Local Voices S3E3 - Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation
Air Date: 4.26.21
Music: AWEN - Your Voice Produced by: Supervillain
Fredrika Newton, Xavier Buck, Francesca D’Alessio
Frederica Newton, the widow of Huey Newton founded the Dr. Huey P. Newton foundation over 25 years ago to memorialize and celebrate the Black Panther Party, and its founder, her love, Dr. Huey P. Newton. Through love, strength, and resilience, she shares the significance of correcting the false narratives and memorializing the legacy and impact of the Black Panther Party in the way they deserve to be commemorated. Fredrika works tirelessly, with a great amount of thoughtfulness, care, and the love needed to push the foundation's vision forward. This is a big job, but Frederica is not alone. She has surrounded herself with a team of brilliant individuals like Xavier Buck, the Deputy Director of the foundation, who has been a strong leading force. Both have worked closely together every step of the way doing the groundwork navigating internal systems from creating initiatives, fundraising events, attending city council meetings, everything it takes to make sure the foundation's work is heard loud and clear. The foundation's success is a testament to the great teamwork and the trust they have in each other. They are individuals focused on making a long-lasting impact by shifting narratives through the creation of public art and public monuments. Please join me in this episode, where I have the honor of speaking with Frederica Newton and Xavier Buck. Where did this journey of public art begin for you?
It started a few years ago when we wanted to work with the National Park Service and create an actual public monument in Oakland. And we took it before the Trump administration and it got shut down. So I was kind of a little, we put a lot of work into it, I was a little demoralized by it, a little defeated.
Why were you turned down originally? Like what was their reason for saying no monument?
Well, it was actually no Black Panther anything. We got a grant $98,000 I think that was awarded to create Black Panther Party memory project. And that was hopefully included a public art piece. And once it came, the Fraternal Order of the police protested it. Well, I mean, not Biden, of course not Biden, Trump put the kibosh on it.
Just because of the Black Panther name on it.
Because of the Black Panther name, and an alleged situation with park ranger situation, I think it was in Marin and an alleged Black Panther Party member. So
Francesca 02:36 And this is 2016?
That was 20. Before Yeah, it was 2016.
Wow, I mean, it's just unbelievable. That in 2016, you're still being confronted with no, because it has the Black Panther name on it. At what point do you think it changed? or what was it? Was there a moment or I mean, I know you've been at it a long time.
The Black Panther Party has not had many doors open. The foundation representing this legacy. We've it's just now with where the the party's been recognized through movies like Judas and the black Messiah and participant media, which is promoting the the movie that people have become more aware and knowledgeable about what the party actually did, as opposed to how we were portrayed. I'm kind of pinching myself sometimes, because of the interest and not only the interest, but the doors that are being opened repeatedly, People are actually really hungry for this knowledge. I mean, the National Park Service, which is America's storyteller, really are supporting that we get the National Park dedicated to the history and legacy of this party.
And this is for the monument for the Black Panthers.
This is actually for the National Park historical monument, and or park unit. And we've gotten Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and San Francisco signed on to support this.
That's incredible. So the park would be dedicated to the Black Panthers. I mean, it would be the Black Panthers National Park.
And don't think of it in the traditional sense, like Yosemite or Yellow. Okay. It would be part of scattered sites throughout Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco, and quite conceivably or possibly throughout the nation because the Black Panther Party was present in 46 cities.
How extraordinary. I mean, it's really so powerful. It's long overdue. You know, I'm so grateful to you. I was born and raised in New York City and I was raised to love the Panthers. That the Panthers were saving families, they were saving babies, they saved children, you know, fed hungry people, they were doing great work. I just feel like it was such a missed opportunity that Oakland didn't own and praise the Panthers. I mean, it's the birthplace of the Black Panthers, who nationally saved lives. I mean, I'm preaching to the choir, it gets me fired up, though, is really like insane.
The work that we're doing so when I hear that it just, you know, feeds me.
So let's talk about Huey’s Monument, because it's so important. And I talked to Dana King about it. And she told me how deeply you were involved in the process. So how did you choose Dana? You know, we'll start from the beginning. How did that happen? How did it all start?
