What is the root word for revolution? By the Webster’s Dictionary definition, the word revolution is defined as an overthrow and thorough replacement of a political system by the people being governed by the system. Revolution can also be identified as a radical and pervasive change in a component of society.
The root of the word revolution is a mesh of two Latin terms. “Re” means to act again and “volvere” means to roll. The era of the 1960s in America was definitely a generation of many social revolutions. However, one social paradigm of the 1960s was an important element of the fight for civil rights on behalf of black Americans.
The contemporary Civil Rights Movement led by figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers was consistent with a message of non-violence against the white majority establishment that was solely responsible for the oppression of blacks.
By the 1960s, Malcolm X had broken his ties with the Nation of Islam and the more radical movement for black equality was neutralized. A little more than a year after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, a bold new power emerged that adopted a new militant stance against the oppression of blacks in America. That power was called the Black Panther Party.
Today’s Your Black History editorial chronicles not only the metaphoric wheel of revolution, but a spoke that helped that wheel roll toward justice. February 17th is the birthday of the late Huey P. Newton, the fearless legendary co-founder of the Black Panther Party. On behalf of BlackBlueDog.com I choose to celebrate the birthday and legacy of a man whose vicarious presence is still needed in today’s America.
Huey Percy Newton was born on February 17, 1942 in Monroe, Louisiana. He was the youngest child of Armelia Johnson and Walter Newton. Around Huey’s third birthday, his family moved to Oakland in California’s Bay Area. In Huey Newton’s autobiography called “Revolutionary Suicide,” he wrote about the troubled spirit he possessed in these years. Newton wrote:
“During those long years in Oakland public schools, I did not have one teacher who taught me anything relevant to my own life or experience. Not one instructor ever awoke in me a desire to learn more or to question or to explore the worlds of literature, science, and history. All they did was try to rob me of the sense of my own uniqueness and worth, and in the process nearly killed my urge to inquire.”
Newton graduated from Oakland Technical High School in the spring of 1959. He passed on college to engage in social activist activities for the majority of his young adult life. However, he eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California. He also earned a Ph.D. at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980. Newton’s historic doctoral dissertation was titled, War Against the Panthers: A study of Repression in America.
The Black Panther Party was founded by Newton and his college comrade Bobby Seale in October of 1966. The organization was a prominent part of the emerging Black Power movement in America. The Black Panther Party was not just a militant wing of black nationalism that advocated the use of armed rebellion in the event of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacist groups.
The organization was also about humility. Newton and the Panthers started the Oakland Community School. The educational institution provided premium literacy and mathematics schooling for around 150 children from severely impoverished neighborhoods.
Other programs facilitated by the Black Panther Party included the Free Breakfast For Children Program and programs that taught the martial and performing arts. Newton preached the truth to children that not only molded their social consciousness but enacted their creativity potential.
Huey P. Newton’s contributions to social justice for black Americans have been memorialized in film and music. He lost his life in an Oakland shooting in 1989. The last words Newton said while looking into the eyes of the man who killed him were:
“You can kill my body, but you can’t kill my soul. My soul will live forever!”
The soul of one of black America’s strongest figures for social justice indeed lives on. However, the violent oppression of our black youth at the hands of non-black tormentors goes on this day (case in point, Trayvon Martin & Jordan Davis). The legacy of the Black Power movement must press forward today with the same urgency it had in the 1960s and 1970s. There must also be a focus on the eradication of black on black violence. Otherwise, Newton’s end will be seen as him dying in vain.