Chapter 1: ‘Huey and Bobby’

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, the founders of the Black Panther Party, met in 1962 as students at Merritt College — a public community college in Oakland, Ca. They encountered each other at a rally at the college “opposing the U.S. blockade of Cuba,” the authors note on page 21. 

In 1958, the United States basically declared that it would not sale weapons to Cuba while the country was under the regime of the dictator Fulgencio Batista. After Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959, the U.S. declared that it would no longer ship most exports to Cuba, which under Castro had transferred American-owned oil refineries to Cuban ownership (a process called nationalization).

Huey and Bobby joined the Afro-American Association, a Black student group at the college. While members of the group, the young men would read Black authors like W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Booker T. Washington and Ralph Ellison. They also seriously engaged with the Black nationalist ideas of Malcolm X, whose assassination on Feb. 21, 1965 enraged Bobby.

Like Malcolm and Fidel, Huey and Bobby were in favor of Black and brown people being economically self-sufficient and no longer dependent on U.S. imperialism for material survival.

Contrast the Northern, working-class, relatively impoverished upbringings of activists like Bobby, Newton and Malcolm with the Southern, middle-class and relatively comfortable upbringings of activists like Martin.

The difference between Malcolm’s ballot or the bullet political rhetoric (see page 27) and Martin’s political rhetoric of Ghandian non-violence boils down, in many respects, to economics. Malcom, a reformed hustler, speaks the lingo of the Northern ghettos. Martin doesn’t.

Another important difference between Civil Rights leaders like Malcolm and Black Power leaders like Bobby and Huey is that Bobby and Huey opposed the War in Vietnam and other acts of U.S. imperialism from the very beginning of their activist careers. Martin would eventually oppose the war, but only later in his evolution as a political and economic radical.

The Panthers also very swiftly identified that the Cold War had less to do with the United States spreading democracy across the world than with the United States attempting to establish economic and military dominance over third-world people, who were predominantly Black and Brown. Southern Civil Rights leaders were not nearly as vocal in their opposition to the Vietnam War (if they were opposed at all).

Guiding questions 

  1. Explain how the Black Panther Party logo symbolizes the party’s philosophy ?
  2. After wracking his brain, what solution does Huey Newton finally hit upon for organizing “the brothers on the block”?
  3. Who are some of the key people responsible for helping the Panthers develop their “language of the gun”?

Further Reading 

  • Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide (New York: Writers and Readers, 1995)]
  • David Hilliard and Lewis Cole, This Side of Glory: The Autobiography of David Hilliard and the Story of the Black Panthers (New York: Little, Brown, 1993)
  • Bobby Seale, Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (1971; repri. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1990).
  • Penny Von Eschen, Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism 1937-1957 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).
  • Robert F. Williams, Negroes with Guns (New York: Marzani & Munsell, 1962).

Featured image: A black-and-white photograph of Huey Newton (left) and Bobby Seale in Newton’s apartment in Oakland, California. | By Stephen Shames/Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture  

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