It really did start on a street corner. And it happened very quickly. There's a woman, Jill Christina, who, you know, was having a mural placed on the side of her house to commemorate the women of the Black Panther Party and Erica Huggins had suggested I go down and see the work in progress and meet Jill Christina, who I actually had known before that because I used to go down to that site a lot and talk to people. And you know, just to see what happened that night that Huey died, her home is directly across the street from where Huey passed. When I went, and I went across the street, and I looked at the site, and I said, I've got to do something. And I've got to put a plaque here or something. I talked to one of the neighbors there. And he said he worked at a foundry or something said yeah, I've thought about, often thought about doing something myself right here on the sidewalk. So we're looking, and I left there, and I said, I'm gonna go to this one organization around the corner that does work in metalwork, and see if they could create a plaque. Well, by the time I got home, I said, no, what am I doing? Let me call Dana. Dana met me down there, I think either, I think it was a couple hours later, went back down there. And it went from a plaque to a standing plaque to a bust, to a full bronze piece up the street in the rock. And there's a big boulder there. So that idea really, it happened within 24 hours. I just thought Dana would be perfect. I love Dana, she's close by, she's a brilliant artist, I could have be part of the creative process. And so the you know, you just saw there were about five of us women on that on that corner. Yeah, we can do this and, and within 24 hours, and we were off and running. It really started from small plaque.
And talking with Dana, you know, she loved this project so much. And she said, she leaned on you so hard to learn who Huey was as a person. And that there was a moment, you know, she was like, it wasn't right. It wasn't right. And there was a moment that Huey came to the piece. And then she said, and he wouldn't stop talking. And she said, you're not my man, you belong with Freddie. You got to get out.
Not my man. Nice. Got a little too attached over there. 08:07
But she said it was you brought him you know, because you were there with her the entire time. And you would come in and you were part of the process of building him. And she said she absolutely he wouldn't have come if you hadn't been there. You know, she said his spirit really filled. You know, as soon as she could see him in his eyes, then he was there.
It was quite an extraordinary relationship to the piece and to the creation of the piece. And to Dana, you know, it's a very intimate relationship. It's even hard to describe. Because I don't know any people who've been able to experience bringing their love back to life in a piece of art. I didn't have to, I got to work really closely with her. It couldn't have been done any other way, I don't think. And there were some times particularly when I consulted with a friend because there was at one stage where he just wasn't Huey. Dana called me in there for the very first time she was excited because she just created a neck. I remember that I went over there, and it was a neck. Dana's Dana's interesting because she she doesn't have a lot of ego involved in the process. So for me, I wouldn't want somebody to see it when it was absolutely what I thought was perfect. And she invited me throughout the whole process to witness it. There was one time where I thought we were had gotten really close to the end of it. And it wasn't right. Like his eyes were not right. And I couldn't sleep for about four nights. Thinking about oh my god, this is the eyes. They're just not right. He almost looked like despairing. I called a friend who does forensic work with with sculpture. And she said, your hands have memory. She said, go and lay your hands on him, you'll remember what he felt like. And you'll remember she said, trust it, your hands have memory. And that's what I did. And I went and I laid hands on him. And that's when it just started to take a whole new life, it started to take on Huey. That was, yeah, one of the more memorable moments there. When he started to really become his own.
It's so beautiful. And you know, Dana tells a very similar story that it sort of took you coming in. And, and that you were so honest, through the whole process, you know, she loved working with you that you guys had this great communication. And she also talked about Huey’s eyes that he wasn't there until he was there.
It's true. It's yeah, it's really true. And, um, my son came in, and Dana had to ask, is he an artist, because he, he wanted his mouth to do a certain thing, where it wasn't downturn, it was up just ever so slightly. And we brought in other people too, like I brought in an old, old school, hair stylist, barber, Diamond fan, look at his Afro good. It is baby hair, right? It has to be right.
It has to be right, it has to be perfect. You know, because what's beautiful about us recording today talking about this, in 1000 years, that statue will be there. You know, and here we are today talking about this moment, and this process. And if you had one of Huey’s hairs wrong, it's a different, you know, a different sculpture, it has to be him. Has to be perfect.
