By NORMAN (OTIS) RICHMOND
Huey P. Newton was murdered 20 years ago in Oakland, California during the month of August. Because African freedom fighters like George and Jonathan Jackson and others lost their lives during this month, revolutionaries inside the California prison system have deemed it ‘Black August’.
It is August 22, 1989 at about 8:30 a.m. Gwen Johnston, the co-owner of Third World Books and Crafts (Toronto’s first African-Canadian bookstore) phones me. The news is shocking, dreadful even. Mrs. Johnston is in tears: “Otis, they have killed Huey”.
Gwen Johnston and her husband Lennie were huge supporters of Newton, the Black Panther Party and the struggle for African liberation.
When Newton returned to the United States after his exile in revolutionary Cuba in 1977 he first landed in Toronto. He was detained in Brampton, Ontario and was represented by the progressive Euro-Canadian lawyer, Paul Copeland. Toronto’s African community supported Newton and the Panthers had several chapters in this country.
Toronto’s African community was represented by Owen Sankara Leach, Lennox Farrell, the late Sharona Hall, Mitch Holder and others at the Brampton courthouse. It was covered by the Toronto dailies and was even discussed by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.
Spider Jones discussed his brief tenure with the Black Panther Party in his autobiography Out of the Darkness: The Spider Jones Story.
Another Jones, Rocky, created a Black Panther Party chapter in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Whatever his shortcomings, and there were many, Newton led many of us ideologically. For a brief moment in the history of Africans in America, Newton was” the tallest tree in the forest”.
Malcolm X was the first national leader in the African community in the United States to oppose the war in Vietnam. Dr. Martin Luther King later followed Malcolm’s lead on this issue. Newton took it to the next level. In 1970, when he was released from prison in California, his first act was to offer troops to fight in Vietnam on the side of the Vietnamese.
On August 29, 1970, Newton wrote: “In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity, the Black Panther Party hereby offers to the National Liberation Front and Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism.
“It is appropriate for the Black Panther Party to take this action at this time in recognition of the fact that your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is the American imperialist who is the leader of international bourgeois domination.”
Newton also raised the questions of the liberation of women and even gays. At that time in our history this was not fashionable.
Nationalists, Pan-Africanist and even some socialist formations did not wish to touch the hot potato of gay rights. Newton did. He was the bold one. His speech given on August 15, 1970 created a firestorm in the African liberation movement. At that time I did not support Newton’s thoughts on the issue of gays and lesbians.
Newton said: “We should be careful about using those terms that might turn our friends off. The terms ‘faggot’ and ‘punk’ should be deleted from our vocabulary and, especially, we should not attach names normally designed for homosexuals to men who are enemies of the people. Homosexuals are not enemies of the people. We should try to form a working coalition with the gay liberation and women’s liberation groups. We must always handle social forces in the most appropriate manner.”
Newton was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana on February 17, 1942.
Louisiana has always been a problem for the ruling circle in the United States. Queen Mother Moore, Alprencie “Bunchy” & Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) and Newton all hail from Louisiana. Queen Mother Moore from New Iberia, Carter from Shreveport, Geronimo from Morgan City, Imam Al-Amin from Baton Rouge and Newton from Oak Grove.
There were 74 chapters of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in Louisiana alone. In the 1950s and 1960s, the militant Deacons for Defense sprang up in the pecan state. Jesse Jackson won the primaries for the Democratic Party in 1984 and 1988. Barack Hussein Obama, a true African-American, rode a wave of Black support to victory in Louisiana.
The state has also produced its share of sell-outs, buffoons and idiots.
As we commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Black August and the 20th anniversary of Newton joining the ancestors we should remember the words of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Says Mumia: “Huey was, it must be said, no godling, no saint. He was, however, intensely human, curious, acutely brilliant, a lover of the world’s children, an implacable foe of all the world’s oppressors.”
Norman (Otis) Richmond can be contacted at: Norman.email@example.com.