Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
2020 has turned out to be an unpredictable year so far. Literally elbows deep into a rebellion during the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and Christian Cooper’s near fatal police hit that was called in on him, reading Huey’s words in Revolutionary Suicide could not have come at a better time.
In this autobiographical account of Newton, you learn a great deal about the man he turned out to be from childhood until around 1971. The reader gets to be involved in the entire process of how the Black Panther Party came to be, and some highlights in his life revolving around the infamous case in which mass protests of “Free Huey” came to be. Huey details the entire process of that trial for readers to see how conniving the system is set up against the black person, and how far prosecutors will go to throw a black person in jail for anything. Huey also shares the Panthers’ 10-point system for the demands in which the Black Community was fighting for, which are still needs that the Black community needs today.
As Huey was growing up, he was a functional illiterate up until the time he decided he wanted to go to college, and self-taught himself how to read using Plato’s Republic. Inspired by his brother Melvin, Huey decided he wanted to prove to others he wasn’t stupid, and also to gain more knowledge and understanding as to what was happening during that time. Books helped him to think, to question, to explore, and finally redirect his life in a better way. This autobiographical account does humanize Huey, almost to the point where he comes across as very unlikeable. He has a really male chauvinist/patriarchal and narcissistic type of behavior, and all you can do sometimes is cringe as he talks about the ideas he has for the Black Panther Party, and how he sees and interacts with others.
As a small time criminal, fighter, revolutionary, self-taught intellectual, polyamorist, Marxist, defender of the poor, and a host of other things, Huey P. Newton explains the origins of his life and how BPP had it’s strength and it’s weaknesses during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s. However, at the time of publication, this timeframe was probably was at the height of his BPP career because in 1973, his life started to decline into shambles.
The Black Panther Party was targeted as an nationalist extremist/terrorist group who threatened the lives of police officers and civilians (white people). However, the BPP was created for self-defense, to police the police, and to protect the community of blacks that were constantly in harms way because of white police and victims of police brutality. The BPP came int the historical gulf between the civil rights movement agitation per se to a revolutionary cause demanding nothing less than a comprehensive restructuring of American life. Black Americans were demanding fair and equal treatment, and civil liberties that were supposed to be afforded to all Americans (land, bread, housing, education, etc.). However, the FBI “sought to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of the Black Nationalist.” J. Edgar Hoover, determined to prevent the rise of a “black messiah” by any means necessary sought out ways to destroy the BPP.
Huey talks about his relationship with Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Lil’ Bobby Hutton, and how the BPP was to serve the needs of the poor and working class blacks. The BPP introduced “survival programs” such as groceries and Breakfast for Children, medical care, legal services, and other essential services to the Black community.
Huey Newton believed that revolutionary suicide is infused with the possibility that one’s death will further the revolutionary cause. “Move against these forces, even at the risk of death.”
Huey also talked about his illiteracy. He stated that “refusing to learn became a matter of defiance, a way to preserve whatever dignity I could hold onto in an oppressive system.” (p. 26) He believed that the American dream was not for Black people. “How could we know then that we were not going anywhere? Nothing in our experience had shown us yet that the American dream was not for us. We, too, had great expectations. And then we went to school.” (p. 16)
Newton and the Black Panther Party in the end were unable to sustain their movement due to internal and external pressures (few movements can survive the murders and imprisonments of most of their leadership over a short period of time and the defection of a Party leader), which was caused by the infiltration of the FBI and informants. Perhaps had Newton lived longer than he did, he would not be surprised by the events of a Ferguson or the murders of countless innocent black men at the hands of police. Yet seeing the community respond to these injustices, and their unwillingness to silently tolerate it any longer is probably a legacy of something he began and would probably put a smile on his face. We are seeing it today, with the riots of Minnesota, California, North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, and others. People are fed up and are not tolerating police brutality any longer. ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!
I recommend this book to everyone. 5 stars.
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Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton