Robert James Hutton, nicknamed Bobby or Lil’ Bobby, was born in Arkansas in 1950. He was the youngest of three children born to John Hutton and Dolly Mae Hutton. Three years after his birth, the Huttons decided to move to Oakland, California, after being repeatedly harassed by vigilante racist groups allied with the Ku Klux Klan. The parents hoped that Oakland would be a safer place to raise their children (via Black Past).
Hutton first met Huey Newton and Bobby Seale at the North Oakland Anti-Poverty Center in December 1966, just months after the two men established the Black Panthers. The government-funded center employed young people to work on projects for the community. Having experienced brutality against African Americans firsthand, Hutton believed in the Black Panther Party’s cause and was one of the earliest — and youngest — recruited by the group at just 16 years old. As noted by the African American Registry, Hutton became the Black Panther Party’s treasurer.
According to the officers involved in the confrontation, Bobby Hutton was wearing a trench coat and attempted to flee. Eldridge Cleaver stated that the police were the instigators of the ambush, a statement that he corrected in 1980. He admitted that they were the ones who attacked the police first in retaliation to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., as reported by Black Past, but he insisted that Hutton was shot with his hands up. Hutton, who was then 17 years old, was the first Black Panther Party member to be killed.
Hutton’s death was a major event for the Black Panthers. His funeral, held six days after his death, was attended by more than a thousand people, as noted by Face 2 Face Africa. A rally in West Oakland took place afterward, and about 2,000 people attended. Actor Marlon Brando gave a eulogy wherein he said, “time’s running out for everybody.”
The DeFremery Park located in West Oakland is often referred to as the Lil’ Bobby Hutton Park. In 1998, as reported by SFGate, Oakland officially proclaimed Bobby Hutton Day a holiday — to be held in April every year — in honor of the slain Black Panther. Each year, the Hutton family, as well as former Black Panther Party members and their families, gather at the park for a memorial, followed by various activities.
Will Jennings, a former Black Panther Party member, said that Hutton was just a child with the conviction of a man. “He was a brother who at 15 had enough consciousness to see the conditions in the black community and wanted to do something about it,” Jennings stated. In 2016, a grove of trees at DeFremery Park was named after Bobby Hutton to honor his heroism and martyrdom, according to the East Bay Times.
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