You know, Fran, it really makes me think of because the last time I was able to, to touch him like that, or to to make sure that he was he looked right was when he was at the sim at the mortuary. When he was killed. By the time, not by the time, by the time I went to Highland hospital that morning and they sat us in this room and I had worked in that ER, a few months prior and had left it was a nurse, and that room where they sit the family of victims and that ER is it's it's painted this putrid green. But you would always hear these animal screams from that room when the doctor would go in and tell the people's loved one that they're, you know, the person had died. And here I was in that room. Oh, gosh. So they never came in. We were in there forever. And finally, you know, went out? Can somebody help us I where's my husband? And they had already moved him to the morgue. So I never got to see him until he was at the mortuary the night before the public viewing. But then that I had my cousin with me. And I said, oh no, he wouldn't have his goatee, and he wouldn't have his hair like that. And I said to the guy, look, can you fix this? If not, she can fix it, my cousin can. So it was so special. From here on. He, you know, it was him that was just right.
And it's so important. And I know his spirit is thanking you. It's the magic is in those details. You know, so this is one of the first times we met. I had wanted to do some sort of tribute to the Black Panther Party. And I reached out to you asking you about Huey and you basically stopped me and you said he's more than that wicker chair, Fran, and he's more than the Black Panther leader. He's uh, he was funny. And he was my love and he was romantic. And it just, you know, it stayed with me forever, because I had absolutely this image of him in the chair, a strong Panther, you know, and you took it down to this whole humanized level of you just he was just the man you loved.
He was so not that guy in the wicker chair. He didn’t even like the picture. I think Eldridge, it was Eldridge’s idea. And they staged it. Huey referred to himself and wanted people to refer to him as servant. No, we call him servant, not minister, not minister of defense, servant of the people. And so that speaks to the heart of the man that he that he really was here to serve the people. And I think that gets lost. And this came from a deep sense of love for his people, which is why he was so willing to make all the sacrifices that he did. Oh, yeah, I didn't fall in love. I was afraid of that guy in the wicker chair. I avoided the office, the Black Panther Party office on Shadek. I avoid the Black Panther Party office on Shadek and AJ’s artistic fingers right next door. Where all the pimps used to get their hair done. I avoided the whole scene, I walked across the street. So I was, you know, I was frightened of that that guy, that image of that guy in the wicker chair, so when I met him, he was so different than this public image of him. It made it even more striking. You know, the difference between who he was and who I perceived him to be. You know, it's quiet, it was a little awkward. A little shy, you know, um, at least with me he was.
He had a crush on you. I'm sure he was more dorky towards you than others. Fumbling over his words, you know?
He’d definitely fumble over his words. Yeah. But he was completely accepting of who I was. And, and as family is so important to me. He was, you know, my mother loved him, she introduced me to him. And my brother was very connected to Huey. So he, from the very beginning, he was just family.
Do you feel the man you love comes through in the monument? Because that's a tough one to reconcile. Right? Because the, the people want to see Huey Newton, this leader, you know, power house with the beret and you know, ready to fight. But he's a dorky kind lover, who's in love with a woman, you know, he's the guy who loves a woman. I mean, I guess all of it is real. All of it is true.
I needed to show strength, vision, and purpose and, and heart, you know, it's not easy.
Dana is wonderful. And Dana said, as long as you're happy, she's happy.
She always said that. Yeah, I'm gonna miss working with her.
And for you, as well, you know, just to release this piece that you've been so intimately connected to, you know, as an artist, you'd like sort of turn your soul inside out, expose it to the world, and they criticize that they don't like whatever color or they didn't like this line, or you know, and it's like, your, your blood, sweat and tears that you're exposing. Do you feel a sense of that when you release this Huey monument to the world?
