By JR Valrey
Most of the United States’ population is tired of the corporate puppet show aka US Elections, and is beginning to realize that no matter who is in office, the government has, and had for centuries, an agenda to oppress low income Black people in this capitalist country; as we can see with police terror aimed at us, a lack of universal healthcare, lack of low income housing, hardly any assistance with educating Black children during Covid, the ever expanding prison population, discriminatory loan practices, and more.
Mainstream media will tell us that we are free, because Trump is gone, and “Jim Crow” Joe Biden and Kamala “Hang’em High” Harris is in the White House, but until we have the infrastructure, capacity, political education, and will to do for ourselves, we will not see any significant progress in our communities within this nation. And that’s what history teaches us, no matter who is in office.
My mother, grandmother, uncles, and family talk of a glorious time in Oakland, where the Panthers had common, everyday people believing in themselves, building institutions and programs and fighting for a revolutionary cause, relentlessly by any means, to better the conditions of Black people locally, and throughout the world.
Huey P. Newton was one of the major leaders and architects of this cultural and political phenomenon and movement, in the area, nationally, and internationally. He was the co-founder, the theoretician, and the Minister of Defense for the Black Panther Party. Huey’s intellect, his militancy, his politics, his philosophies and more have been studied, meticulously, in many books and documentaries, and deserves more study, but his intimate life with his wife has never been talked about, thoroughly, which is a very important missing piece of the man.
In this segment I discuss with his wife and widow, Mrs. Fredrika Newton, the president of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, her observations on how the world looked at Huey when he was alive, and how he would have responded to his iconic status in the Black revolutionary community within this country, today. We also discuss the creation of Dr. Huey P. Newton Way in West Oakland, and the fundraising surrounding the creation of a bust to commemorate the Black Panther leader, near where he took his last breath.
JR Valrey: For the people not alive in that era, or who were not around, who was Huey P. Newton to Oakland, and what was it like walking down the street with him?
Fredrika Newton: Huey was Oakland’s native child, native son. It would be a difference in between the way women would embrace him, particularly older women and men. I’m talking about Black men and Black women. Women tended to be motherly, like maternal, like “Boy, what are you doing down here?”. I remember one time, he was looking for a building that was no longer there. “Now you know the PG&E building is not here anymore,” that’s how an older Black woman might talk to him. And men talked to him with reverence and respect. So Oakland loved him. And you could see it now. It’s kind of different now because of how history, in spite of all that you have read, where people try to reduce him to the lowest common denominator.
People were grateful for his courage, and his willingness to die for his people; put his life on the line…the sacrifices he made. So I think Oakland took care of Huey; (people) from all walks of life. I would be walking down the street, and literally it would be from all walks of life, (that) acknowledged him and loved him. And you saw it when he died, we had no money. I was taking care of foster children. We were. So when he died, we had no money, and it was the people that took care of that funeral. I got letters, cards, and checks for $7. I have all of those, still; all of those letters and notes. Love notes, I call them; and poems. How they came out when he died, was really a good example of how they loved him, when he was alive. And now, you see it so much on merchandise and the way that he is referenced, and revered. I wish he was around to see it, really.
JR Valrey: How do you think he would have responded?
Fredrika Newton: A little sheepish. He had this goofy laugh, you know. Sheepish. I think he would have really liked it though. I think he would. When I go online each day, and I see it on Instagram where people are quoting him, referencing him with so much respect, and love, he would have seen that he didn’t outlive his usefulness, which some times that he thought that he did.
JR Valrey: Wow. Huey Newton felt like he outlived his usefulness?
Fredrika Newton: It’s because the Party had ended, and he hadn’t found his way.
JR Valrey: Maybe this is naive with me being younger, but after you give so much do you have to give more?
Fredrika Newton: That’s a good question. And then you have for those…much has been received, so much is expected. I think that he might have fought with those kinds of demons. Like I want to live a normal life, yet so much has been expected of me.
JR Valrey: I don’t think that I ever told you this story, but when I became politically conscious was when Huey Newton was murdered. We were watching television. I was 11 years old. And my grandmother walked right by the television, stopped, and looked and said that the white news was lying. That’s our guy. We stand with the Panthers. We stand with Huey P. Newton. Don’t believe anything that they have to say about that man. Then I became a political animal, but it was that moment when he was murdered that actually sparked my political consciousness; and my grandmother just walking by the television telling us, “don’t worry about none of that, we are with him”, that’s my connection to that moment.
Fredrika Newton: That gives me chills.
JR Valrey: I have known you for a long time but it’s still always been an honor just because I have read about and heard the stories of what y’all have been through as a family, and what Huey and the Party went through…And you were a couple still having to battle Cointelpro. Now that we are in 2020, we finally have murals, with only one in West Oakland. What do you think about that? With all the love that Huey P. Newton had, why do you think that it took so long for us to make sure that our local (and international) icon is recognized?
