*In part one of our revealing interview with original Black Panther Party members Mohammed Mubarak and Sherwin Forte, they explained how Huey P. Newton’s “purge” of original members caused a split in the party, an act Sherwin considered a “betrayal.” In part two of our in-depth discussion about Stanley Nelson’s powerful new documentary “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” they take us deeper into Newton’s descent into what Sherwin calls “gangsterism.”
Produced by Laurens Grant, Mubarak and Forte are featured in doc, which touches on Huey’s transformation from revolutionary to criminal, and before his purge on original members, the FBI feared he would become a “Black Messiah.”
Mohammed: I think the FBI was happy to see Huey evolve into what he became because they were trying to prevent the rise of a “Black Messiah” – and Huey, to a lot of folk, had become a folk hero. Especially when he was in jail and there was this mass free Huey movement, and everybody chanting “Free Huey!”. When he finally got out of jail, and those thousands of people came to cheer him, and saw him stand up on top of the car, this was a symbol of a “Black Messiah” to the FBI, and they knew they had to come up with something to destroy this threat. What better thing to come up with but drugs to get a man’s mind altered and destabilize this movement.
Sherwin: Huey confessed that he liked cocaine during the early days. If all you got to do to a black leader is come up with a good grade of cocaine… Is that all you got to do to change somebody’s politics?
Mohammed: But you know, COINTELPRO is a very powerful apparatus that the FBI was able to execute. The infiltration, putting FBI agents undercover to join the Black Panther Party. Everywhere we went, we were under constant surveillance.
Sherwin: Before I went to jail, part of the party’s political education was (Mao Tse-tung’s) “[Little] Red Book.” While I was in jail, the “Red Book” got tossed aside and Huey started recommending reading “The Godfather.” That was a hell of a switch, and the way he carried on, it seemed as though he thought he was the Godfather. There’s rumors about him taking folks welfare checks, beating up his tailor, shooting prostitutes. He devolved and got into a kind of gangsterism, not for political change.
I never thought that we could overthrow the United States. I thought maybe we could make enough noise to get some recognition and some sympathy and maybe we could push forward with some programs. I was willing to fight for that. Some people kinda fault Elaine Brown for having some influence on Huey, something to the extent of ‘he could make more money if he got into drugs and let this revolution thing go because that really wasn’t going to happen.’
What’s your opinion on the New Black Panthers? Do you think the tenants of the original movement need to be updated ?
Mohammed: Khalid Mohammed, who was in the Nation of Islam, started the New Black Panthers and they are still coming from a Black Nationalist, separatist ideology. It’s something so far removed from what the Black Panther Party platform, programming and philosophy was all about. We didn’t believe White folks were devils. We didn’t teach others to go out and kill people because they weren’t black. That’s not what the Black Panthers were all about. But that’s what they are all about. They are using the Black Panther logo and the symbolism of the Black Panther party and it’s really an injustice to what we stood for.
Sherwin: If the original Black Panther Party is dead, then I think they have the right to say whatever they want to say. If the original black panther party is not dead, then what they’re doing is sort of infringement and imitation, and I think that should be addressed and straightened out.