Community unites to protect “sacred space”
On the night of Aug. 22, Fredrika Newton, widow of Black Panther Party for Self-Defense co-founder Huey P. Newton, took flowers and a candle to the site where a bust of Newton will be installed on Oct. 24, commemorating the 55th anniversary of the founding of the BPP.
Aug. 22 marked the 32nd anniversary of her husband’s death, and she planned to honor him by placing the tribute at Huey P. Newton Way and Mandela Parkway in West Oakland.
What she found there was defaced and tagged city signage. The rock that will hold the bust was also defaced. The back of one sign now showed a scrawled message, ““Fuck Dana King Fraud.” King is the sculptor who created the bust.
King had no idea why she would be directly targeted. “Fredrika trusted me to create this sculpture, “ she said. She described how community members, including Black Panther Party members, had come through her studio while she was working, to view and comment on the work-in-progress. An elderly barber drove from his home in Vallejo to advise on the Afro depicted on the bust, said Newton. “The money raised to create this work comes from the community,” said King.
Newton and King returned the next day, canvassing neighbors to ask if they had seen anything. Though people were “dismayed and shocked,” said Newton, no one had observed the vandalism. “But they knew it was not someone from the neighborhood,” she said. “The community has embraced the site and turned it into a sacred place.” Newton posted an Instagram message describing what had happened.
Friends of the taggers saw the post, alerted those responsible, telling them what the site was and about the impact of what they had done. The taggers reached out to King, expressing shame. King responded. According to them, they did not see the front of the sign and therefore did not understand the significance of the site. They expressed how disturbed they were that they had disrespected the legacy of the Black Panther Party and the West Oakland community.
King sought to turn it into a “teachable moment.” And on the night of Aug. 23, the graffiti was cleaned from the rock. The city sign has already been taken down and will not be replaced.
According to a spokesperson for the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, “What this taught us is that the Oakland community is strong, generous and thoughtful. When Fredrika was at the site yesterday, and people stopped and offered their support, it also reinforced that the community work of the Black Panther Party has a very real and tangible legacy in Oakland. While we were heartbroken just 24 hours ago, we feel immense gratitude in this moment.”
Neighbors have united to protect the site. One has offered to install lights on his home to illuminate the sculpture at night. The Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation has created a GoFundMe page to raise funds for equipment to discourage further vandalism at https://gofundme/e4ae0fb8
And the celebration/installation planned for Oct. 24, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. will go forward, said Newton, with Panthers, “cubs,” and a large group of community members in attendance.
“Huey was loved in this community,” she said. “Spray paint will not stop us,” said King.