I, I'll have to see exactly how I feel. I thinkthat I, I've been a little nervous lately and wondering what people would think, oh, why didn't you put the beret on? And why don’t you have a leather jacket? You know, I know that. Once you put yourself out there you you're, it's such an intimate piece for me. Like I just, I just drove past the street the other day, for the first time since it's been renamed. It's a very intimate experience. It's a very private experience for me to see that street and to know that this was that this work happened and that this is where the spirit of this man is. So I yeah, I may have created this little bubble where it doesn't really matter. This is Huey on this rock. And this is what we did to get him there. And, you know, it just feels like a very private experience. So
Yeah, it's got to be tough to reconcile, because you're sort of giving him to the world and keeping him close as well.
Yeah, that was always something tough to reconcile.
Yeah, sure. Right. Right. I'm sure from the minute you met him. That was something you were trying to reconcile
It was and they were always stolen moments, you know, it was always on so and maybe perhaps this is, you know, a way of letting him go. In a way that has been hard in the past,
It's really going to be an anchor point, I think in the middle of Oakland.
No, man, it's so interesting. You say that because it's already happened. I know that there's a walk that's being planned, I think in support of political prisoners, or Mumia in particular. And they call it this sacred space. So it's going to be there on that street in this sacred space. That's a quote. So it's already being seen in that way with the mural and, you know, with with the bus in the street name change, I think there's something happening.
And long overdue. I mean, folks who are helping each other and saving the world to be demonized and treated in such a way. I mean, finally to acknowledge heroes for being heroes. No, it's so important and to create that space where it can be acknowledged. With Huey, you know, it's really beautiful. Yeah, I'm so proud to know you and so proud you keep fighting the good fight. I just and it keeps getting bigger. We talked about a year ago about a Black Panther monument, and now there's a Huey monument, a museum and a park. I love it. You know, it's so important. So October 24, the unveiling of the Huey monument.
Yeah, it's actually the weekend of the 55th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, and there'll be an event there. It's about time the Panther alumni putting together an event and this will be part of that weekend.
That's huge. So you have two monuments, two public pieces going. So yeah, the monument to the Black Panther Party is still in the permitting phase is that Yeah. Okay. And so you're meeting with Biden's people this week, you said?
So, there's the National Park unit that we're working to establish, right. And that's, you know, you can think of like national parks, but imagine like a visitor center. So that looks like a museum, you know, on this established site owned by the National Park Service, federal government type of thing, right. And then you have all these historic landmarks across the country, but particularly, particularly here in the Bay Area. So for example, maybe the old Black Panther Headquarters will have the sign in front of it, designating it as a national landmark with some history behind it. Right, so in particular, is talking about the reconnaissance, reconnaissance study, right? You have to know what's all included before you start establishing these national park units. So this study is a, you know, particular to the Bay Area, but actually say there's so many cities with black panther chapters. So it's really a national study that could lead to one of the largest national park units ever established in our country. So that's what we're working with. That, we just got resolutions for Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco. So Barbara Lee can take those to Biden's desk, and hopefully he can sign off to get the reconnaissance study started again after he ordered it in the past.
I mean, there's some landmarks in New York, Philly. I mean, that's huge. Wow.
Absolutely. And, you know, I used to live in New York, I spent time in DC in Memphis, Chicago, I went to all these places. And he talked to the people. And it seemed like they had an understanding of the history that these historic landmarks told, right? It was like common knowledge to talk about these things. But coming from Los Angeles and California, we don't have those kinds of things. And so I always imagine figuring out, how do we build Black History into the built environment? Right? How do we do that? How do we facilitate that conversation?
And where are people hearing these stories too, you know, I mean, that's what worries me because you don't want these stories to get lost. And so by claiming the land, and by making these stories, I mean, that just feels so solid. That's awesome.
You both talked about it. But we haven't known most people haven't known a genuine Panther history. There's been no control over the narrative, or any control. It's been done by the FBI and conservative media. And so the Panthers have mostly only been demonized. And so for the first time, the doctor Dr. Huey P. Newton foundation is getting a hand up on controlling that narrative, and saying, This is who the Panthers were, for the first time, we could say, Healy was a human, right, that's talking about control over the narrative. And I think that's really important. When we think about the things that we learn and how we learn them.
