The Shadow of the Panther

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The cry “Free Huey!” was common in the late 1960’s, when the militant Black Panther Party (BPP) captured the fire and anger, the determination and imagination of many Americans. The subject of that slogan, BPP founder Huey P. Newton, is gunned down on a West Oakland sidewalk in the opening chapter of this book. That 1989 murder—allegedly ordered by a prison-based drug ring run by African Americans—is a jumping off point for a leap into the roots, development and evolution of the Civil Rights movement.

Author Hugh Pearson, a Pacific News Service journalist, takes readers away from Newton’s killing and modern urban crime to another time and arena where African Americans struggled for dignity, security, and equality: the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Organizers such as A. Philip Randolph and C. L. Dellums continued the leadership heritage of W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Pearson shows that Randolph and Dellums in turn paved the way for Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and Newton, the magnetic, mythic lightning rod for Black Power.

Newton is frankly portrayed as a multidimensional activist, a brave visionary with a dark side that could overshadow him, an intellectual and spiritual man who became a drug- and alcohol-addicted thug. He rose to prominence in Oakland, where “police would regularly lie in wait outside West Oakland bars, arrest those emerging, and beat them and rob them en route...

(The entire section is 433 words.)