“By having no family,
I inherited the family of humanity.
By having no possessions,
I have possessed all.
By rejecting the love of one,
I received the love of all.
By surrendering my life to the revolution,
I found eternal life.
And so reads the poem “Revolutionary Suicide”, by Huey P. Newton. One of many revolutionaries who lived under a state that built its own founding myths on rebellion while paradoxically crushing dissent across the globe, Newton’s work in founding the Black Panther Party forever changed the political landscape of the United States, and presented a genuine threat against the dominant institutions of power that had thought themselves unchallenged for so long. Groups from the Young Lords to today’s Movement For Black Lives are part of their legacy of resistance and community work. And Newton’s own journey—teaching himself how to read off of Plato’s Republic after graduating from high school, and growing as a radical intellectual within activist circles in the Bay Area—is nothing short of remarkable, especially in the context of the violence he and so many others faced at the hands of the state.
While much has been written on the theories of fostering a mass revolutionary consciousness in a nation, there is less about the specific paths individual revolutionaries take in their development. As a result, this paper works as an exploration of the revolutionary’s path to political consciousness. In its examination of this phenomenon, the frameworks of C. Wright Mills’ sociological imagination and W.E.B. Du Bois’ color line are employed to ultimately highlight and analyze three specific aspects of a “revolutionary consciousness”. First, that it is something constantly occurring; second, that the revolutionary consciousness is drawn and modified by lived experiences; and third, that it is guided by the sociological imagination. Though all three aspects are discussed throughout the paper, it would be beneficial to note that the literature review especially emphasizes the idea of constant occurrence and lived experience, while the case study—through the use of Huey P. Newton’s autobiography Revolutionary Suicide—focuses on lived experience and the guiding qualities of the sociological imagination. The analysis combines these two sections to highlight the ways in which people are led away from revolutionary consciousness, and ends by posing theories that are ultimately more question than declaration. As a whole, this work strives to deal with the inherent breadth of the topic by using the specific stories of individuals as a means to better understand broader society, rather than taking a historical trend-focused approach.