Black Panther Party co-founder and Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton was born on this day (02/17) in 1942.
Above is a scan taken from the September 1967 issue of Ramparts magazine and below is an excerpt (it’s long, but well worth the read) from The Black Panthers (1969) by Gene Marine in which he relates a great anecdote that illustrates just how powerful the arrival of the Black Panther Party was. To set the scene just a little bit: It’s February 1967. Eldridge Cleaver, just two months out of prison, is working at Ramparts magazine, which began publishing his Soul on Ice essays while he was still locked up. Cleaver, not yet a Black Panther, is a part of an organization which is hosting Malcolm X’s widow Betty Shabazz for a series of Bay Area speaking engagements surrounding the second anniversary of Malcolm’s assassination. The newly formed, but already notorious, Black Panther Party for Self Defense is hired to provide security for Mrs. Shabazz while she is in the Bay Area.
…it was at a meeting of the planning committee that Cleaver discovered the Black Panthers, only a few months after their formation. Newton and the others entered the storefront meeting place while Cleaver’s back was turned; he recalls the moment:
“From the tension showing on the faces of the people before me, I thought the cops were invading the meeting, but there was a deep female gleam leaping out of one of the women’s eyes that no cop who ever lived could elicit. I recognized that gleam out of the recesses of my soul, even though I had never seen it before in my life: the total admiration of a black woman for a black man. I spun ‘round in my seat and saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen: four black men wearing black berets, powder-blue shirts, black leather jackets, black trousers, shiny black shoes—and each with a gun! In front was Huey P. Newton with a riot pump shotgun in his right hand, barrel pointed down to the floor. Beside him was Bobby Seale, the handle of a .45-caliber automatic showing from its holster on his right hip, just below the hem of his jacket. A few steps behind Seale was Bobby Hutton, the barrel of his shotgun at his feet. Next to him was Sherwin Forte, an M-1 carbine with a banana clip cradled in his arms…Where was my mind at? Blown!”
As it turned out, the Panthers accepted responsibility for Mrs. Shabazz’s security during her visit to the Bay Area (there was some fear that she, too, might be assassinated). It led to a scene in San Francisco as strange as the one that had taken place outside Panther headquarters in Oakland—stranger, perhaps, for it took place not in a ghetto but in busy North Beach, alongside a freeway onramp, with television cameras on hand and a startled audience of passing commuters.
Hakim Jamal, a cousin by marriage to Malcolm X, had called Eldridge Cleaver at Ramparts to say that Mrs. Shabazz had read and liked an article and that she wanted to visit him; they agreed that she would come to the Ramparts office. I was there the day she arrived, and once the fear passed (I was convinced that one of the angry policemen on the scene would do something stupid, despite the obvious discipline of the Panthers), my mind, too, was blown.
What had happened, simply, was that about twenty Panthers, all armed, had escorted Jamal and Mrs. Shabazz from the airport to Ramparts. Airport police had challenged the Panthers, but had agreed that there was nothing illegal about their carrying loaded weapons; they did, however, call the San Francisco police, who arrived at Ramparts a few minutes after the Panthers.
While Cleaver talked with Jamal and Mrs. Shabazz, most of the Panthers stayed outside or just inside the lobby. Panthers, cops, outside newsmen, and Ramparts staffers made for an enormous traffic jam, but editor Warren Hinckle III kept insisting to the lieutenant in charge of the police that nothing was wrong, which made the lieutenant furious, and there were no incidents while the visitors were there, except that two of the younger staffers tossed out a television cameraman who forced his way into the office and refused to leave.
When the visit was completed, Newton, who had been outside Cleaver’s office, appeared in the lobby, sent five Panthers to clear a path through the crowd, surrounded Mrs. Shabazz and Jamal with ten more Panthers in a knot and rushed them into a car, and then, with Seale and three others, brought up the rear. The same television cameraman was taking pictures, and Newton held an envelope over the lens; the cameraman called him a name and knocked the envelope away with his fist. Newton turned to the nearest policeman.
“Officer, I want you to arrest this man for assault.”
The cop gaped. “If I arrest anyone, it’ll be you,” he finally shouted. Huey put the envelope up again, the cameraman knocked it away again, and Huey grabbed the cameraman’s collar and shoved him fifteen feet down the hill.
The cops spread out and poised, but otherwise did not move as the Panthers started for their car. Huey instructed the others not to turn their backs on the policemen; the order made one of them even angrier, and I, at least, thought the moment I feared had come when I saw him snap the cover open on his holster, and saw Huey spin to face him.
They stood for a moment until the cop said huskily, “Don’t point that gun at me!”
Newton, the barrel of his shotgun pointed, as it had been, at the sidewalk, asked him, “You want to draw your gun?”
Those of us who might be in the way got out of the way, police included; another cop said, “Take it easy, take it easy”—to his partner, not to Newton.
“Okay, you big fat racist pig,” Newton said deliberately, “draw your gun.”
They stood for another moment, Seale calling to Newton to leave while the other police called to their fellow to let the moment go. Then the policeman dropped his hands carefully to his sides and lowered his head. Newton laughed, turned his back, and walked to the car.
“Goddamn,” said Eldridge Cleaver, who was standing on the steps outside the Ramparts office, “that nigger is crazy!”
Later he wrote:
“The quality in Huey P. Newton’s character which I had seen that morning in front of Ramparts and which I was to see demonstrated over and over again after I joined the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was courage. I had called it ‘crazy,’ as people often do to explain away things they do not understand. I don’t mean the courage to stand up and be counted, or even the courage it takes to face certain death. I speak of that revolutionary courage it takes to pick up a gun with which to oppose the oppressor of one’s people. That’s a different kind of courage.”
280 Notes/ Hide
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