I was dreading having to read a political memoir for the 2016 book challenge. I just had no idea where to begin and I really didn’t want to read anything presidential. It just doesn’t interest me at all. I debated on reading The Motorcycle Diaries by Che, but that was mostly because it was short. However, a friend recommended this one, and given the times, I was willing to give it a chance.
This book is really half political and half memoir. Written by Huey P. Newton, the founder of the Black Panthers, we learn a lot of his history. His childhood, family, upbringing, educational experiences, and his troubles. His first 16 or so years was very formative and shaped his political beliefs. He graduates high school not being able to read, but knew that he needed to teach himself. He used Plato’s Republic as a guide, asking his brother for help, looking words up in the dictionary, and learning all he could. Republic was the first book he ever read. And once most people today have never read. This should tell you quite a bit about the kind of man Newton was.
While in college, he began to speak out of the injustices facing Black people in our nation. He, along with a few friends, began to gather and discuss what they could do about it. They created the 10 point platform which was the foundation for the Black Panther Party. And, much to many people’s surprise, they weren’t a violent group at all. They obeyed the letter of the law because they knew the police were targeting them (and they were…the sheer number of times Newton was pulled over is staggering). They learned the law and what their rights were.
At one point, Newton was pulled over and shot by police, for (as he states) no reason. He was falsely accused of murder and, through a jury of 11 white people and 1 black man, he was sentenced for the crime. He was not given the death penalty, however, he fully expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. He had been in and out of jail for various minor offenses, and because of his fame and reputation with authority figures, he was kept in near solitary confinement. While most people broke down, Newton never did. He kept his mind, his focus, and never lost his soul.
Newton was murdered in 1989. At this point, the Black Panther Party had lost its focus (according to the brief research I have done. This isn’t in the book, of course). It was being targeted as a hate group. However, Newton still worked to help Black communities. His last words were “You can kill my body, and you can take my life, but you can never kill my soul. My soul will live forever!” And this is absolutely the truth. Newton saw real problems facing the Black community in the 1960s. And, you know what, they are the exact same problems facing Blacks today, which leaves me wondering when will we ever learn from our past mistakes?