Reprinted from the OCTOBER 5th, 1978 edition
of the Baltimore AFRO-American Newspapers



 

Huey P. Newton ready to come home

By Raymond H. Boone
AFRO Editor

HAVANA--Huey P. Newton, the 34-year-old co-founder of the Black Panther Party who has been in exile in Cuba for more than a year, is now awaiting the okay from his lawyers to return to return to the United States and stand trial for a bizarre string of violent crimes.

In an hour-long interview here, Newton told the AFRO that, although he was "very happy" in Cuba and appreciative of the red-carpet treatment Fidel Castro's socialist government had accorded him, he is ready to return home and face the charges against him--charges to which he says "I'm not guilty." Newton also revealed that he "was about to go back" to the United States a few months ago after his party "had gathered enough information about the false charges."

But he said his lawyers told him to forget that trip back after they learned that former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, back in jail in the United States after ending a seven-year self-imposed exile last Nov. 18, was scheduled to testify in Washington on terrorism and subversive activities in the United States. "I was about to go back and face the charges"--but then "renegade scab Eldridge Cleaver returned," Newton said. "So my attorneys came in and they advised me to wait until after he (Cleaver) goes before the House of Internal Affairs Committee to see what charges might come out of that. "I am in a position to wait and see."

But waiting isn't Newton's game. While his ever present smile and easy manner give the outward impression of a man at peace with himself, Newton is an intense, restless young man who must deal with an issue head-on once he has made a decision. He is also homesick, yearning to be back with relatives and friends and to operate from the American scene which is more familiar to him. I got this impression of Newton after meeting him at dinner here, interviewing him and later chatting with him over drinks with other newspaper colleagues who were a part of an American delegation who visited Cuba a couple of weeks ago.

I met Newton in the lobby of the Havana Riveria here--a luxury, Miami Beach-type facility that was built by American gangsters just before Castro led the Cuban people to independence in 1959 after three decades of American domination and exploitation of the island 90 miles from Miami. I introduced myself and extended my hand to Newton and he shook it with both hands as though we were old friends and had not seen each other in years. He looked more like a movie star than one with a reputation of a revolutionary theoretician. Possibly influenced by Castro's practice of wearing only military fatigues, I had somehow expected him to be wearing something resembling a "Black Panther outfit"--at least the leather jacket. Instead he looked like a model who just stepped off of the cover of Gentleman's Quarterly wearing an expensive, perfect fitting faded denim outfit. He looked younger than his 34 years, but a slight limp from a bullet wound received in a confrontation with police reminded that his youthful look could not be attributed to an easy life.

During the interview, it became obvious that there remains bad blood between Newton and Cleaver, the former minister of information for the Black Panthers who was expelled by the party in 1971 in an ideological spat. In addition to calling Cleaver a "renegade scab," Newton sharply criticized him for supporting Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's foreign policy related to Third World countries and blamed Cleaver for the Panthers' violent philosophy during the turbulent sixties. Newton said Cleaver's stand with Kissinger shows that Cleaver has gone beyond "shuffling" to return to the United States where he faces charges of attempted murder and assault stemming from a 168 shoot out between Panthers and Oakland, Calif. police. "He is not shuffling; he is crawling back," Newton said. Newton, who once represented the epitome of black rage against white racism in America, said that he sought to get the Panthers to abandon the gun philosophy during the sixties--but was unsuccessful because of Cleaver's influence over Panther leaders.

"...I tried to get the party to stop the shooting, to stop their talk about the gun thing," Newton said. "They voted me down. We always had a central committee. They were mesmerized by Eldridge Cleaver." Newton said he was "in solidarity" with the Panthers' current program of fielding political campaigns and community service projects such as free lunch programs and shoe-distribution centers. Once back in the United States, Newton indicated that he plans to devote much of his time t bringing about black liberation through the mobilization of Blacks to put "the right" Blacks in City Hall and other "authoritative" places. During the interview, Newton also: --told what life has been like for him, his wife and two children in Cuba where Newton is "an honored guest."

--said that the Cuban government is moving to eliminate racism, but said there "probably" remains some racial discrimination, although he has not experienced any; --revealed that he is writing a "critical" book on the Panthers --called survival the biggest problem confronting black America; --called for support of Johnny Spain of the San Question Six who is on trial for murder; --charged that "police murdered" George Jackson who was killed at San Quentin; --observed that Black Americans and Cubans face the same enemies--"white racist North American authorities"--but the difference in the two groups is that "the Cubans found a way to liberate themselves" while Blacks "haven't found the way yet."



Excerpts from the interview:

AFRO: Huey, to begin with, how long have you been in Cuba?


NEWTON: Approximately one year.

AFRO: Did you come here immediately from California?

NEWTON: I would rather not talk about my excursion...my getting here.

AFRO: What has life been like for you and your family since you have been here?

NEWTON: The Cuban Revolutionary Government has been generous and very considerate to me and my family. I lived in Santa Clara for a few months because I wanted to work in the countryside and get to know the country better. You know, cities are the same every place.

