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Fri, 04.21.1950

Bobby Hutton, Black Panther Activist born

Bobby Hutton

*Bobby Hutton was born on this date in 1950.  He was also known as "Lil' Bobby," a Black activist. 

Robert James Hutton was one of three children, born in Jefferson County, Arkansas, to John D. Hutton and Dolly Mae Mitchner-Hutton. When he was three years old, his family moved to Oakland, California, during the second wave of the Great Migration, after they were visited by Ku Klux Klan nightriders intimidating and threatening Blacks.  

He met Black Panther Party founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale at the North Oakland Neighborhood Anti-Poverty Center. This "government-funded agency employed local youth to work on community service projects." In October 1966, the 16-year-old Hutton became an early member and the first treasurer of the Black Panther Party. In May 1967, Hutton was one of thirty Panthers who traveled to the California state capitol in Sacramento to demonstrate against the Mulford Act, a bill prohibiting carrying loaded firearms in public. The group entered the state assembly armed; Hutton and four other Panthers were arrested.   

On the night of April 6, 1968, Hutton was killed by Oakland Police officers after Eldridge Cleaver led him and twelve other Panthers in an ambush of the Oakland Police, during which multiple gunshots seriously wounded two officers. The ambush, Cleaver admitted he led, turned into a shoot-out between the Panthers and the Oakland police at a house in West Oakland. About 90 minutes later Hutton and Cleaver surrendered after the police tear-gassed the building.  The police killed Hutton under disputed circumstances.

Cleaver stated Hutton was shot while surrendering with his hand up, while police stated he ignored commands and tried to flee.  The impetus for the police ambush was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. two days earlier.  Even though he had instructed Hutton to strip down to his underwear to demonstrate that he was unarmed, Cleaver stated that police shot Hutton more than twelve times as he surrendered. While the police maintained that he attempted to run away and ignored orders to stop, Cleaver stated that the police shot Hutton with his hands up. Cleaver also claimed that an Oakland police officer who witnessed the shoot-out later told him: "What they did was first-degree murder." Cleaver and two police officers were also wounded.

Seale, a fellow Black Panther, has since speculated that the police shot Bobby Hutton thinking they were shooting him.  Another account from Kathleen Cleaver said that Hutton was embarrassed to remove his clothing and only took off his shirt and kept it on his pants.  Hutton's funeral was held on April 12 at the Ephesians Church of God in Berkeley, California. About 1,500 people attended the funeral. A rally afterward in West Oakland was attended by over 2,000 people and included a eulogy by actor Marlon Brando.  Hutton's death at the hands of the Oakland police was seen by those sympathetic to the Black Panther Party as an example of police brutality against Blacks.

Hutton was the first Panther to die and became a martyr for the cause of black power." De Fremery Park in West Oakland, California, was unofficially named after Bobby Hutton shortly after his death. "Lil' Bobby Hutton Day" has been held annually at the park since April 1998. Organized by family members and former Black Panther Party members, the memorial features speakers, performers, and artworks commemorating Hutton's black consciousness and dedication to the party. 

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