The Black Panthers

The Black Panther Party For Self-Defense was formed in 1966 by Huey P Newton and Bobby Seale disenchanted by the fact that most self proclaimed revolutionary groups simply spent most of their time theorizing rather than putting ideas into practice. The party first came to prominence with their armed Police Patrols, which were established in order to ensure that the racist pigs were not harassing the people within their communities and therefore raise the consciousness of the people. This for many people is the image that springs to mind whenever the Panthers are mentioned, but their legacy stretches further than that to the point where their Breakfast For Children Program is part of the fabric of US School System and the Party's Sickle Cell Anaemia Research Foundation inspired the federal government's initial funding of sickle cell research

As part of Black History Month, Designer Magazine spoke to David Hilliard and Fredrika Newton who formed the Huey P Newton Foundation in 1993, an organization which aims to provide an accurate history of the Black Panthers. David Hilliard is the former Black Panther Party Chief Of Staff, while Fredrika Newton joined the party as a youth member in 1969, married Huey in 1981 and remained with him till his death in 1989. What this interview tries to do is provide an introduction to the Panthers and shows is that their legacy is more relevant than ever in today's society and this generation.

Q: If we could start by telling our readers what the Huey P Newton Foundation does on a daily basis and how this is related back to the original Black Panther Party?
Fredrika: We are actually an information based foundation. We continue to provide the accurate history of the Black Panther Party through archives and our web site. We do bus tours which show 18 historical sites that were very important in the history of the Black we take people on tours to the actual sites of the first Breakfast for Children Program, the site of  where the Black Panthers started, Bobby Seale's home, Huey Newton's home and sites like that which were very important to the party.

We also have a speaking bureau where we go out and try and keep the history pure and try and provide that to the public. We've been instrumental in publishing the book by Huey Newton and David Hilliard and have self published a pictorial essay on the history of the Black Panther Party.

Q: When I was at school the issue of slavery was brushed over in one lesson and the Black Panthers were not even mentioned. Obviously there are differences between the UK and the US, but I guess the history of the Black Panthers is something that isn't told is regular education?
Fredrika: Not at all, so we've tried to incorporate that history in the text of California History Books. It's been an uphill battle because we do this on our own and we aren't funded by grant sources. We haven't been embraced by the city, but this is still our life work. The history lessons that you got in the UK were not much different from the history lessons the children get here which is quite disturbing. This is what we attempt to address with the foundation.

Q: I think one of the main misconceptions people have about the Black Panthers is that they were anti-white as opposed to against the actual racists people in authority who blatantly discriminated. For those people who don't know a great deal about the Panthers and only have heard stories passed down from previous generations could you state clearly the Panthers point of view on the subject?
Fredrika: If you have access to the history you would see that we worked in coalition with Brown people, Asian people, White people and it was not a racist organization at all. We were one of the only organizations that came out in support of gays, if not the only. So if you have access to the history then you know that, but people haven't because they're not being taught about the Panthers in schools.

David: No doubt that in the formative stages of our Black Panther Party there were a lot of difficulties especially in the area of working with the Gay Rights movement because nobody else from the Civil Rights movement would touch those issues. We were the first to embrace a working relationship with the Gay Rights Movement, Lesbian and Women's Rights Movement - the Panthers were pioneers in doing this in 1969 and 1970. The Panthers were always in the Vanguard and forging new directions and setting the standard. That is the model. That's what Panthers represent. We were a Vanguard Movement. A Revolutionary Movement.

Q: When you actually read the writing of Huey Newton and the ideas behind the Panthers you can actually see how they relate to the Anti-War movement in today's society. Would you agree?
David: If you look at the Anti-War movement. We were the first from the Left and the African American community that totally embraces the Anti Vietnam War. I was one of the Chief Spokespersons and Representatives in the largest demonstrations in California thus far. 250,000 par in 1969 to oppose the War in Vietnam.

