UPDATED: 7:00 a.m. ET, Aug. 22, 2021
The life of activist and Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton came to a tragic end 32 years ago on this day at the hands of a member of a similar Black Nationalist organization who considered him an enemy. Newton was said to have fallen on hard times after his ascent to the top of the Panthers’ ranks alongside Bobby Seale, but other details surrounding his death remain murky.
Huey Newton, 47 at the time, was found on an Oakland street lying in blood. He was shot in the same neighborhood where Black Panther members would work with area churches to serve free breakfast to young people. It took Oakland authorities three days to garner a confession from 24-year-old Tyrone Robinson, a drug dealer and member of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) group that warred with Newton and the Panthers for two decades.
Originally, Oakland police said that drugs were not a part of the reason for Newton’s shooting. After Robinson confessed that the shooting was a result of a cocaine deal gone wrong, though, there was some speculation from investigators that Newton stole drugs from the BGF. The same detectives also determined that Newton was unarmed at the time of his shooting.
Newton’s death was especially jarring because his death on a drug-ridden street corner in Oakland occurred just nine years after the vaunted Black leader would earn a Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz. While critics — particularly those on the tight who opposed the left-wing Panthers — lambasted Newton for falling into the trap of drugs and crime, he did help to introduce Oakland youth to the notion that being African American was a thing of value.
Co-founding The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (later shortened to The Black Panther Party) with Bobby Seale in 1966, Newton and his compatriots were known for their strong leftist politics, all-black garb and sound intellectual debate. Beyond the activism and fight for equality for African-Americans, the Panthers also started “survival programs” designed to assist the less fortunate such as meal programs, self-defense classes, medical clinics and first aid. The original Black Panthers would largely dissolve the organization in 1982.
No, Huey P. Newton was not perfect by his own admission, but the positive points of his legacy still and should always remain intact.
Rest in Peace, Brother Newton.