Black Panther Party co-founder Dr. Huey Newton murdered 31 years ago

Long before Black Lives Matter there was the Black Panther Party founded in Oakland, California in 1966.

The Black Panthers served as a political organization and community leader.

Because of its success it ran afoul of law enforcement which brought the full weight of the government upon the Black Panther Party in an effort to destroy the organization, imprison and kill its leaders.

Dr. Huey Newton was a primary target.

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Dr. Huey Newton shows the clenched fist (Circa late 1960’s)

Tyrone Robinson, a member of rival Black activist group Black Guerrilla Family and a local drug dealer, shot Black Panther party co-founder Dr. Huey Newton twice in the face on August 22, 1989. Robinson later confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.

REPRINT New York Times 8.23.1989

Dr. 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 in the morning on August 22, 1989 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.”

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Bobby Seale and Huey Newton (circa late 1960’s)

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.

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.”

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.

”I saw a very sweet side, a humane side, a dignified side, a man who was theoretically in favor of a better world.”

Charles 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.

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”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.

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Charles Garry seated left of Huey Newton

Black Power VII 11.8.2019

Photo – Liz Heidhues

Artwork – “Soul of a Nation.” De Young Museum San Francisco 11.8.2019