Twenty-six years ago today, Huey P. Newton – revolutionary, agitator, rhetorician, co-founder and Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party – was shot and killed when a drug deal went wrong. He was forty-seven years old. After his glory years in the 1960s during which time Newton was the leading voice in the Panthers’ crusade to establish equality for black Americans through militant organisation and community programs, the subsequent slog, drudgery and cultural disintegration of the 70s and 80s saw Newton drifting into the very downward spiral against which he’d so long railed. Ironically, his murderer, a young dealer named Tyrone Robinson, had once been a recipient of the “Free Breakfast”, one of the many initiatives that Newton had set up in his hometown of Oakland, California to improve life for the poor blacks of his community. As the crack-addicted Newton stared into the barrel that would soon fire three bullets into his face, he said to his killer: “You can kill my body, but you can’t kill my soul. My soul will live forever.”
Here’s the NY Times article from August 23, 1989:
Huey P. Newton, a co-founder of the Black Panther Party and a leader of a generation of blacks in the 1960’s, was shot to death early today in the neighborhood where he began his organizing.
His body was found lying in a pool of blood on a street in an Oakland neighborhood where residents say they fear they are losing the fight against drug dealing and poverty.
Dr. Newton, who earned a Ph.D. in social philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980, was shot several times, at least once in the head, said Officer Terry Foley of the Oakland Police Department.
The shooting was reported to the police at 5:29 A.M. The 47-year-old Dr. Newton was taken to Highland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead less than an hour later.
At a news conference this afternoon, Lieut. Mike Sims said there were no suspects and no apparent motive.
Dr. Newton, who founded the Black Panther Party with Bobby Seale, became one of the most charismatic symbols of black anger in the late 1960’s. After his conviction in 1967 in the death of an Oakland police officer, radicals and many college students took up the rallying cry ”Free Huey.” At the same time, Dr. Newton and the Black Panthers were accused of being controlled by the Communist Party and were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In recent years Dr. Newton continued to face numerous legal charges, served time in jail and fought to rehabilitate himself from alcohol and drug abuse.
Police investigators said today that there was no evidence that his killing was related to drugs. Where His Work Began
Residents of the neighborhood where Dr. Newton was killed said he began his work with the Black Panthers in the same area, working with churches to serve free breakfasts to youngsters.
One man, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said: ”He knew everybody down here. This area is part of his roots. This area is where he came up.”
Fred DePalm, who was awakened by the shooting this morning, said: ”To us, Huey Newton was a hero. The Black Panthers were a thing to identify with along with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.”
Mr. DePalm’s sister, Audrey, said she recognized news photographs of Dr. Newton as a man she had seen recently in the neighborhood, which is two blocks from the west Oakland subway station and is marked by abandoned buildings and rundown homes with broken windows.
Charles Garry, who was Dr. Newton’s lawyer for many years and who defended him in the case of the slain Oakland officer, hailed Dr. Newton as the founder of ”the renaissance of the black liberation movement.”
Mr. Garry said he never saw a violent side to Newton. A Change in Personality
”I saw a very sweet side, a humane side, a dignified side, a man who was theoretically in favor of a better world.”
But Mr. Garry said that Dr. Newton became paranoid and that his personality changed years ago when he became a target of the F.B.I., whose agents tried to infiltrate and disrupt the Black Panthers.
”They destroyed him over 10 years ago,” Mr. Garry said. ”To me, Huey died 10 years ago.”
But law-enforcement officers said they saw a much more lawless side. Dr. Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of the Oakland officer and served two years in prison before the case was overturned on appeal. The second and third trials in the case ended in hung juries.
In 1987, he served nine months in San Quentin Prison on a handgun possession charge dating from the late 1970’s. And in March he pleaded no contest to misappropriating $15,000 in public funds earmarked for a community school the party ran in the early 1980’s. After being granted parole on the weapons conviction, he returned to prison twice on parole violatons.