A 100% I mean, just that simple. Huey was a human who loved people who cared about the well being of people, and he put his life on the line for it.
The possibilities are endless, you know, we've definitely started tapping into having the AR experience around, you know, the the statue of Huey Newton. But I think to build off of that the bigger kind of, once you have a thirst for knowledge, where do you enquire you know about this stuff, we're still building on that project to digitize all the Black Panther newspapers to make them searchable index, categorize, so they're easy to go through, right, that anybody can go through them and understand the history of the party. Right? So it's like, yeah, these build structures statutes at noon, right? That's part one, right? Part two is building this whole augmented reality experience around it. And then part three is then being attached to the actual digitized newspapers that teach you the most information about the party.
It's so brilliant. I mean, it's so important to keep stories, maintain stories and share them the correct way. I mean, there's nothing more important. Who had saved all the newspapers?
Well, originally, the foundation had a whole set, you know, a lot was left to the estate by Huey, and we were able to people, donated along the way. Ultimately, we get pretty close to a full set, and then it was digitized before they were lost. So we have them, they're all digitized, and there are different, there are different institutions that have full sets still.
How are you thinking about your Museum?
No matter what the logistics end up being, once it's built at our core will always remain or always value accessibility for everybody, getting this message out to everyone. Of course, we know that institutions cost money, especially museums, but that's what the partnerships come in.
You know, at that Oakland Museum on the 50th anniversary with 84,000 visitors at 84,000 plus. It was the most visited exhibit that they had in the history, the history of the museum that's telling you something all over us, people there from all over the world. So people are hungry for this knowledge.
It's easy to do, it's easier to do this work because so many people want to consume this information. And I wouldn't take that lightly because it's somewhat new to have all of this support from every angle. When I went to college in New York at St. John's University, we had one of the biggest student movements the university had ever seen, the Black and Brown students did. And our Bibles were The Autobiography of Assata Shakur and Kwame Ture’s Black Power. And in the same way that civil rights and Black Power organizers have been looking back to the Harlem Renaissance and other movements around that time in the 20s, and 30s, we were looking back, you know, to the Black Panther Party and affiliated groups or adjacent groups as inspiration as theoretical frameworks as ways to understand the current world we were living in and where we need to take the mantle.
And so I think that underneath all of this was this large youth movement between colleges, between youth and across different cities, just kind of pushing for new policy changes largely around police brutality, since Trayvon Martin kind of reinvigorated things. And then you have this route of this Black Lives Matter movement. I mean, that broadly defined, of people just saying, enough is enough, we have to have an alternative future. And so when you talk about what is the impact of these monuments, right, the huge statue of Huey Newton and then the Black Panther Party monument, that we went near Lake Merritt central to Oakland. I think the beauty of it is that for one of the legacies, that we're working with this broader movement with the youth with what's kind of percolating right now in our environment, and we're not doing it alone, right, the legacy is that we're movement building, right? That's what we're movement building, but we're doing it with the people in a way that reflects on history, inspires people and actually gets people engaged with the actual text, actual thoughts, right, the actual survival programs that the party was about by the actual work. And I think it's just, it's hard to think about legacy without thinking about the past.
Well said, very well said, Yeah, and I think it's simply to say, for me, that I again, I do want to to inspire young freedom fighters who may feel that they, for some reason, can't do what the Black Panther Party did. But they can do that and more. So I want it to be an inspiration, I want them to feel inspired by the work that we did, and know that it came from love. It was out of love for them and their children, their grandchildren, and to know that they too can do this work in whatever big or small way. And that again, we didn't do it alone. We worked in coalition with so many like minded organizations. So I want everyone that's fighting for freedom to, to come and look at these monuments and, and just feel inspiration from, from that movement.
Absolutely. Do you think the monuments could potentially spark a resurgence of the Black Panthers?
I don't know about the Black Panthers, but definitely a movement. You know, there, there were conditions that not that are not unlike conditions today that sparked that movement then. So yeah, may not be the Black Panther Party, but it can be whatever version that works today, taking from not only the the, the self, the criticisms of the party, or things where we might have gotten it wrong to the many things that we got right.
