Black Panther Party Co-Founder Huey P. Newton honored with bronze statue

Julian Glover Image
Saturday, October 23, 2021
Statue of Panther founder unveiled for party's 55th anniversary
The bronze statue of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton will be the first permanent art installation to honor the party in Oakland.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The revolutionary founder of the Black Panther Party Huey P. Newton will be honored with a bronze bust to be unveiled Sunday to commemorate the party's 55th anniversary.

The statue, to be installed at the intersection where the late leader took his last breath, will be the first permanent art display to honor the Black Panther Party in Oakland.

"I've created him to bring him home to West Oakland," said Sculptor Dana King in her studio, blocks away from where the monument will be installed.

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ABC7 News was given access to King's studio as she brought Newton to life in clay 32 years after his death, one scrape at a time.

"The reason he's looking up and out is because he was a visionary, he saw into the future," she said.

"There's been so much misinformation, propaganda about the Panthers that's harmful. The story that exists about the Panthers is wrong."

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Before the "Black Panther" was a comic book making Marvel hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland in 1966 as a grassroots community movement in response to police brutality.

Images of panthers carrying guns for protection and shootouts with police, however, would be the lasting legacy perpetuated in the media.

In 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the party as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and would launch a deadly effort to infiltrate and dismantle the party.

But the Panthers were more than armed resistance to police.

Shortly after its creation, the organization launched a free breakfast program that fed thousands of hungry youth and would eventually be the blueprint for the federal government's free and reduced meals plan at public schools.

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Known for its signature 7-Up Pound Cake, It's All Good Bakery in Oakland serves freshly baked treats within a historic landmark.

This would be one of the first of many social safety net programs created by the Panthers like a free ambulance program, free health clinics treating diseases disproportionately affecting the Black community such as sickle cell and HIV, and an escort and transportation service for seniors.

King is hoping to reshape the narrative of the Panthers' legacy through her art.

Pictures of Newton lined her studio as she captured every tiny detail -- down to Newton's iconic afro.

She invited those who knew him best to stop by her workspace to take a peek at her work.

"There have been so many people here: Panthers who talk about the history that they were a part of," said King.

None more critical than Huey's widow and former party member, Fredrika Newton.

"She's come into my studio and it's been so helpful because she puts her hands on him. She remembers what his jawline felt like or she looks at him and says, well, his lips were a little thicker right here," said King.

Through the two-year process of creating this public art display the duo: artist and activist, have developed a special sisterhood.

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Newton has been there every step of the way as she watched King transform memories into clay and eventually into bronze.

"I couldn't have done this without you. He wouldn't be this with you," King said to Newton at the foundry where the clay bust was cast in bronze.

ABC7 News cameras were invited along to watch the process.

"I was up for about four nights straight thinking, 'This is not going to work, there was something missing in his eyes.' Seeing it cast in bronze for the first time, she got all of the dimensions of this man is blowing my mind right now," said Newton.

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Sunday, the bust of Oakland's native son will be unveiled at the intersection now bearing his name Dr. Huey P. Newton Way and Mandela Parkway.

"Huey really loved Oakland," said Newton.

But this intersection is both a source of light and darkness for Fredrika.

"That's the street that I've never frequented, because it was so dark for me. That was the last day that I saw him until that night on the news," Newton recalled.

The Black Panther Party leader was shot and killed at the intersection in the Lower Bottom neighborhood in 1989, years after the party dissolved.

"It was just a super traumatically painful place for me to revisit. Now the community is starting to embrace it, they've claimed it to be a sacred holy ground. So out of that darkness is grown this beautiful place of sanctuary for people," said Newton.

This sanctuary of art and activism extends from the granite slab where the bust will be installed to the home of activist Jilchristina Vest featuring a mural honoring the women of the Black Panther party who made the movement possible.

Glover: "This will be a place for generations to come to learn about the history of the Black Panther party, what does this mean to you?"

Newton: "That people will know this true history, that there were men and women who were unlike themselves that just had the courage of their convictions that saw something that needed to be done in their community and they did it with very little resources and that people can do the same thing."

"The story will live on," said King. "That's the beauty of bronze. Bronze can last forever, hundreds of years. So every generation that sees that piece tells the story and the story lives on."

The public is invited to the public unveiling of the bust Sunday, October 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the intersection of Mandela Parkway and Dr. Huey P. Newton Way.

The ceremony honoring the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party will feature live music, vendors, and free health screenings. All are welcome.