AFRO: Yes, speaking of work, what are you doing? What were you doing on the countryside?

 

NEWTON: I worked in the mechanical factories repairing cement trucks. The Cuban government wanted me to work in the university as a teacher in literature, but I declined because I wanted a more sense of the countryside. My wife taught in the university there. I had an apartment there. The neighbors were more than neighbors. They were like part of the family. Just before I left, I was about to transfer to the university. I had decided I had had enough experience in work in the manual areas. But then I got word from the United States that I could return...that my party had gathered enough information about the false charges that were against me for me to return to the United States.

AFRO: What are the charges against you now?

NEWTON: Some of them are unclear, but roughly, I have a murder charge, assault of a police officer, assault of a person, summons and tax evasions and, possibly, some other charges. The other charges would be 1 but first, I would like to add I'm innocent. I am not guilty. I was about to go back and face the charges--renegade scab Eldridge Cleaver returned just prior to the arrangements that I had to go back--so my attorneys came in and they advised me to wait until after he goes before the House of Internal Affairs Committee to see what charges might come out of that. I am in a position to wait and see. I am very happy here, but I feel I have work to do in the United States. It's where I can identify with the total world struggle for socialism. But I think as a North American, as a Black North American, I have certain understandings--certain contributions--to make that are unique to the North Amerian experience.

AFRO: Does this mean that you expect uo undertake some litigation to clear yourself or attempt to have the charges dropped?

NEWTON: No. I plan to return to the United States at some point and stand trial in Alemeda County, Calif.

AFRO: Shifting to the international scene 1, how do you compare life in the United States with life here? could you make an appraisal of United States-Cuban relationships, particularly as they relate to liberation forces in African Southern Africa?

NEWTON: Number one, I think it's wrong for North America in particular, the West in general to make a comparison between the economic situation in Cuba and the extraordinarily developed industrial complex of North America. Cuba was neo-colony of the United States and still suffers a blockade. So, therefore, the consumer goods and so forth, we don't have here, especially when you leave the city areas it's a spartan life. But what is impressive about it is what is coming about. It's the future that all these socialists look forward to. And I think the basis--the foundation--has already been laid for a society where people will work together and enjoy the wealth of the whole nation together. I think this will be accomplished because this is the theme of the revolutionary government's program. I think the other question concerning--Angola--I don't like to just talk of Africa, and south of the Sahara in general. No, I'll talk about the Third World in general. I'll like to say this--we in the United States would never believe that another form of goverment--I don't care even if it's against the racism, etc.--it is hard to get the masses of people to believe or accept that a socialist government will relieve them of most of the problems. They say, look, we have consumer goods; we have generally better homes than whatever socialist country that you speak of. They don't know that they only have them at the expense of the Third World. In other words, the United States can hide behind a facade simply because it is sucking the blood of other people...The Third World people: Africa, Asia and Latin America.

AFRO: Are you saying that socialism is the system of the future?

NEWTON: Yes, matter of fact, it is the system of today, but the United States does not realize this. So the United States is already antique.

AFRO: What about the Caribbean? What about the popularity of socialism as it relates to Jamaica?

NEWTON: There is a very strong socialist movement in Jamaica. I was in Jamaica two years ago. All the talk, all day they talk politics. The literacy rate is very low. Everyone is so interested in politics, more than those who can read in the United States. And they are finding a way and they're seeing, as the rest of the Third World people are seeing, that the country can make a real change. No changing or trading one master for another. The only real change would be to socialize the means of production and this is what's happening in Jamaica. AFRO: You made a reference to Eldridge Cleaver and it did not seem to me to be a favorable reference. Is this because of his positive--his about face and seemingly positive attitudes about the United States? Is he shuffling? What is the situation there? With you and Eldridge Cleaver?

 

NEWTON: It is not because of his positive attitudes about the United States. It is his denunciation of the Third World. He made a statement that Kissinger should not stop "cow-towing" to the Third World...that he (Kissinger) should go in there and show that the United States is the power in the world and they do not have to tolerate anything from them and also that the United States should withdraw from the UN simply because the Third World people dominate the UN now. So I say you can read that. I don't have to interpret it. He is not shuffling because, you know, people shuffle only under certain conditions, and they don't know they are shuffling. He is not shuffling, he is crawling back.

NEWTON: I have used restraint throughout the years against him (Cleaver) really, because I don't want people to think he is so important--our party is important because our party works for the people and no individual is important in our party, including myself--

AFRO: You are speaking of the Black Panther Party?

NEWTON: Yes. And this is why Elaine Brown did so well in the U.S. Senate election. She got over 40 percent of the vote and without my presence and Bobby Seale's presence.

AFRO: Do you see any relationship at all between the black freedom movement in America and the Cuban movement or the Cuban revolution?

NEWTON: I think generally speaking, both people are trying to be free from the abuses of the white racist North American authorities. I think that's the one common denominator. The Cubans found a way to liberate themselves and we haven't found the way yet. So that's the difference.

