By JR Valrey, the People’s Minister of Information
The co-founder, Minister of Defense, and chief theoretician of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton was a very unique and complex individual, who came up in the streets of West Oakland. There have been many studies, stories, and accounts about what this man thought, stood for, and was able to accomplish with the help of the Black Panther Party in his life, but there is not a lot that has been written about who this man was, in the most intimate setting; around his wife.
Fredrika Newton, the widow and President of the Huey P. Newton Foundation, sat down for this exclusive interview with the Black New World, to talk about the love of her life, Huey. She recently has also laid the groundwork for changing 9th and Center to Dr. Huey P. Newton Street, as well as creating a sculptured bust of Huey, on Mandela Parkway, in West Oakland in the coming months to honor one of Oakland’s most well known freedom fighters and giants, as well as the organization that created him. Now the project is in the development and fundraising stage. If you could help, please go to Hueypnewtonfoundation.org to lend your support. Here is Fredrika Newton describing her feelings and life, with Huey P. Newton.
JR Valrey: How did you and Huey meet?
Fredrika Newton: We actually met at my mother’s house. I was 18. I had just turned 19 actually. And my mother, it turns out was doing work as a housing rights activist. She was a realtor. And she had been doing work with the Black Panther Party, before I even knew about it. She was the one that was securing the property for them. Let me backup a little bit. When Huey was released from prison, I went that day to the rally in front of the courthouse with my neighbors, and I saw him. That was on August 22, then I went away to school. I was going to college in Oregon, then I came back at Christmas time, and that is when my mother came and told me about the work that she was doing with the Party, and that Huey would be coming over for lunch. So I met him in my mother’s dining room. The house was full of people, these young activists, scholars, a couple of Panthers in the corner. It turns out that was John Seale, and I forget who the other brotha was. So I met him there, he was eating, eating, eating. He ate a lot. He was kind of nervous and I asked him a question, because I was not political at all, in spite of the fact that I had been raised in a very political family, as kids often do, take different paths from their parents. So I asked him what it was like in prison, and he engaged me thoughtfully and vulnerably, I thought. So I was kind of taken by that moment, that he would take the time, answer this young girl’s question, that was not political. I did not ask him about dialectics or intercommunalism or socialism. I just asked him a personal question, and he answered; that it was very lonely.
JR Valrey: What intrigued you about his personality?
Fredrika Newton: I think that. That here, juxtaposed to this iconic image that you saw in the wicker chair, that he seemed to be a really quiet, thoughtful, sensitive kind of person in contrast to what I was seeing in the media. So that is what captivated me. His thoughtfulness, his sensitivity, and his acceptance of me. My mother was Jewish, she was white, and coming up in a really polarized time in the 60’s, I always felt that I didn’t fit. And something about his connection with my mother, and my mother’s love for him. It immediately felt like family…the other one was David Hilliard and John Seale, they were the other two that were there.
JR Valrey: What is it about his personality that you think made Huey a genius? What is it that you saw as his wife that contrasted with what the media was saying about him? How did you reconcile that? How do you reconcile in your mind how the state dealt with Huey in its COINTELPRO media, even after he was murdered?
Fredrika Newton: I’ll go back to the beginning question of how did I see him as a genius, and how did I see him relate to the state. There was a constant barrage of attacks by the state. It was relentless, because the FBI waged this war against the Party, and deemed the Party, the single biggest threat to the internal security of the United States, so in that there came internal as well as external attacks; meaning that there were people in the Party who you would think were your comrades who might’ve been agents, and some turned out to be agents. So you have this whole culture of, not paranoia, because so much of it was definitely true but not knowing who to trust. So I saw him battling that daily. I saw him feeling very isolated in the place where he lived. He had gone to prison and there were, I don’t know, a handful of members, and he came out, and there’s 45 chapters internationally. So here, this young man who is 28 years old, comes out from prison and there’s this massive movement, and this massive organization that he is now in charge of. And I saw the personal side of that; what it was like for this man to be isolated and lonely, and (have) all of the conflicts that impact every human being, yet expected to be supernatural.
And in terms of his genius, he was. I often wondered, why is he with me, because I’m not a genius. I’m bright enough but there are very few people that…I thought that it must be lonely for him on some level to not be able to exercise his brain with his mate, in the way that he might’ve needed to but he didn’t. He seemed to seek that elsewhere in terms of intellectual conversation, in which I wasn’t quite honestly even interested in.
JR Valrey: Where did Huey exercise his brain, and who would be a peer to Huey Newton? He could speak on a street level. He could speak on a political level. He could speak on a regular social level. He could speak on a Hollywood level. And he knew what was going on in all of these different levels. Did Huey have contemporaries that he considered equals or did he keep people in compartments? How did he deal psychologically?
Fredrika Newton: That is such a good question. I think he compartmentalized it. There was an institute within the Party for political education, for people, who were on a more sophisticated level than people who were just beginning their education, politically. So they had this institute that met regularly, and Huey would instruct in those P.E. classes, and he wrote. He wrote books. And he had a dialogue (book) with Erik Ericson, the famous psychologist, and when we were married, he was co-authoring another book on social biology with Dr. Robert Trivers of U.C. Santa Cruz, who was his professor. And so he would regularly exercise his mind in that way, by having conversations with those people who were on that level. He wrote. He was an intellectual deeply, and he could be on 9th and Center St (West Oakland), and feel just as at home. I think he sought for balance. That was the beauty of this man, that he could be in Hollywood, and be as comfortable with Hollywood moguls as he could on 9th and Center, as he could in UC Santa Cruz in the doctorate program, and navigate all of those worlds and have a basic family life where he was taking family portraits at Sears (laughing).
All Power to the People Project designs merchandise using the original trademarked assets of the Huey P. Newton Estate, to preserve and promote the legacy of the Black Panther Party. We strive to provide products that connect across generations and educate our customers about the history and global impact of the Black Panther Party. We believe the message of solidarity and resiliency in our products is more relevant than ever. Products can be purchased at owlnwood.com.