David Hilliard
Hilliard at a Black Panther rally in San Francisco, October 1969
Born (1942-05-15) May 15, 1942 (age 82)
(m. 1959)
PartnerBrenda Presley

David Hilliard (born May 15, 1942) is a former member of the Black Panther Party, having served as Chief of Staff.[1][2] He became a visiting instructor at the University of New Mexico in 2006.[3] He also is the founder of the Dr. Huey P. Newton foundation.[4]

Early life

David Hilliard was born on May 15, 1942, in Rockville, Alabama, to Lela and Lee Hilliard. David had six brothers and five sisters: Theodore, Allen, Nathaniel, Van, Roosevelt, Arthur, Rose Lee, Sweetie, Dorty Mae, Vera Lee, and Eleanora.[5] His parents met in 1916, when his mother was 16 years old, a little less than half the age of his father. In his childhood, Hilliard met Huey Newton, who would later become the leader of the Black Panther movement.[6]

Family life

David Hilliard married Patrica (Pat) Hilliard in 1959. They met at David's friend Malcom Newton's fraternity party. Although Pat at first resisted pursuit by David, she eventually agreed to date him. At the age of 17, David was informed that Patricia was pregnant and he dropped out of high school. At 17, David and Patricia married at Berkeley City Hall.[5]

David, due to his lack of a high-school diploma and skills had a hard time finding jobs. He worked many odd jobs including: cleaning up after skilled laborers, a tile chipper, working at canneries, and a car salesman.[5]

David and Patricia Hilliard had three children: Patrice, Darryl, and Dorian. They named their daughter after Patrice Munsel, one of David's favorite singers. Dorian was named after Dorian Gray, the main character in Oscar Wilde's famous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.[5]

During their early married life, David faced alcohol addiction and a lack of anger management.[5]

During his involvement with the Black Panthers, Hilliard met Brenda Presley and the two began an intimate relationship. They had a daughter named Dassine.[5]

Work in the Black Panthers

Hilliard became involved in the Black Panther movement in 1966 while living in Oakland, California.[6] Huey P. Newton, Hilliard's childhood friend, informed him of this organization that Bobby Seale and he were founding. This organization believed in defense of minority groups by any means necessary and followed a 10-point plan outlining "What We Want" and "What We Believe." Early actions of the Black Panthers involved intercepting in police brutalities through using arms to enforce police rules of conduct.[5]

After the arrest of Huey Newton on October 28, 1967, for an armed scuffle with the Oakland Police resulting in the death of Officer John Frey,[7] David Hilliard acted as the interim leader of the Black Panthers.[5] Hilliard helped to then organize a rally in February 1968, called the "Free Huey Rally", that drew 6,000 people.[7]

Programs organized with the Black Panthers

Hilliard was involved in the many programs organized by the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers organized programs called survival programs including: breakfast programs for school children, health clinics, and programs for prisoners. These programs were called survival programs because they simply help communities survive rather than addressing the systemic reasons behind these problems. These programs were free to those in need.[8]

In 1971, the Black Panther Party formed the Intercommunal Youth Institute. This program addressed the systematic oppression of African American students in the public school system. The Black Panthers believed that public schools failed to teach analytical skills that are necessary to survive in society. This school for children in Oakland taught children to analyze and criticize and respond with creative solutions.[8]

Free Health Care was provided to people who could not afford the cost of public health care through the People's Free Medical Research Health Clinics. These clinics provided service ranging from testing for sickle cell anemia to providing references and rides to outside experts.[8]

Other programs that Hilliard helped organize included: a community learning center, after school programs, escorts to protect the elderly, and free clothing programs.[8]


After reading Malcolm X's autobiography as a teenager, David Hilliard had a deep respect for his militancy. Although he admired the charisma of Martin Luther King Jr. he did not agree with MLK's advocacy for non-violent resistance.[5] In his early teen years, Hilliard had little involvement in politics. In the summer of 1965, his nephew Bojack participated in the riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Seeing his nephew on TV inspired Hilliard to learn more about activism and politics.[5]

Fellow Black Panther Party member and BPP Central Committee member Donald L. Cox has suggested that during Hilliard's stint as BPP Chief of Staff, Hilliard became an autocrat highly influenced by Stalin. Cox has stated that as the party explored Marxist theory, Marxist-Leninism became the party line and that in particular Stalin's book Foundations of Leninism was read and practised. Reflecting those principles, Cox alleges that Hilliard began to place loyalty to the party above all and dealt out punishment, denouncement or expulsion from the Black Panther Party to those who opposed him or the party line, even for the slightest of offence, with his orders being carried out by internal enforcers known as the "Black Guard" and "Buddha Samurai". Simultaneously, Cox says, Hillard dismantled the power and authority of all other members of the Black Panther's central committee aside from himself, and that of Huey Newton, in a vicious drive for power.[9][10][11]