AFRO: You mentioned white racism. Now you have been in Cuba for a year. Have you detected any racism from the Cuban people?

NEWTON: No.

AFRO: There has been no racism at all?

 

NEWTON: I haven't experienced any.

AFRO: Have you seen any racism on the part of the people being victims of racism. I have been here for six days and I have sincerely felt that the Cuban government is making every attempt to cleanse the country of racism. You have been here one year and I am just wondering what your impressions might be along these lines?

NEWTON: Well first, I am a guest here. A rather honored guest of the Cuban government, so I wouldn't experience the problems. I think it would take a black Cuban to really articulate this because I'm being treated in a very generous way. But I would like to say that racial attitude and prejudice are probably here...It is very difficult to act this out--discrimination--discrimination is an act. After you have the prejudices, the disciminations come out, if there is an institution for it but the Cubans have attempted to create institutions free of discrimination. so I--but if you ask me, do I believe the government is moving to eliminate all the discrimination in jobs, etc.--then I would honestly have to say I believe so.

 

AFRO: You said you are a guest here. Does this mean you were invited--possibly by Fidel Castro? Do you know Fidel Castro? Have you had any input or any--

NEWTON: I would rather not answer any questions on my status here or my conversations with the officials.

AFRO: Now, did you say you were in the countryside, working in a machine--

NEWTON: Yes, by my request.

AFRO: Are you doing the same thing now?

NEWTON: No, I'm writing a book now. I'm continuing to write the book I started a year or so ago--about two years ago.

AFRO: So, how long do you think it will take you to complete the book and what is it about?

NEWTON: It's about a comprehensive history of the party...and a very critical one.

AFRO: Critical of the party?

NEWTON: Oh yes. I believe in criticism.

AFRO: Does this mean that you have some different insights as to what the party should be now as compared to when it was started?
NEWTON: When I founded the party in 1966, I had just turned 24. Now I'm 34. And each year, no, not each year, each day I live I've gained new experiences. Now the criticism is not to say the party did not play a positive part in those times, but, in order to be objective, we did not accomplish the things we set out to accomplish. So therefore, there is a reason why. Partly some incorrect lines that many of the party members had or simply an impossible situation. I think a combination of both. I threw out the criticism because I tried to make a fair representation. I have been the leader of the party now for 10 years. It doesn't seem that long.

AFRO: Are you saving that there are some things you wouldn't have done the same way you did them? What is the major thing that you would not have done had you been 34 when you started the party?

NEWTON: Well first, that's impossible. I could only talk in retrospect because I have gone through these experiences. I would say that when I first started out that was and I still am impressed by Fanon, Che, Fidel. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school. I wanted to leave high school in 1958 and join the Cuban revolution. So the only reason I did not come to join Castro was because my mother would not let me. I was only 16. So what I'm really trying to say is that I believed an armed insurrection could work. After I was shot and went to prison, that ended that illusion. I had time to think. I spent three years in solitary. So I had a lot of time and the first year I was in prison, I tried to get the party to stop the shooting, to stop the talk about the gun thing. They voted me down. We always had a central committee. They were mesmerized by Eldridge Cleaver.

AFRO: What approach would you take if you were to go back in the States and in command of the party?

NEWTON: Well, I'm still in command of the party.

AFRO: The point that I'm making is it's a bit difficult to rule from afar, isn't it?

NEWTON: No, I'm not ruling. I never ruled. I have one vote and I'm the leader of the party. I've always had a vote on the central committee. I always had more influence than that one vote. I'll admit that. I knew how to influence the people, but it's really just one vote. But the party is being handled in a very good way now. Elaine Brown ran for a city office and she, for a second time, received more than 40 percent of the vote. So Elaine--so the party chose to finally elect a mayor. We think it will be a "shoo-in" because we have a coalition with Judge Wilson who is the only Black judge on the Alemeda County Courthouse bench for some 10 years. And now some other judges have been appointed and we will make him mayor in 1977. Right now, I think the time is right for organizing and to give Blacks more political--the progressive Blacks, you have to make a distinction--participation, more Blacks in more authoritative positions, in more electoral political positions. But we want the right ones.

AFRO: What you are doing though--you are talking about working within the system. Am I understanding you correctly?

NEWTON: Well, I always said this and the people think it's a cute answer, but I say we have always been in the system and that's why we fight because we don't like the system. We are trying to transform it. When I was in the penitentiary after being accused of killing a policeman, I was more in the system in the penitentiary than ever. So I think it's absurd to talk about--one time you were outside the system, now you are in the system--no, we fight, the cause of the fight is because the system is bad that we can't get out of it. So I think the question is not a good one...

AFRO: From your vantage point, what do you see as the biggest problem now facing Black America? What has Black America got to do--

NEWTON: Survive! The only way you can strive is to earn a subsistence--to earn a living. When the government doesn't need all those p

 

Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: November 6, 2001
URL: http://black_and_hispanic.tripod.com/blackhistory/
Contact: Terry Muse