Newton Group Stakes Claim to 'Burn'

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In Oakland, the non-profit Huey P. Newton Foundation wants to trademark the phrase "Burn Baby Burn" and use it to brand and sell hot sauce to raise money. "Burn Baby Burn" is forever linked to the 1965 Watts riots. The Black Panthers were founded one year later, in 1966.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In the radical '60s, the Black Panthers were all about urban revolution. These days, what's left of that once-militant group is mostly about food. In fact, the widow of the Panthers' founder is launching a new hot sauce called Burn Baby Burn, recycling a phrase that grew out of the Watts riots. And as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, that's just one of many products ex-Panthers are now peddling.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Nearly 40 years ago, members of the Black Panther Party were railing against the establishment.

(Soundbite of vintage recording)

Group of People: (Chanting in unison) The revolution has come! Off the pigs! Time to pick up the gun! Off the pigs!

DEL BARCO: Today, the Panthers have mellowed. Instead of chanting `Off the pigs,' they want to barbecue them, and former Black Panther Chairman Bobby Seale is offering plenty of tips with a new cooking show on DVD.

(Soundbite of DVD)

Mr. BOBBY SEALE (Former Chairman, Black Panther Party): Even revolutionaries have to eat.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, it's Bobby-Que with Bobby Seale.

DEL BARCO: Today, Seale lives in Philadelphia and Oakland, where he spends his time writing. His new cookbook is filled with barbecue recipes that he began using decades ago at Black Panther cookouts and committee meetings.

Mr. SEALE: Revolution is about re-evolving. I mean, I say revolution is about re-evolving more political, economic and social justice power back into the hands of the people; it's not about violence. OK, revo--Bobby Seale's revolutionary barbecue sauce is re-evolving, re-energizing or capturing your crave.

DEL BARCO: The Black Panther Party may be over, but the revolution goes on, thanks to the children of the children of the '60s. Some of them are part of a new hip-hop crew called Black Panther Fugitives.

(Soundbite of song)

BLACK PANTHER FUGITIVES: (Singing) Black Panther Party. Black shades the way, then we're stompin' your way. Black Panther Party. Ten-point plan to break free from the man.

DEL BARCO: As the movement's 40th anniversary approaches, the Black Panther name has become a brand to be plastered on T-shirts and CDs. They're products of the Huey Newton Foundation, named after the party's founder who was killed by a drug dealer in 1989. Newton's widow, Fredrika, came up with the latest offering, a condiment with a cause.

Ms. FREDRIKA NEWTON (Widow of Huey Newton): Burn Baby Burn: A Taste of the '60s. That'd be a great name for a hot sauce.

DEL BARCO: `Burn Baby Burn' was the slogan associated with 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, though it originated from a deejay in LA, the Magnificent Montague. Fredrika Newton said the foundation she heads got the rights to use the phrase.

Ms. NEWTON: My intention is not to incite anybody to burn anything other than their taste buds when they taste the hot sauce.

DEL BARCO: On the label are references to some of the Panthers' legacies, such as free lunches for school kids and sickle cell anemia tests for African-Americans. Newton, who sells Mary Kay cosmetics on the side, says it's important to teach about the Panthers' history.

Ms. NEWTON: By any means necessary to get the word out.

Mr. DAVID HILLIARD (Huey Newton Foundation): We're just trying to be creative with our radical marketing, using our history as a marketing resource.

DEL BARCO: Founding Black Panther Party member David Hilliard runs the Huey Newton Foundation in Oakland, California. Hilliard says the party always preached economic empowerment. At one time, he says, the Panthers owned a nightclub, a movie theater, a record store and a newspaper.

Mr. HILLIARD: For those people who criticize and say that we sold out, this is actually capitalism with a conscience, if there's any such thing, because we intend to use some of the proceeds to support some of those ideas that we stood for at they heyday of our movement.

DEL BARCO: Hilliard says profits of the Burn Baby Burn hot sauce, the T-shirts, music CDs and his latest book on Huey Newton will help fund a literacy program in Oakland. Critics may scoff at these products and claim they trivialize the Panthers once-militant political ideology, but that doesn't seem to worry some folks at People's Park in Berkeley.

Ms. VEE AKIRA: From a revolutionary to an entrepreneur.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

Ms. AKIRA: OK? This is capitalism in America at its finest.

DEL BARCO: Vee Akira is homeless today, but she once sold Black Panther Party newspapers. About that hot sauce, she says, `Right on.'

Ms. AKIRA: I love hot sauce. Burn Baby Burn. Everybody gotta make a livin' some way. Might as well go makin' some hot sauce.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, San Francisco.

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