Because I think a lot of people ask that question, when's the Black Panther Party coming back? And I think the most important takeaways from the party are one, their survival programs, right? Making sure that people have food that they had medical clinics that there were sickle cell test, and anything that the black community needed in a very local context and made sure they could deliver those services. The second takeaway, very knowledgeable of the law, understanding what their rights were, right, and make sure they can spread that information in very, like tangible ways so people can understand it. And then three, I think Frederick already said, its the love part. And I think that's cannot be undersold, because I think a lot of times activists work, you get so caught up in the anger, of just being passionate about what you're angry about, that you forget that all this work is about loving your people. And when that's central to your work, it's so much easier to build coalition with people, it's so much easier to work with people who maybe don't believe exactly in the same ideals but have similar outcomes. Right? That love part has to be central to it. And so I think you can have like self defense, you can be that militaristic kind of toting guns, people. But if you want to, as long as you understand that love is at the core of that, right, you can protect out of love.
Um, so how has this sort of toppling of monuments this summer of change of public art,how has that changed your process at all or your thought process around these monuments? Has it had any impact?
I think it's kind of fortified what it is that we're doing. Even when you look around this town, there's no monument that speaks to it. I don't know any freedom fighter here. Are there any monuments to speak to anybody.
Just remember them, but it's not really a local store.
Yeah, so there's nothing that speaks to any local activists or local freedom fighters. So I think it's kind of fortified and, um, the work that we're doing for me and really confirm the need. Yeah, because I remember the first time when I came to the de Young, with a little, a little reluctant to talk about that whole movement of toppling monuments, I think, what was that about a year and a half ago, it wasn't I mean, we weren't riding on that. It was, it was our decision to create monuments. Not in, lights up. But because there was nothing there.
The largest monuments in this country haven't even yet been toppled. We have these freeways constructed in the 50s and 60s, they cut right through black neighborhoods and purposely destroyed black business districts. And that happened all over the country, but especially in California, and yet we breathe in and look at these freeways every single day, right? We walk through downtown's, right cities that were personally built by white developers, mostly sprouting in the 1980s and 1990s. As far as we know today, the city's contracts are given exclusively to white developers and black developers were kept out. We walk around these cities every day and say, this is normal. These are monuments to capitalism. Type of capitalism that purposely excludes black people from the economy. So I was just thinking, well, if we build the Black Panther Party monument, maybe we can provide an alternative to racial capitalism. Maybe we can teach people that, hey, there are other ways of thinking about the world that we live in. And everything doesn't have to be how it is just because we see it every single day.
I mean, I've been doing all this work around public monuments, hadn't even thought about highways and freeways.
Yeah, so interesting. Historically, because Huey’s monument is going to be placed it was right where the Nimitz freeway was it fell during, the during the earthquake in 1989. So that's where that monument will be placed. Right there, the site that was the freeway.
What would you want to see people leaving for Huey?
Well, I'll tell you what his favorite flowers was, the Gardenia so he always floated Gardenias. We were actually thinking about making the piece allow for a gardenia to be placed there in the water, so flowers would be nice.
Dr. Huey P. Newton foundation is bringing the Black Panther legacy while carving out a permanent space in Oakland, home of the Black Panthers. This is beyond remembrance. It's about reshaping history, learning and honoring to move forward towards a systemically inclusive world. Monuments and memorials are powerful touchpoints through which communities reconcile with their past and set the tone of conversations about the future.
Next week, please join us when I have the great honor of talking with the amazing artist Dana King. Classical figurative sculptor who creates public monuments of black bodies in bronze. Her latest project includes the creation of a Huey Newton bust for the foundation, King opens up about her studio space and talks about how sculptures provide an opportunity to shape culturally significant memories and reveal common threads of shared values.
I'm Francesca D’Alessio, and I oversee the public programs initiatives at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and I'm your host for this series. Please visit our website deyoung.famsf.org/programs/local voices to find transcripts for this episode and to be sure to subscribe to our Museum's email newsletters, to learn all about what's going on here at the de Young.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai