Bobby Hutton

Bobby Hutton

Bobby Hutton was born in 1950. He was only 16 years old when he joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) in December, 1966. He was arrested in May 1967 when he led a Black Panther march in Sacramento to protest against a new gun bill. The Mulford Act made it illegal to carry guns in public and was a direct response to the Panthers' police patrols in the community.

On 6th April, 1968 eight BPP members, including Hutton, Eldridge Cleaver and David Hilliard, were travelling in two cars when they were ambushed by the Oakland police. Cleaver and Hutton ran for cover and found themselves in a basement surrounded by police. The building was fired upon for over an hour. When a tear-gas canister was thrown into the basement the two men decided to surrender. Cleaver was wounded in the leg and so Hutton said he would go first. When he left the building with his hands in the air he was shot twelve times by the police and was killed instantly.

Over 2,000 people attended his funeral at the Ephesians Church of God in Berkeley, California on 12th April, 1968.

Marlon Brando attends a Black Panther rally held as a memorial for Bobby Hutton (12 May, 1968)
Marlon Brando attends a Black Panther rally held as a memorial for Bobby Hutton (12 May, 1968)

Primary Sources

(1) Letter to the New York Review of Books signed by 90 people including James Baldwin, James Forman, Jessica Mitford , Dwight MacDonald and Carey McWilliams (9th May, 1968)

We believe your readers will be interested in the following information about the recent attack on Black Panther Party members in Oakland, California.

Seven black men are now imprisoned in Oakland, California following a confrontation with the police on Saturday, April 6, in which one black youth was killed and two other blacks wounded. The dead youth is Bobby James Hutton, seventeen-year-old member of the Black Panther Party. One of those wounded and now jailed in solitary confinement is Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther Minister of Information, author of the recently published book Soul on Ice, and a staff writer for Ramparts Magazine.

These men were victims of an attack by Oakland police, who for ninety minutes machine-gunned and tear-gassed a house in which the group had taken refuge. The Panthers state that they did not attack the police; they did defend themselves, as is their policy. After the house was set on fire, the men inside announced they would come out. Hutton emerged first, with his hands in the air and unarmed (as the police later admitted); he was shot dead in a volley of bullets. Cleaver was also shot, although also unarmed and holding his hands in the air.

The imprisoned men have been charged with assault with intent to murder a police officer and are being held on $40,000 bail apiece, except for Cleaver, a parolee, whose bail status is uncertain at this time.

The attack was only the most recent example of continuous harassment and intimidation on the part of the Oakland police force against the Black Panther Party, whose leadership that force seems determined to exterminate. The Party is an influential political group working in the black ghettos of the Bay area. It has opposed spontaneous and aimless violence; it maintains the right and need for self-defense. The Panthers have established a coalition with the Peace and Freedom Party (an independent party now on the state ballot for upcoming elections) for the basic purpose of freeing Huey Newton, Black Panther Minister for Defense and a Peace & Freedom candidate for Congress.

In protest against the events of April 6, a statement has been signed by a number of writers, editors, and other citizens. The text of that statement follows, together with a partial listing of those who have signed it.

(2) Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Memories of Love and War (1999)

A bulletin flashed across the screen about a shoot-out involving the Oakland police - no location or time was mentioned. I recalled my earlier premonition about Eldridge's death, then blanked out there on the sofa, waiting for the phone to ring. I slept so soundly that none of the calls stirred me until around five the next morning. I answered the ringing telephone.

Alex Hoffman, one of Huey's attorneys, was saying in his low, tired voice, "I suppose you've heard by now, Kathleen, but Eldridge is in San Quentin."

Alex went on to say that Eldridge and seven other Panthers had been arrested last night after a shoot-out near David Hilliard's house, and that Bobby Hutton had been killed.

I went numb with shock.

"I'll take you to see Eldridge in prison as soon as I can get the details worked out," Alex said. "Always leave a number where I can reach you."

By the time I saw Alex on Sunday, Eldridge had been shuttled off to the prison in Vacaville, some fifty miles north of the Bay Area, isolating him from the rest of the jailed Panthers. Alex and I were waiting in a drab cubicle reserved for attorneys' visits when I spotted Eldridge being pushed down the hallway in a wheelchair. He looked like a captured giant, cuts and scratches on his face, the hair burned off the top of his head, his foot covered by a huge white bandage. When the guard wheeled him into the room, I could see that Eldridge's eyes were swollen, his face puffy, and his beard matted.

The sight left me too dazed to cry. Now I understood the glazed expression I'd seen in photographs of the faces of people whose homes or churches had been bombed, as if they couldn't believe what they were looking at. Anticipating or reading about terrifying violence does not prepare you to accept it. I felt too scared of what might happen to Eldridge in that notorious prison to dwell on how close he had come to being killed the night before.

Since I'd last seen him, he'd been trapped in an Oakland basement where he and Bobby Hutton had run for cover after gunshots flew between two Oakland police and several carloads of Black Panthers. A fifty-man assault force pounded bullets into the house where they hid for ninety minutes. When a tear-gas canister that had been thrown into the basement caught fire, Eldridge and Bobby agreed to surrender. Eldridge was not able to walk because a bullet had hit his leg. He told Bobby to take off his clothes so the police could not accuse him of hiding a weapon, but Bobby only removed his shirt. When he walked out into the floodlights in front of the house with his hands in the air, a hail of bullets killed him on the spot. Only the shouts from the crowd drawn by the gunfire saved Eldridge from an immediate death when he crawled out of the basement behind Bobby.