Huey P. Newton: The Story of the Panthers’ Troubled Leader

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Huey P. Newton

Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, delivering a speech at Boston College on November 18, 1970

Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Who was Huey P. Newton? 

Huey Percy Newton (1942-1989) was an African-American activist famous for founding the revolutionary, militant Black Panther Party with Bobby Seale in 1966. The organization, led by Seale and Newton, served a crucial role in the Black Power movement.

We at the Zero Theft Movement are working to eradicate the rigged parts of the U.S. economy so that all Americans can thrive. Huey Newton, while a controversial and troubled figure, fought for a just cause. He recognized that the inequities against African American people was not only a social one, but also an economic one.

Early Life & Education

The youngest of seven children, Huey Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana, to Armelia Johnson and Walter Newton. The frequent violence and lynchings that had long plagued the area soon pushed the family to move to Oakland, California. Their move occurred during the early part of the Second Great Migration (1940-1970), in which African-Americans left the South en masse. 

Newton showed early signs of a rebellious streak that would later inform his activism. He often skipped school and was arrested a number of times for various criminal offences, including gun possession and vandalism. Newton’s later pursuits in and passion for formal education perhaps suggests how he had much academic potential but the public school system had failed him. 

In his autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, Newton wrote about how going through Oakland’s public school system had made him feel “uncomfortable and ashamed of being black.” He stated: “I did not have one teacher who taught me anything relevant to my own life or experience…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.”

Despite his crimes and disillusion with his schooling, he managed to graduate from Oakland Technical High School in 1959. This ‘accomplishment’ was, in reality, an indictment against the school, as Newton could not even read. 

Huey Newton’s “urge to inquire” had nearly been killed in his youth. Nearly. But somehow, his high school teachers and counselors’ lack of faith actually motivated him to prove them wrong. He taught himself to read by listening to vinyl records of actor Vincent Price reciting great poetry and connected the sounds to the words in text form.

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The Formation of the Black Panther Party

Huey Newton’s pursuit of knowledge soon led him to Merritt College, where he earned an Associate of Arts degree in 1966. It was here he met Bobby Seale, and together they formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. 

While first active in other social and political activist groups, Newton and Seale decided they needed to branch off to fight for racial justice their own way. It supposedly took only a casual conversation for the two to create the Black Panther Party, with Seale serving as the Chairman and Newton the Minister of Defense. 

A major difference between the Party and other activist groups was the former’s militant methods, which the duo modeled after Malcom X’s methods. The group believed that the social change might require violent action (or the suggestion/threat of it). A notable example of the party’s tactics emerged in May 1967, when two-dozen fully armed Black Panthers ‘invaded’ the California Legislature to oppose an anti-gun bill.

The Formation of the Black Panther Party

Source: Capitol Weekly

To properly establish the organization, Seale and Newton drafted the Black Panther 10 Point Program. It served as a manifesto. outlining the Party’s political goals and guidelines for members to follow on a daily basis.

Among the ten points, the organization sought to end the economic exploitation of Black communities and secure better housing, jobs, and education for African Americans. The Panthers started a range of educational initiatives and programs primarily targeting children. Perhaps one of their crowning achievements, the Panther-founded Oakland Community School offered a high-quality education to 150 children from impoverished urban neighborhoods.

John Frey and the “Free Huey!” Campaign

The troublemaker in Huey Newton never disappeared. But the criminal offences he’d racked up in his teens paled in comparison to his actions (some just alleged) as an adult. 

The Shooting

During his time at Merritt College, Newton served six months in prison for repeatedly stabbing a man with a steak knife in 1964. On October 28, 1967, the day after his probation period had ended, Newton found himself in trouble once more. 

Newton and his friend were out celebrating from dusk until dawn. While they were driving around in the early morning, police officer John Frey pulled over the pair. Recognizing the Black Panther Party leader, Frey called for backup, and officer Herbert Heanes responded. Shots were fired. Newton, his friend, and Heanes all suffered injuries. John Frey was dead within an hour. 

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The “Free Huey!” Campaign

The authorities arrested Newton the day of the shooting. He pled not guilty to the murder of officer John Frey. The Panthers immediately mobilized, organizing a coalition dedicated to getting Newton released and acquitted. Moved by the cause, the Peace and Freedom Party, a predominantly white anti-war political group, stepped up in support of Newton. 

