The Socratic Black Panther: Reading Huey P. Newton
Brian P. Sowers
Published online: 24 January 2017
#Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017
Abstract This essay examines the role of Platonic literature and philosophy in
part 2 of Newton’s(1973)Revolutionary Suicide (RS) and argues that Plato’s
Republic,astheseminaltextinNewton’s early adult life, intertextually directs
the course of events, both the ways Newton describes the plight of Black
America and how Newton engages other literary texts, poetry in particular.
Over the course of part 2 of RS, Newton increasingly adopts the guise of a
modern day Socrates, confounding his white opponents and revealing the truth
about racial oppression. Studying prose texts, especially philosophy, becomes
(inter)textually symbolic for racial enlightenment, on the one hand, and for the
responsibility Newton sees of himself to share that enlightenment with those
still chained in the dark recesses of the cave, on the other.
Keywords Huey P. Newton .Black Panthers .Revolutionary Suicide .Plato .Republic
During the trial for the death of John Frey, Huey P. Newton begins his deposition with
an anecdote about how he had learned to read by studying Plato’sRepublic.
to his testimony, Platonic philosophy had a profound influence on him:
I tried to explain what a deep impression Plato’s allegory of the cave had made on
me and how the prisoners in that cave were a symbol of the Black man’s
predicament in this country. It was a seminal experience in my life, I explained,
J Afr Am St (2017) 21:26–41
This essay is indebted to the growing (sub)field known as Black Classicism or Classica Africana, especially
Rankine (2013), Orrells et al. (2011), Walters (2007), and Rankine (2006).
*Brian P. Sowers
Brooklyn College (CUNY), 2900 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11210, USA