Hilliard's arrests

In January 1968 Hilliard was arrested for handing out pamphlets outside of Oakland Technical High School.[12][5]

Hilliard was convicted on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon for his part in a 1968 ambush on Oakland Police officers in retribution for the assassination of Martin Luther King. Two police officers were wounded. [13][14] The April 6, 1968 encounter led to the death of party member Bobby Hutton and the capture of Eldridge Cleaver, who masterminded the botched operation. According to Cleaver, Hutton was shot by police while surrendering with his hands up. Hilliard left this standoff unscathed having taken shelter under a family friends bed.[5]

The attention placed on the Black Panthers by the FBI heightened after the 1968 encounter. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI called the Black Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."[5]

On December 3, 1969, Hilliard was arrested for threatening to kill President Richard Nixon.[12] This threat was announced in Hilliard's speech given on November 15, 1969, at Golden Gate Park. In his speech Hilliard was quoted saying "We will kill Richard Nixon."[5] In July 1971, Hilliard was sentenced to one to ten years and incarcerated at Vacaville Prison.[2] In January 1973, while serving a sentence of six months to 10 years, he was denied parole.[13]

In his autobiography Revolutionary Suicide, Huey P. Newton claimed the district attorney of Alameda County was attempting to send Hilliard to prison on "trumped up charges".[2]

Later life

After being released from prison Hilliard moved to Los Angeles and secured a job at Tom Hayden's organization called the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED). During this post-prison period, Hilliard struggled with drug addiction. After moving to Connecticut, Hilliard worked as an organizer for the New England Health Care Employees Union. After going through drug treatment, Hilliard relapsed and continued to struggle with addiction. Hilliard lost contact with Huey Newton.[5] Newton was murdered during a drug deal on August 22, 1989.[15] Hilliard gave his eulogy.[5]

Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation

With Huey Newton's second wife, Fredrika Newton, Hilliard later formed the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation.[2] The mission of this organization is "to preserve and promulgate the history, ideals and legacy of the Black Panther Party and its founder Huey P. Newton through development and distribution of educational materials, establishment of educational conferences and forums, maintenance and exhibition of historical archives."[4]


  1. ^ "David Hilliard". Black Panther Party. Archived from the original on June 20, 2013. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d Newton, Huey (2009) [1973]. Revolutionary Suicide. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-310532-9.
  3. ^ Sanchez, Christopher (August 21, 2006). "Black Panther Founder to Teach Courses at U. New Mexico". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 28, 2007. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation". Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Hilliard, David (1993). This Side of Glory. New York: Lawrence Hill Books. ISBN 9781556523847.
  6. ^ a b Hilliard, David (April 2004). "Hear Our Roar: The Black Panther Party, Self-Defense, and Government Violence". Satya. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Calhoun, Bob (October 12, 2017). "Yesterday's Crimes: The Living Martyrdom of Huey Newton". San Francisco Weekly. Archived from the original on December 10, 2017. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d Hilliard, David (2009). Black Panther Party: Service to People Programs. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 9780826343949.
  9. ^ Cox, Don (2019). Just Another Nigger: My Life in the Black Panther Party. Heyday Books. pp. 87, 88, 90, 96, 97. ISBN 978-1597144599.
  10. ^ Bukhari, Safiya (March 31, 1992). "An Interview with Donald Cox, former Field Marshall, Black Panther Party". itsabouttimebpp.com. Archived from the original on April 6, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2019. And I've never known to this day where it came from, but the first thing that came out for us to study was "The Foundations of Leninism", by Josef Stalin. And as far as I'm concerned, that was the beginning of the end, because that was the book that was used to turn the emphasis from the struggle to the party. Instead of the struggle for the liberation of Black people becoming the most important thing, it was the party that became the most important thing. Then the democratic centralism, and all that Marxist-Leninist paraphernalia that most of the organizations calling themselves communist was based on. But the so-called central committee, and I'm gonna tell the truth, was David Hilliard at that time.
  11. ^ Cox, Don (February 13, 2019). "An Insider's Take on How the Black Panther Party Was Hurt by Its Own Ideals". Time.com. Time. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019. Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  12. ^ a b "A Huey P. Newton Story - People - David Hilliard | PBS". www.pbs.org. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Black Panther David Hilliard Denied Parole". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. January 31, 1973. p. B2. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved July 19, 2010.
  14. ^ Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther, p. 154
  15. ^ "Arrest in Murder of Huey Newton". The New York Times. August 26, 1989. Archived from the original on December 20, 2017. Retrieved December 8, 2017.