cover image Huey: Spirit of the Panther

Huey: Spirit of the Panther

David L. Hilliard, . . Thunder's Mouth, $25 (302pp) ISBN 978-1-56025-837-7

Though essentially a civil rights organization, the Black Panther Party continues to evoke images of gun-wielding black men clashing with law enforcement officials. In the first authorized biography written about the Party's founder, Huey Newton (1942–1989), the authors shatter those images by expounding on the ideals upon which the party was formed. Frustrated by the civil rights organizations mired in "intellectualizing and rhetoric," Newton formed the BPP in Oakland, Calif., in 1966. His manifesto called upon blacks to demand freedom, adequate housing and educational opportunities, and to "defend their own people with their lives." Those affiliated with the BPP soon became targets for police surveillance and harassment. According to Hilliard, when Newton realized that the BPP was becoming isolated from the black community, which viewed the organization as an ad hoc military group, he began creating various community "survival programs," among them a student-centered school that attracted international education officials. Newton's dichotomous nature is evident throughout the book, yet only in the last chapters is the extent of his inner turmoil addressed. His cause of death offers proof of this: he denounced drugs yet became addicted to crack and died at the hands of a drug dealer. Hilliard offers a highly readable, if hagiographic, introduction to Newton's life and the BPP's ideology. His own memoir, This Side of Glory (1993), described his years as the BPP's chief of staff. Photos. (Jan.)