Once, his celebrants called him the baddest black man in America - the street-corner brother who created the Black Panther Party in the slums of Oakland, Calif., and sent it shooting its way into the consciousness of a nation. Huey P. Newton, shy and beekish, never quite fit his manufactured macho image, and the little guns-and-leather army he created has shrunk to 150 or so mostly nonviolent souls during his long disappearances into prison, exile and - some intimates say - cocaine.
Huey P. Newton was born February 17, 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana. The youngest of seven children, Huey was named for former Louisiana governor Huey Pierce Long. The Newton family moved to Oakland, California, in 1945 to take advantage of the job opportunities created by World War II wartime industries. In Oakland the family moved often, and in one house Huey was compelled to sleep in the kitchen. Even though the Newton's were poor and victims of discrimination and segregation, Huey contends that he never felt deprived as a child and that he never went hungry. .
Huey attended the Oakland public schools where, he claimed, he was made to feel "uncomfortable and ashamed of being black." He responded by constantly and consistently defying authority, which resulted in frequent suspensions. At the age of 14, he was arrested for gun possession and vandalism. In his autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, Newton wrote, "during those long years in the 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 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 they nearly killed my urge to inquire.".
According to Newton, he did not learn to read well until he had finished high school. "I actually learned to read--really read more than just 'dog' and 'cat,' which was about all I could do when I left high school--by listening to records of Vincent Price reading great poetry, and then looking up the poems to see how the words looked.