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Gus Newport, Local and International Luminary for Civil and Human Rights, 88



Gus was of the generation of activists galvanized by both the practicalities of self-determination espoused by the Black Muslims and the ideals of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

By Post Staff

Characterized as a “Roaring Lion ‘of progressive politics in the 20th century, former Berkeley Mayor Eugene ‘Gus’ Newport worked without pause on humanitarian and international concerns until days before his death on June 17, 2023. He was 88.

“We witnessed a peaceful transition fit for the man that he was,” Kyle Newport shared on Facebook. “A single tear gently rolled down his cheek and I couldn’t help but think that it was for the multitude of friends, coworkers, projects, and events that he was leaving behind. But then again it could be for the family and friends that he will (soon) reunite with in the next chapter.”

Upon learning of his death, Damien Durr, president of the Gus Newport Project, a group dedicated to preserving his legacy, released a statement praising him as, among other things, a brother, coach, bridge builder and ‘Beloved Community’ architect.

“His commitment to seeing the humanity in all people challenged anyone who knew and loved him to do likewise,” the statement read. “He was truly a gift to us, and the world will never be the same because of his stellar example of living his outer life from the inner sanctuary.”

He was a seemingly unstoppable force for 60 years of service in almost countless places finding inspiration from his family and giving inspiration to leaders locally and globally.

Newport was among those who supported U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee when she was the lone congressperson to vote against authorizing the Afghanistan War after 9/11.

On Tuesday, she tweeted that she was saddened by Newport’s death, finding in him “a dear friend and a courageous fighter for world peace.

“I have known Gus for many years as a brilliant and compassionate human being,” Lee tweeted. “He has spent his life fighting for justice and liberation, and the world is a better place because of him. He is a true friend and an inspiration to us all. May he rest in peace and power.”

Gus was of the generation of activists galvanized by both the practicalities of self-determination espoused by the Black Muslims and the ideals of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

The eldest of five children, Newport was born in Rochester, New York, on April 5, 1935, and raised by his mother, an elevator operator, and his father, a foreman at a meat-packing plant where Gus would also work periodically.

They and his maternal grandmother, who lived with the family, had great influence on the young Gus. Poor in material but rich in faith, the family put great store in the importance of family, community and church, where his mother learned and honed organizing skills that Gus absorbed at her knee.

Big for his age, Gus, at 13, was already being harassed by the police, experience that would make the issue of police brutality and wrongfulness by authorities in general a theme of his life.

He had a football scholarship to Syracuse University, but couldn’t go because of an injury  so he went to Heidelberg College instead. He was drafted in the army in 1958 but was honorably discharged a couple of years later after standing up for the German workers at a base near Heidelberg who were being cheated out of their pay.

He had married his high school sweetheart and together they had a son, Kyle. He took a test that led him to a job with IBM where he was transferred to work on main-frame computers in White Plains, N.Y. He had been there for three years when the Rochester riots of 1964 broke out.

The city manager, aware of Newport’s talent to work with youth, asked him to help negotiate with the protesters, which he did successfully, setting up a food stamp program and landing a promise to provide 250 college scholarships to needy youth.

His employers at IMBM were not happy about his intervention and Gus quit, returning to Rochester in 1966, eventually taking on a job as consultant for the Department of Labor for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Newport was in his late 20s when he led his hometown’s largest civil rights group, the Monroe County Nonpartisan League, to victory taking a police brutality case to the Supreme Court, a first.

The NAACP organizer who led the Little Rock 9 in integrating Central High School, Daisy Bates, was in Rochester and introduced Newport to Malcolm X by phone. Newport then assisted Malcolm in defending a group of Black Muslims in Rochester who had been assaulted and arrested by police at a worship service.

He also helped Malcolm found his Organization of Afro American Unity (OAAU) and went to Harlem at Malcolm’s request when Malcolm wanted to give a speech about his house being firebombed in February 1965. Four days later Malcolm X was slain.

As reported in the newsletter ‘Common Dream,’ Malcolm, Gus would later say, was “the greatest person I think I ever knew,” a “great teacher” and “one of the dearest friends I ever had.”

Among the luminaries he would befriend over the course of his life were Adam Clayton Powell, New York’s first Black congressman; U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, actor Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, the entertainer and fellow activist who passed away just a few weeks ago. The latter two helped with his campaigns for mayor of Berkeley where he edged out his opponent by nearly 900 votes.

At the invitation from a distant cousin, he headed to the West Coast and settled in Berkeley where he got a job developing youth employment programs.

“I never aspired to run for mayor,” he would relate. “I was talked into it by John George, the first African American elected to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and Congressman Ron Dellums. Danny Glover (who met Gus while interning with the city of Berkeley) and Harry Belafonte (who he had known in New York) helped with my campaigns,” Common Dream reported.

As its second Black mayor, Newport would keep the city in the national and international spotlight: it became the first city to divest from apartheid-run South Africa and he became an honorary member of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress and served on the advisory board of the U.N. Commission Against Apartheid.

“By the time Gus was running for his second [mayoral] term, we were both aligned with the anti-apartheid movement,” Glover told The Progressive. “I loved what he was trying to do with community development, so I joined Gus’s army.”

Refugees from war-torn Central America were protected from police under his orders, innovative childcare help for working women, domestic partnership benefits for LGBTQ+ families and rent control were just some of the policies enacted under his leadership of Berkeley from 1979-1986. He also served on their Police Review Commission, Planning Commission.

Newport had considerable impact on several other U.S. cities, most notable being Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood where the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a non-profit that allowed residents to buy languishing properties for the benefit of its residents.

Besides similar work in New Hampshire, Seattle and Palm Beach, Fla., he sat on the advisory board to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Though he never formally graduated from college, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from his alma mater, Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, in 2009, and he taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University.

His involvement with international organizations and campaigns was extensive. He was an outspoken supporter of the rights of Palestinians and worked in solidarity movements in the Middle East, Africa and Central America, making a visit to El Salvador in 1985 to a village that was all but destroyed but whose residents managed to greet him with the sign “Welcome to the Mayor of Berkeley.”

He served on The National Council of Elders, a group of people over the age of 65 who were dedicated to the rights of women, environmentalists, farmworkers and LGBTQ+ communities as well as Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, formed in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.

Newport was also serving as vice-chair of the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland.

“The beauty of Gus,” said Glover in an interview with The Progressive, “is that I trust him to elevate our story. When you spend time with someone with Gus’s history and character and listen to his stories, you are changed. I hope that a little of my story could resonate with others the way Gus’s stories have resonated with me and so many around the world.”

Newport is survived by his wife, Kathryn Kasch of Oakland; son Kyle Newport of Oakland; daughter Maria Newport and granddaughter Maasai Davson-Newport of Atlanta; brother John of Attleboro, MA; brother Robert of Rochester and other extended family.

This report is sourced from reporting from the Bay Area News Group, The Common Dream, The Progressive newsletter, EmbracingElSalavdor.org and the Gus Newport Project.

The post Gus Newport, Local and International Luminary for Civil and Human Rights, 88 first appeared on Post News Group. This article originally appeared in Post News Group.


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