A bust of legendary Black Panther co-founder and leader Huey Newton was unveiled in West Oakland, California, on Sunday, Oct. 24. Though the weather turned somewhat inclement, the rain didn’t dampen the spirit of those gathered for the culminating event of the Black Panther Party’s 55th anniversary celebration.
“The rain is very symbolic of the struggle and the obstacles that become our fuel,” Oakland native and musician Fantastic Negrito told the crowd, according to The Oaklandside.
Created by journalist-turned-sculptor Dana King, the bust is located on Huey P. Newton Way and Mandela Parkway near the area where Newton was murdered in Oakland in 1989. He was only 47.
“I’ve created him to bring him home to West Oakland,” King told ABC7 before the unveiling. “The reason he’s looking up and out is because he was a visionary, he saw into the future. … There’s been so much misinformation, propaganda about the Panthers that’s harmful. The story that exists about the Panthers is wrong.”
According to King, the bust took two years to create and she took great care to consult those who knew Newton best to ensure she captured his essence correctly. Among her consultants were Newton’s widow and fellow Black Panther member, Fredrika Newton, and his barber, Ken Diamond.
“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,” King said of Fredrika.
“He came over to my studio to make sure that it was right. I felt compelled to create him as authentically as I could…and as detailed as I could because I want people to look at him,” King said about Diamond to another news outlet. “I want them to look into his eyes and I want them to question where did that come from to co-create the Panthers.”
Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party in 1966 to fight against systemic racism, poverty, police brutality and other debilitating issues Black Americans faced.
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 74: Jamarlin Martin
Jamarlin returns for a new season of the GHOGH podcast to discuss Bitcoin, bubbles, and Biden. He talks about the risk factors for Bitcoin as an investment asset including origin risk, speculative market structure, regulatory, and environment. Are broader financial markets in a massive speculative bubble?
While many mainstream historians painted the Black Panthers as armed troublemakers, many Black historians and community members paint a different picture of the positive impact they made. Black Panther initiatives included their Ten Point Program, their free breakfast program and innovating a sickle cell testing program, among other things.
They were armed to protect themselves, historian Robert W. Widell Jr. told AP. “I think we also need to recognize the very real ways in which a lot of the violence that surrounded the Panthers was instigated and provoked by law enforcement themselves,” Widell said.
The bust was funded by the Huey P. Newton Foundation, which Fredrika Newton founded nearly three decades ago to preserve the polarizing leader’s legacy and continue helping the community. She said she was very pleased with King’s work.
“It just glowed, like he did,” Fredrika Newton told The Associated Press. “His skin just glistened.”
Gina Belafonte, daughter of historic actor, artist, philanthropist and activist Harry Belafonte, served as emcee at the unveiling of Newton’s bust. “Public art is incredibly important. It is a way in which we can build a dialogue around telling accurate history.” Belafonte said.
In a press release before the event, Fredrika said through the sculpture, they were “writing a new chapter for the Party” to show the Black Panthers were not troublemakers history has accused them of being, but rather “vanguards and protectors of the communities they served and that their contributions made a difference.”
Fredrika also wanted to reclaim the humanity of her husband, who, depending on who you ask, is either adored or vilified.
“I would like for people to see him as a total human being,” Fredrika said. “That he wasn’t just an iconic figure in a wicker chair. This was a man with vulnerabilities, with feelings, with insecurities, with frailties, just like anybody.”