College students Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton co-founded a student organization on Oct. 15, 1966, in Oakland, California, that would become vital to a powerful revolutionary movement: the Black Panther Party. Fast forward about 55 years, and the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation is preserving the legacies of these influential Black figures and the visions they had for their community.
“We hear the Panthers’ demand for justice when we hear the words ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-CA, said in her opening statements at the March 3 virtual event “Preserving the History of the Black Panther Party.”
The event was a part of “Virtual Wednesdays,” a weekly YouTube series curated by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) — the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor — every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Past Virtual Wednesdays have featured discussions around influential artists like Frida Kahlo and the exploration of topics such as race, representation, equity, and identity in art. These live broadcasts are intended to uplift Bay Area voices and celebrate the various ways that art and activism intersect.
At the most recent event, FAMSF hosted a conversation between members of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation about their upcoming initiatives to memorialize the Black Panther Party. The foundation was created by Fredrika Newton, one of the event’s speakers and Huey Newton’s widow, who is a former member of the Black Panther Party. The other speakers included Xavier Buck, the deputy director of the foundation, and Damien McDuffie, the foundation’s archives and brand strategy director.
“[The Panthers] were truly powerful because of their survival programs,” Buck said. The programs which Buck referred to were the Free Breakfast for School Children Program and the party’s work to open free medical clinics around cities in which they were located, among dozens of others.
“But their mission was never fulfilled. We are still demanding an end to police brutality, decent and affordable housing, quality education, and free healthcare,” Buck said. “It is only 55 years since their founding that we can finally look to commemorate the Black Panther Party here in Oakland.”
For the members of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, art plays a central role in their preservation and promotion of the ideals of the Black Panther Party. In February of this year, they unveiled Dr. Huey P. Newton Way, a street sign on Oakland’s 9th street, a block from where Newton was killed in 1989. It is situated near murals commemorating members of the Black Panther Party, including one on the side of West Oakland activist Jilchristina Vest’s home dedicated to the women of the party.
“Art and activism are the light of this street,” Fredrika Newton said in reference to her late husband’s tribute.
In between powerful videos and images of the Oakland community and monuments dedicated to members of the Black Panther Party, the foundation’s speakers discussed their upcoming initiatives, including the installation of a bronze statue of Huey Newton at the end of Dr. Huey P. Newton Way, and the digitalization of all editions of The Black Panther, the party’s official newspaper, which ran from 1967-1980.
“I think what people are responding to is just the acknowledgment of the Panthers and what they’ve done for our city,” McDuffie said about the positive response Oakland residents have had to the foundation’s initiatives.
Newton said what motivates her activism, while concurrently acting as the basis for the foundation, is what her husband famously said was “not great hate, but great love for other people.”
Part of the foundation’s goal is for the children of Oakland to learn about the history of the party that was founded in their community. Newton said, “I’m hoping that this whole process brings healing to those who were there and future generations to come.”
You can access past Virtual Wednesdays and see upcoming events through the de Young Museum’s website.
If you would like to learn more about the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, you can visit huey.one