In some ways, Newton’s arrest ended up benefiting the Black Panther Party considerably. A 5,000 person protest in Oakland on Newton’s birthday, for instance, attracted the attention of international news outlets and raised the organization’s profile. “Free Huey!” became a slogan, a cultural stamp printed on posters, banners, buttons, t-shirts, just about anywhere.

The “Free Huey!” Campaign

Source: Ann Arbor District Library

The trial People v. Newton started in July, and the jury ruled Newton guilty of voluntary manslaughter in September, 1968. He received a prison sentence of 2 to 15 years. The Panthers and the Peace and Freedom Party continued to publicly protest the ruling. After two appeals over two years, the California Appellate Court overturned the guilty ruling in May, 1970. 

Huey Newton, the Trouble(d) Man

Huey Newton, the Trouble(d) Man


Source: Library of Congress

While Huey Newton continued his formal education which culminated in a doctorate degree in social philosophy, trouble continued to shadow the man. 

The mid-70s saw Newton facing criminal charges for murdering a 17-year-old sex worker and attacking a tailor. He decamped to Cuba in 1974 in order to evade prosecution but came back to the U.S. in 1977. The murder case eventually got dismissed due to two trials ending in deadlocked juries, and the tailor would not testify in court vis-à-vis the assault charges. 

Newton was spiraling, writing an early death sentence. He suffered from drug and alcohol addiction and found himself behind bars for weapons possession, financial misappropriations, and parole violations. Furthermore, due to factionalism within the Black Panther Party, the organization dissolved in 1982. 

In 1989, Tyrone Robinson, a member of the narcotics prison gang known as the Black Guerilla Family, murdered the former leader of the Panthers. Robinson admitted to the crime, and received the maximum sentence of 32 years to life. He thought killing Newton would get him promoted in his gang. 

Huey Newton’s last words were, “You can kill my body, and you can take my life but you can never kill my soul. My soul will live forever!”

Where Huey Newton and the Zero Theft Movement Intersect

A troubled man with many talents, Huey Newton served an important role in forwarding the Black Power movement. While we at the Zero Theft Movement do not necessarily subscribe to the same militant tactics as the Panthers supposedly, changing the systemic inequities against African Americans perhaps necessitated radical action.

But more than anything else, what made Newton and the Panthers so formidable was all the tangible good they performed. According to a Vox article, the organization fed around 50,000 children through its Free Breakfast for Children program, as well as provided clothing, medical care, and legal aid to those in need. 

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once claimed: “without question, [the Black Panther Party] represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” That really wasn’t due to its militant bent; it’s because of all the good acts the Panthers performed to tangibly improve the lives of people in their communities. That could actually change the status quo for the better. The Panthers fought against redlining, wage inequality, and the lingering damages of slavery

Newton’s initiatives to better educate Black youth, end police brutality, and battle economic injustices remain relevant today. For the purposes of the Zero Theft Movement, the last point, in particular, directly relates to our fight to eliminate the rigged parts of the U.S. economy to allow for all American citizens to thrive. But how can you (metaphorically) fight against those who will do anything to maximize their profit?

Fight the Rigged Economy with the Zero Theft Movement

We have created an independent voting platform where you and your fellow citizens work together to calculate the most accurate estimate for the monetary costs of corruption in the United States. 

The public investigates potential problem areas, and everyone votes on whether (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas exist and start working on addressing them systematically. 

Only through hard evidence can we prove where the rigged parts of the economy exist and force Congress to hold all the bad actors accountable. 

Standard Disclaimer

The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.  

The public has spoken! See how much the rigged economy is ripping off from you…

Explore the Problem Hierarchy

We have primers on potential problem areas of the economy. Before you start voting, it’s important you get a basic understanding of the issues at hand, so you can be as helpful as possible to other community members. Take a few minutes and come prepared.

Serve your fellow citizens as a citizen investigator

The success of our movement rests in your hands, the leaders willing to dedicate time to conduct investigations into potentially rigged areas of the economy. Lead the movement and help create an ethical economy.

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Commitment to nonpartisanship

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Beyond Huey Newton…

An educated public is an empowered public. 

We regularly publish educational articles on, just like this one on Huey Newton. They teach you all about the rigged layer of the economy in short, digestible pieces.