Theology and Real Politics: On Huey P. Newton

  • Vincent Lloyd
Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)


Panther, the Mario and Melvin Van Peebles film fictionalizing the early days of the Black Panther Party, begins with the familiar sounds of “We Shall Overcome,” and the familiar voice of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.1 Soon the images turn to documentary footage of the violent repression of civil rights marches and the voice of Malcolm X talking about the right to self-defense. The film switches from black-and-white to color, from documentary to fiction. We see a young black boy bicycling through a friendly community of fast-talking black people of familiar types— informal merchants, knowing elders, curvy and colorful women, corner boys, and a well-dressed preacher. The young bicyclist is hit by a car, and the varied community members gather around his bloody corpse to mourn. Reverend Slocum, we are told, is holding “another vigil,” but a group of twenty-something black men proposes to their friends that they respond differently— that they put pressure on the police by following them. They propose that they respond to the tragedy “not by praying, but by watching.” “You think City Hall really cares about a bunch of black people holding another prayer vigil at some God-damned church?” the character played by Chris Rock queries.


Black People Real Politics Black Panther Party Religious Idea Political Judgment 
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  1. 1.
    Panther, Directed by Mario Van Peebles. Gramercy Pictures, 1995. Based on Melvin Van Peebles, Panther: A Novel (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For the deep connections between black power and black religion in another context, in Detroit, see Angela D. Dillard, Faith in the City: Preaching Radical Social Change in Detroit (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 155.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bobby Seale, Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (New York: Random House, 1970), 264.Google Scholar
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    Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 11.
    Geuss does allow a place for “imaginative life” in these actual motivations. He opposes reality to illusion, which is always distorted; imagination, in contrast, is a part of reality and can lead to real motivations. See also Raymond Geuss, Politics and the Imagination (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Biographical details draw on Seale, Seize the Time, and Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide (New York: Penguin Books, 2009 [1973]).Google Scholar
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    See especially James H. Cone, Black Theology andBlackPower (New York: Seabury Press, 1969).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Eddie Claude, ed., Is It Nation Time? Contemporary Essays on Black Power and Black Nationalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002)Google Scholar
  10. Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  11. 20.
    Anthony B. Pinn, ed., By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism (New York: New York University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    David Hilliard and Donald Weise, eds., The Huey P. Newton Reader (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), 189.Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    David Hilliard, ed., The Black Panther Party: Service to the People Programs (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2008), 14–15.Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    Huey P. Newton, “The Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements”, in The Huey P. Newton Reader (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), 157–159.Google Scholar

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© Joshua Daniel and Rick Elgendy 2015

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  • Vincent Lloyd

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