Black Panther co-founder's widow talks about party's legacy on 50th anniversary

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Oakland (KTVU) The Black Panther Party's history is deeply rooted in West Oakland's DeFremery Park, near the home of Fredrika Newton, a former member and the widow of the Black Panther Party's co-founder Huey Newton.

The Panther's history is her history too, and she sat down with KTVU Tuesday to reflect on the 50th anniversary conference and celebration being held in Oakland where the Black Panther movement began.

"I'm 64 now, so I was I guess probably about 17 or 18," Newton said, pointing to a photo that shows her as a fresh-faced teenager just before she met Huey Newton. When asked what she thinks of that photo decades later, Fredrika Newton paused and then said almost wistfully,  "I think, she has no idea what's in store for her. She has no idea what her life is going to look like. But she had a lot of hope, she had no idea."

Now, Fredrika Newton is among the surviving members of the Black Panther Party who will gather for a weekend of workshops and public ceremonies.

The conference coordinated with Laney College and the Oakland Museum of California's Black Panther exhibit will reflect on the history of the group that sprang to life in Oakland in 1966.

Newton says images of the Black Panther Party at the time showing young black men armed with guns, do not show what she feels is the real legacy of the party, its idealism and goal of lifting up African Americans through community survival programs.

"Feeding people in this very park, and registering them to vote, and making sure that seniors had a safe route to and from paying their bills and getting their groceries. A shoe factory to make sure people had shoes on," Newton said, "This is what was the bedrock of the Black Panther Party."

The Black Panthers' explosive growth in the 1970's into an international organization with chapters in 48 states was targeted by the FBI. The group, which has had a controversial place in history, will be commemorated in a new light this week by those who lived it.

"People gave up everything, they sacrificed their families, they sacrificed their relationships, their jobs, all of their worldly possessions really to join this movement of people," Newton said, "It's a reunion of souls who made it through."

Gayle "Asali" Dickson is one of those souls. She is an artist who drew for the Black Panther paper. Dickson says she hopes their goals then, in some way, have helped pave a path for younger generations now.

"I like to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," Dickson noted, "He said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. And so all of us have been working to bend that arc towards justice and it's the young people's turn. And they have to be creative given their set of circumstances which are different from when we were coming along."

Fredrika Newton says she hopes this week will also be a chance for dialogue and for younger generations to hear from those who were part of the Black Panther Party history.

"I'd say learn from our victories and learn from our mistakes," Newton said, "to just have the courage of your convictions and learn, learn from us."

A public rally and concert will be held at Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza on Saturday October 22nd from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A dedication ceremony of the "Bobby Hutton Grove" in honor of one of the first Black Panther members will be held on Sunday October 23rd at DeFremery Park.