July 28, 1968 – Oakland, California, USA: Kathleen Cleaver, communications secretary and the first female member of the Party’s decision-making Central Committee, talks with Black Panthers from Los Angeles who came to the Free Huey rally in Bobby Hutton Park (named by the Panthers Bobby Hutton Park) in West Oakland (Stephen Shames/Polaris)
On October 28, 1967, Oakland police officer John Frey was shot to death in an altercation with Huey P. Newton during a traffic stop. In the stop, Newton and backup officer Herbert Heanes also suffered gunshot wounds. Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter at trial, but the conviction was later overturned. At the time, Newton claimed that he had been falsely accused, leading to the “Free Huey” campaign. This incident gained the party even wider recognition by the radical American left. Newton was released after three years, when his conviction was reversed on appeal.
As Newton awaited trial, the Black Panther Party’s “Free Huey” campaign developed alliances with numerous individuals, students and anti-war activists, “advancing an anti-imperialist political ideology that linked the oppression of antiwar protestors to the oppression of Black people and Vietnamese”.The “Free Huey” campaign attracted Black power organizations, New Left groups, and other activist groups. The Black Panther Party collaborated with the Peace and Freedom Party, which sought to promote a strong antiwar and antiracist politics in opposition to the establishment democratic party. The Black Panther Party provided needed legitimacy to the Peace and Freedom Party’s racial politics and in return received invaluable support for the “Free Huey” campaign.
The Black Panther Party was one of the most influential responses to racism and inequality in American history. The Panthers advocated armed self-defense to counter police brutality, and initiated a program of patrolling the police with guns and law books. Their enduring legacy is their programs, like Free Breakfast program and their defense of political prisoners.