Today February 17th 2014. For many people it’s the conclusion of a 3 day weekend in which we are encouraged to celebrate Presidents Day where we honor Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Celebrating Lincoln is understandable considering he helped put an end to the horrific institution of slavery by putting forth the Emancipation Proclamation, even though he had to be pressured by abolitionist like Frederick Douglass and others.
Celebrating Washington and Jefferson who were founding fathers of this country and slave owners is not the biz no matter what angle folks take. There was no excuse for their participation in the horrors that were unleashed on enslaved Africans who were not considered human, which on top of being forced to work from sun up to sun down, were subjected to harsh whippings, rapes and their children being sold off.
Some like to point out that Washington freed his slaves. In fact it was written in his will. Yes we heard that story. They were freed after he died. All 316 of them were freed by his wife Martha Washington who waited a good twelve months to honor her husband’s wishes.
Some like to point out that Washington often expressed support for the gradual abolition of slavery. Maybe that’s true, but this is the same Washington who signed the Fugitive Slave Law which allowed slave owners to recapture enslaved Africans even if they managed to escape to states that had abolished slavery. Washington put this law into effect in 1790, which was a good 14 years after he signed the Declaration of Independence that asserted All Men Are Created Equal. We now know that assertion didn’t include Black folks.
We should also remember that Washington came to the aid of the French who had gotten their butts beat by enslaved Haitians who rebelled and overthrew their slave masters. Instead of recognizing their independence Washington dispatched emergency aid. He wanted the newly freed Africans to put back into bondage.
Thomas Jefferson is honored in many parts of this country on President’s Day and is depicted as a beloved figure. He should be remembered as a man who like Washington also owned hundreds of slaves and unlike Washington who instructed his slaves to be freed in his will, Jefferson feared slave revolts and opposed any law that would allow owners to free them.
Many like to talk and romanticize about the love affair Jefferson had with Sally Hemings, an enslaved girl of mixed race who was 14 when Jefferson first got at her. She had 6 children by the President. In describing the relationship, many like to refer to Hemings as Jefferson’s mistress which implies she was a woman who was free and willing participant in a sordid love triangle. Hemings was enslaved and had no agency in this relationship. That makes her a victim of rape. People should reflect on that for a minute.
Lastly folks should note, that like Washington, Jefferson opposed Haitian getting their independence and went HAM on them by putting in place an embargoes designed to economically cripple them. He too feared slave rebellions.
Instead of honoring slave holding Presidents, one should note that February 17th is the birthday of Huey P Newton co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense..Since its Black History month we figured it would be good to give folks some insight as to who Huey was and what the Panthers were about.. Here’s a brief bio on Huey…
Huey Newton, the youngest of seven children, was born in Monroe, on 17th February, 1942. His father, who named his son after the radical politician, Huey P. Long, was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
At Merritt College in Oakland, California, Newton met Bobby Seale and in 1966 they formed the Black Panther Party. Initially established to protect local communities from police brutality and racism, it eventually developed into a Marxist revolutionary group. The Black Panthers also ran medical clinics and provided free food to school children.
The activities of the Black Panthers came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Hoover described the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and in November 1968 ordered the FBI to employ “hard-hitting counter-intelligence measures to cripple the Black Panthers”.
The Black Panthers had chapters in several major cities and had a membership of over 2,000. Harassed by the police, members became involved in several shoot-outs. This included an exchange of fire between Panthers and the police at Oakland on 28th October, 1967. Newton was wounded and while in hospital was charged with killing a police officer. The following year he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
After being released from prison Newton renounced political violence. Over a six-year period 24 Black Panthers had been killed in gun fights with the police. Another member, George Jackson, was killed while in San Quentin prison in August, 1971.
Newton now concentrated on socialist community programs including free breakfasts for children, free medical clinics and helping the homeless. The Panthers also became involved in conventional politics and in 1973 Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland and came second out of nine candidates with 43,710 votes (40 per cent of votes cast).
Newton published his book, Revolutionary Suicide in 1973. The following year he was arrested and charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Released on bail, Newton fled to Cuba but in 1977 he returned to the United States and was freed after two hung juries.
Newton returned to his studies at the University of California and in 1980 he received a Ph.D. in social philosophy. His dissertation was entitled:War Against the Panthers: A Study in Repression in America. Huey Newton was shot dead on 22nd August, 1989, while walking along a street in Oakland.
Over the years Huey Newton and the Black Panthers inspired many within Hip Hop. From Public Enemy to 2Pac to Digital Underground who started off as the Spice Regime a Black Panther styled group to Paris to the Fugitives which was a Bay Area group composed of Panther children.
In recent years we’ve seen revolutionary artists like Eseibio the Automatic who hails from Oakland pick up the mantle and keep the Panther legacy alive. His album Revolutionary Minded is a testament to that commitment. He furthers that commitment by organizing programs for the youth and sparking off weekly letter writing campaigns for political prisoners, many who are former Panthers who fearlessly laid it down for the liberation of the people.
Below are some clips to get you up to speed as to who Huey Newton was and what he was about..