Huey P. Newton Honored With Statue Commemorating the 55th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party

A bust of Black Panther Party's co-founder Huey Newton, sculpted by Dana King, sits at The Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, California. It's the first piece in Oakland's first ever permanent public art piece honoring the Black Panther Party, which was founded 55 years ago. Image: Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Huey P. Newton, the revolutionary co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was honored with a bronze bust to commemorate the party’s 55th anniversary, the Associated Press reports.

The unveiling of the bust took place on Sunday at Dr. Huey P. Newton Way and Mandela Parkway, near the very spot where Newton was murdered in 1989. According to ABC 7, the statue is the first permanent art display to honor the Black Panther Party in Oakland.

“I’ve created him to bring him home to West Oakland,” said sculptor Dana King.

“The reason he’s looking up and out is because he was a visionary; he saw into the future,” she added. “There’s been so much misinformation, propaganda about the Panthers that’s harmful. The story that exists about the Panthers is wrong.”

“Huey was maybe the only man I’ve ever known that was a truly free man,” Melvin Newton, his older brother, said. “He was universal. He felt that no one could be on his back if he stood up. And he always stood ramrod straight.”

The Panthers were pioneers in sickle cell testing in the Black community. The party also developed a free breakfast program that fed thousands of hungry youth, which would be the model for the federal government’s free and reduced meals plan at public schools. Also, the party instituted services such as clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, lessons on self-defense and first aid, transportation to upstate prisons for family members of inmates, an emergency-response ambulance program, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

After meeting Bobby Seale at Merritt College in 1962, Newton co-founded the Black Panther Party (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) in 1966 as a response to police brutality, economic, and racial injustice. Newton, the minister for defense, and Seale, the chairman, were at odds with the tenets of the Southern-based civil rights movement that was led by Dr. Martin Luther King. They believed the tenets failed to address the social realities of Black people in the North and West.

Newton and Seale wrote the party’s Ten-Point Program, a document that detailed their party’s belief system and its demands. 

Although Newton graduated from high school without knowing how to read, he taught himself literacy by reading Plato’s Republic,and eventually earnied a Ph.D. in social philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz’s History of Consciousness program in 1980.

In 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover characterized the Black Panther Party as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” He launched the COINTELPRO to infiltrate and dismantle the party. In 1980 after years of FBI surveillance and internal disagreements, the Black Panther Party dissolved.

Robert W. Widell, Jr., a historian who as a graduate student helped catalog the collection of Newton’s writings at Stanford University, said Newton was not naturally drawn to the spotlight as a leader.

“But I don’t know that that was his natural inclination, personality-wise. He was more of a theoretician,” he added. “And I think he was pretty surprised at how rapidly [the Panthers] grew in exposure, whether it was fame or infamy.”

Fredrika Newton, Huey’s widow, said that the bust celebrates someone whose life and contributions to American history mean much more than his struggles.

“I would like for people to see him as a total human being,” said his widow, a co-founder of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation. “That he wasn’t just an iconic figure in a wicker chair. This was a man with vulnerabilities, with feelings, with insecurities, with frailties, just like anybody.”

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