Oakland blacks who had come to mourn him shouted, “Huey Is Free!”