By JR Valrey
With the presidential elections days away, and with the strong possibility that the former San Francisco District Attorney and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, supposedly from Oakland, could be the nation’s first half Black/half Indian vice president, it is very important to highlight Black revolutionary love, in the midst of this media storm of Black petit-bourgeois admiration for Harris’ upward mobility in the neo-colonialist framework, called today’s U.S. government.
It is important to remember the revolutionary ancestors that refused to compromise with the system like Oakland’s native son Huey P. Newton, the co-founder, Minister of Defense, and chief theoretician of the Black Panther Party, who also gave us a new perspective of what we, the people, are capable of changing with our own collective power.
I recently talked with Fredrika Newton, the wife and widow, of Huey P. Newton about their relationship and their very unique marriage and love affair. When Huey is usually brought up in common conversation, his politics, leadership, intellect, and militancy is always discussed, but seldom do we get to hear about his humanity, and what he was like in intimate family situations, with his wife. So over the next couple of weeks, Black New World Media will be examining the intimate life of Huey P. Newton alongside his wife and widow Fredrika.
JR Valrey: What did y’all used to do? What did you consider fun?
Fredrika Newton: I think both of us were such work addicts that we had to work at having fun. But we had children around us a lot, and I think that Huey was at his best with children. He was like a Pied Piper with kids. If you ever see him in photographs with kids, you will see him relaxed and laughing, and at ease in a way that kids loved. So we had a house full of kids. I had a son when we got married, and I always had kids at my house. So there were kids everywhere. I was at a yard sale one day, and looked up, and there was Huey going by in a ‘64 Comet that my son still has, with my son at the wheel, and my son was 12. That’s the kind of stuff. So we did family things. I really sought to have normalcy in that relationship, and I came from a real family oriented family. I think our most relaxed times were with family and with kids, and trying to create some semblance of normal family life. Neither of us had any hobbies.
JR Valrey: Did you like to stay at home? Did y’all go to Tahoe? Where did y’all go? Was it just Oakland?
Fredrika Newton: We went to LA to Bert’s house. Bert Snider was a strong supporter of the Party and a good friend, so we would go to Bert’s house in LA. We went on a honeymoon. We went to Hawaii. You know when I got married, shortly thereafter, the deal that we were waiting for that would financially keep us afloat, fell through. And so we didn’t have a lot of money. And I had gone back to school. I had worked in fashion for years, but I wanted to go back to school to be a nurse to have some stability in terms of income. So I was in school, and Huey at that point was just not able to get out there on the road and give speeches. He never did it comfortably anyways. And I wouldn’t push him. So there wasn’t a lot of money, we didn’t have this lavish lifestyle. And neither one of us were good at that balance.
JR Valrey: What did y’all do? Did y’all cook? Listen to music?
Fredrika Newton: A lot of music in the house. Big speakers…loud music…a lot of kids, a lot of going to the park, the pumpkin patch, flying kites, driving, at my brother’s house, over his brother’s house…
JR Valrey: When you get that much international attention…do you make your personal time more personal?
Fredrika Newton: It was like that from the time that I met him. Mind you, we got married many years later. When I met him, he was right out of prison. He couldn’t even walk down the street. Well he couldn’t, anyway, because he had bodyguards. This whole culture, in our relationship, of these stolen moments started early on, where we would sneak out of the apartment, and get past the bodyguards. He would meet me at my apartment. We would go do stuff that would seem ordinary to him. It seems crazy, but like I lived at my mother’s office on Telegraph and 65th. There is a chiropractor office there now. It’s right across from the Jack ‘n the Box. Down the street there was a gas station. So we would go to the gas station, and he would pump gas for people. Back then, people got their gas pumped. (Huey would do it) just in an effort to do something that an ordinary guy would do, an ordinary person. Then someone would discover it was him, and so we would have to leave. So that started early on, that we would have these stolen moments because I remember one time saying something about wanting to be famous. He said that there was a heavy price to pay for it. We couldn’t go anywhere. Later it was the same. The police intervention didn’t stop. We got the house raided a couple of times. There was still surveillance, but the stolen moments were my favorite. I’m an introvert, so I didn’t like going to LA at all, being around all of the Hollywood stuff. So I treasured them. I remember him doing an article for the Chronicle, “Huey Newton: Booze and Boredom”, I think it said. It was more his lifestyle and his personality, to have all of that, not attention, but all of those types of interactions. I would have to say, that he was more of an introvert than I was.
JR Valrey: He was as much an introvert as you were?
Fredrika Newton: He didn’t do those things well. When he gave speeches, he didn’t do them easily.
JR Valrey: How did you deal when it came to him handling his Panther business? Or international business? How did you deal with that, as his wife?
Fredrika Newton: I was an observer. I became a member of the Party. And when I think of some of the things that happened like the day when there was the break between him and Eldridge, it was on the news, and being there to witness it. I don’t know, I was just an observer and a comforter when I could be. I just tried to be a mate, in awe.
JR Valrey: What was that like, the day when him and Eldridge broke on tv? I know Huey was caught off guard, because I saw a few documentaries and heard a few people talk about it. What was that like when Huey was off-mic and off the stage? How did he feel?
Fredrika Newton: He was super upset. And he felt betrayed of course, and I think that he was in a lot of pain. Oftentimes, people’s response to pain is anger, and underneath that, I think that there was a lot. There was a sense of betrayal and probably hurt, but he definitely got into action mode; what that meant: what were the next steps, calling for a meeting. And he became really animated. I don’t know if you knew him, but he was always in motion, always. So he was pacing. He was talking. He was moving. He had a lot of kinetic energy. So if he was sitting down, he was moving, and his mind was going and racing. So he was definitely starting to formulate ideas and next steps, is what I remember. I remember it was a hot day too. I remember it was hot. And I remember the intensity of that apartment. There were other people there. I don’t even know how I wound up being there that day. But I knew it was a big deal, but I didn’t know how big of a deal it was, really until later.
The Hueypnewtonfoundation.org is fundraising for the Huey P. Newton street and bust of a statue that will be at 9th and Center in West Oakland in the coming months. If you are able to help, you could contact and donate at the Hueypnewtonfoundation.org.
All Power to the People Project designs merchandise is 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.