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Revolutionary Suicide: A critical historical viewpoint on modern racial justice

5.0 stars

In this gripping 1973 autobiography, activist Huey Newton authors the tales of his childhood and family life, experience in college and the founding of the Black Panther Party (BPP) with fellow student Bobby Seale, ending with his release from prison after an overturned conviction in the fiercely contested case of a slain police officer. Newton does all this with a searing sense of clarity, able to dissect the various social and economic conditions which play a role in the formation of his views on both class struggle and race, as well as how they have helped him set plans for the future of the BPP. 

“Revolutionary suicide” is a term coined by the late BPP co-founder to describe the extreme challenges faced and sacrifices made by those who wish to change any system of oppression. By opposing the forces that would drive one to suicide, one can hope to live a life in pursuit of changing the exploitative social conditions under which they live, and even in an instance such as an untimely death at the hands of the oppressor, have stood for change. 

Newton paints the act of revolutionary suicide as an uncompromising one, and one he lives throughout his life, in encounters with police and, perhaps most visibly, in his several experiences with the prison system. Instead of breaking and giving in to the demands of the prison staff for preferential treatment, Newton faces down long stretches of solitary confinement. He develops techniques to maintain his mind and composure, which, in time, instills a sense of both awe and fear in the guards as they understand that they cannot break him. 

Not one to rest on his laurels, upon being freed Newton jumps back into navigating the perilous waters of the political setting, battling those who seek to use the movement as their means to a personal end. He copes with the loss of fellow Black Panthers and seeks to jump back into coordinating the social programs promised in the ten point program he and Bobby Seale formed so many years ago.

This book is incredibly hard to put down once picked up. It offers valuable context and key insights into the formation of the BPP, its principles, and how its trajectory changed over the course of time, leading the reader to think critically regarding modern racial justice. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Newton’s work is how relevant his thoughts are in today’s political climate regarding race in America, and how so little has changed in regards to policing and the prison industrial complex.

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