We were a global movement and had an International Section in Algeria and we were working with them in collaboration with all the liberation movements in the world. The issues of raising your profile with the police, the issues of prison, the issues of Gay and Women Rights. All those issues the Black Panther Party were at the spearhead of and at the forefront of and a lot of those issues are right back here now in the Anti-War movement. I think you had 400,000 people in London recently opposing the war direct and a lot of this stuff is coming back to haunt America.

This generation can gain a lot of important messages by looking at our Black Panther Party and hopefully that's is what they'll get out of this interview.

Q: Huey's theory on Intercommunalism is so relevant to today especially when you look at George W Bush and the American Military putting Joint Vision 2020 into place as we speak.
David: No doubt. Huey's vision was absolutely amazing that this man over 20 years ago prophesied exactly what is happening now with America being the Empire who is trying to assert control and have a strong hold on all of the world resources. After all this what this is about...they've become the policemen of the world...and that is what Huey Newton talked about that in his Intercommunalism.

As you said earlier people can read and come into contact with all of these concepts in his new book "The Huey Newton Reader" which Fredrika and I have just commissioned and edited. That's an important book for this generation to read and use as a sort of benchmark for how to go forward in meeting today's challenges.

Q: What do you think of the current situation in Zimbabwe?
David: I think that opposition has always been a progressive position and that white's are not our enemy - that they are progressive whites. African regimes can be as oppressive as people in Bosnia or any other oppressive country regardless of what colour they are.

We never identified with people because of the colour of their skin, we we against all oppression. We didn't support Idi Amin or Papa Duvalier - we don't support any form of oppression and never have. We were against Oppression and Oppressors of all races and creed...we don't care what colour they are - we hate oppression!!!

Q: You said earlier that the Black Panthers were always forging new directions and in 2003 alongside the traditional education sources that the Foundation offers there is also a hip hop group known as The Black Panther Fugitives. Could you tell us a little about them?
David: All of these people - Dead Prez, Public Enemy, Afrika Bambataa - were always romanticizing the Panthers so they're all very routed in our Black Panther History. Our group is used again as a vehicle to carry ideas forward to a new generation using this new rap genre as a medium to do that. So we combine politics and arts as we've always done, in the 60s we used to do the same thing. Now we have this new rap group that were using to address the issues of the war, prisons and education and our group is called the Black Panther Fugitives.

Q: What do you think of Eminem being the internationally recognized voice of hip hop?
David: I just hope that Eminem's message will become more consciousness raising and have a lot more that's responsible, a lot more social relevance to his lyricism. Certainly he's in a position to help make hip hop relevant and get it away from this misogynist gang violent image that is so much associated with the art form. So he's in a position to change things, but he needs education himseld and some new ideas. Our Black Panther Party archives is a place to start and read our books and listen to our Black Panther Fugitives.

I think we understand that someone like Will Smith is involved in the entertainment industry and the entertainment industry does no promote social change. Their agenda is to promote what is good for these record companies and the music industry and they're simply a public relations firm for Capitalism and to promote the Status Quo. So were in direct contradiction to that aren't we!!!

Q: When people think of the Black Panthers it brings very strong images of the police patrols that spring to mind, but it's the lasting programs such as The Breakfast Club which is the lasting legacy. Is there any one thing for you which stands out as a lasting legacy?
Fredrika: I guess I would say that the programs which still exist, for example the Breakfast Program that are now part of the fabric of the school system currently. The fact that children are still fed in schools daily really came out of our Free Breakfast for Children program in the Sixties.

David: I guess I'd like our ideas to be the one lasting memory of the Panthers. We were a consciousness raising movement and people need to understand what we were about. And use our strategies and ideas to forge a new movement. We should be studied, we should be looked as a vital piece of the social change movement of the Sixties and people should begin to extract from our work - what methodologies they could use today to be a new movement. Not just to be limited to looking at Martin Luther King, but to look beyond Martin Luther King and at some of the more vital youth movements. The Black Panthers Party was at the forefront of that in a global level!!!


"The Huey P Newton Reader" is published by Seven Stories Press
For more information on The Black Panther Party and The Huey P Newton Foundation

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