On this day in 1989, Huey Newton was shot to death. Newton was one of my first political influences. The fire of the early Black Panther Party and the sheer bravery always impressed me. In addition, The Panther’s (especially Newton’s) emphasis on class struggle and their attempt to build a strong analysis that bridged race and class without vulgarizing one or the other drew me in.
In honor of Newton and his legacy, “Or Does It Explode?” wishes to pay tribute to our fallen brother. Rest in power, Brother Huey.
Here are a few quotes from him to meditate and reflect on:
“We view each other with a great love and a great understanding and we try to extend this to the general black population and also oppressed people all over the world. I think that we differ from some other groups simply because we understand the system better than most groups understand the system. With this realization we attempt to form a strong political base based in the community with the only strength that we have and thats the strength of a potentially destructive force If we don’t get freedom.”
“In the metaphysical sense we based the expression “All Power To The People” on the idea as man as God. I have no other God but man, and I firmly believe that man is the highest or chief good. If you are obligated to be honest and true to anyone, it is to your God, and if each man is God, then you must be true to him. If you believe that man is the ultimate being, then you act according to your belief. Your attitude and behavior toward man is a religion in itself, with high standards of responsibility.
It is especially important to me that I explore the Judaeo-Christian concept of God, because historically that concept has had an enormous impact on the lives of Black people in America. Their acceptance of the Judaeo-Christian God and religion has always meant submission with an emphasis on the rewards of the life hereafter as relief for suffering for the suffering of the present. Christianity began as a religion for the outcast and oppressed. While the early Christians succeeded in undermining the authority and confidence of their rulers and rising up out of slavery, the Afro-American experience has been just the opposite. Already a people in slavery, when Christianity was imposed on them, the Blacks only assumed another burden, the tyranny of the future-the hope of heaven and the fear of hell. Christianity increased their sense of hopelessness. It also projected the idea of salvation and happiness in the afterlife, where God would reward them for all sufferings on this earth. Justice in the promised land.
The phrase “All Power to the People” was meant to turn this around, to convince Black people that their rewards were due in the present, that it was in them to create a Promised Land here and now. The Black Panthers have never intended to turn Black people away from religion. We want to encourage them to change their consciousness of themselves and be less accepting of the White man’s version of God-the God of the downtrodden, the weak and the undeserving. We want them to see themselves as the called, the chosen, the salt of the Earth.
Even before we coined the phrase, I had long thought about the idea of God. I could not accept the Biblical version: the Bible is too full of contradictions and irrationality. Either you accept it and believe it or you do not. I could not believe. I have arrived at my understanding of God through other means- through philospohy, logic, and semantics. My opinion on the term God belongs to a realm of concepts, that is dependant upon man for it’s existence. If God does not exist unless man exist, then man must be here to produce God. It logically follows then, that man created God, and if the creator is greater than that which is created, then we must hold that man is the highest good.
I can understand why man feels the need to create God, especially in the earlier periods of history when scientific understanding was limited. The phenomena that man observed around him in the universe is sometimes overwhelmed him: he could not explain or account for them. There fore in his mind, he created something that was greater than these phenomena, something that was responsible for the mysteries of nature. But I think that when man clings to the idea of God, he actually reduces himself and his own potential. The more he attributes to God, the less responsible for his own destiny. He says to God : “I am weak but thou art mighty” and therefore accepts things the way they are, content to leave the running of the world to a supernatural force greater than himself. This attitude embodies a kind of fatalism, which is inimical to growth and change. On the other hand, the greater man becomes, the less his God will be.
None of this means that I am completely hostile to the many beautiful and admirable things about religion. When I speak of certain aspects of society to Black people, the use of religious phraseology flows naturally, and the audience response is genuine. I also read the Bible frequently, not for it’s poetry, but for it’s wisdom and insight. Still much of the Bible is madness. I can not accept, for example, the notion of divine law and responsibility to “God”. As far as I am concerned, if men are responsible beings, they ought to be responsible to each other. And so, when we say “All Power to the People” we mean to convey a sense of deep sense of respect and love for the people, the idea that people deserve truth and honesty. The judgment of history is the judgment of people. That is the motivating and controlling idea of our very existence.”