Fredrika Newton: I think that people had to heal. I think that there is nothing about that Black Panther Party history that is light. Just as Party members had to heal, Huey grew up here. This was his family. And I think that there was a lot of trauma associated with that, I don’t know. I read something that it takes 50 years for members of organizations to come back and see things objectively; particularly when you have been subjected to the trauma of the times. That’s why you always see 50 year anniversaries, and 50 year retrospectives, because it seems to take that amount of time before people can regroup and have some perspective. And I don’t think anything is different around this Black Panther Party particularly here, in its birthplace. So, it took me that long. I mean it took me a long time, you know, to come and talk about this stuff. It is very, very painful. None of it is light. None of it is easy to talk about. So I am glad that it is happening, and now the city is even embracing it. For whatever reason, you have city council people fighting to get this monument built. Actually the mayor was one of the first people to write a recommendation early on, when we were trying to get it to be a national historical monument, when Obama was still in office, but we were too late to get it through. The mayor was the first letter that we received in support of it. So we haven’t just started this whole movement to get a Black Panther Party monument built, and an acknowledgement of Huey on the street where he was murdered, but now it just seems to be the right time. It’s just kind of this groundswell of support, and we’re riding the tide on that.
It’s a beautiful monument. And you see that mural (Huey in West Oakland), it has not been defaced. Nobody has graffitied over it, or tagged it or anything, and I think that that itself is testimony to the impact of that man and that organization.
JR Valrey: Can you speak to the process? I know that we have Huey Street coming, we have a statue coming, can you tell us how all of that came to be, what did the Huey P. Newton Foundation help to do to get us right here, and where are we?
Fredrika Newton: Well actually, that was a trifecta of women, in that moment on what is going to be the Dr. Huey P. Newton Way. It already is, we’re just waiting for the street signs to be made. I’ve gone down to that street many times, and was just dismayed that there was no marker there to show where Huey had taken his last breath.
There was a woman across the street, who I had gone and talked to years ago, her name is Jilchristina, because I wanted to know if she knew about any of the history there. Did anyone see Huey that night? What happened? Or could you point me in the direction of somebody who might know.
It turns out that she was outside. She was having a mural put on the side of her house; painted commemorating the women in the Black Panther Party, and Sandra Bland. And right across the street, there were these people that owned their home that were doing this whole mural on the side of a long fence. So I said, “I just got to get a plaque here. It is just time”. And I left there and I called Dana, Dana King. I said “Dana, can you meet me down here.”
By this time there were about 7 women, and we were all standing on the corner of the block. And we’re all talking about it. I said, “let me lead. I know there is somebody that can do this mural.” I went by the Crucible, and I said nah. Let me call Dana. Dana met me down there that evening, and we went from a plaque, to a standing plaque, to a bronze bust, to a bigger bust, on the corner of Mandela and Dr. Huey P. Newton Way.
This was in the course of 24 hours, then everything started rolling. We got the name changed, and that happened within two weeks. We went to the City Council. And Dana’s on board, and she started creating, now we’re raising the funds for that piece along with that, we have been navigating for the last 7 or 8 months with the city, to get a piece placed at the foot of the Alameda (County) Courthouse, which is the place where the Free Huey movement was, and a big public art piece to commemorate the legacy of the Black Panther Party, and that’s going to be an international event. We have already had internationally acclaimed artists that have responded to the call. So it’s a slow process going through the city, but really when we look back on it, it’s been pretty quick. So we’re waiting for the city, Lynette McElhaney, and her chief of staff Bridget, who should run for president, because she is amazing, are on our team for getting this stuff moving.
JR Valrey: So if people would like to support where could they go?
Fredricka Newton: They could go to Hueypnewtonfoundation.org, or they could go to our Instagram page Huey P. Newton Foundation. We’re going to start a go-fund me. Next week, we will be doing a lot of social media to raise this money. For the bust, we’re trying to raise, which is what we are aggressively seeking money for right now, it’s $100,000. That includes the creation of the bust, and a plan to maintain it, so it doesn’t get destroyed, in perpetuity. We have to raise $5 million for the next segment of this, the Black Panther Party legacy memorial, and our ultimate goal is to get a museum here; a Black Power Museum for the People. So we’re taking it step by step. We’re going to get this $100,000 first, for this piece.
JR Valrey: Well thank you, Mrs. Newton for your time, and your recollections, your love. You are appreciated. This has been very eye opening for me and I appreciate it.
Fredrika Newton: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share what we’re doing because we’re very excited about it, and if there is anything else I could do, just let me know. Much love to you