The former Berkeley mayor's record of accomplishments from civil rights activism to groundbreakin g political initiatives to far-sighted community economic development programs to global solidarity and elder statesman leadership could fill volumes.
Gus Newport, left, and Danny Glover speaking at a 2016 rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Oakland. , (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr)
Former Berkeley, California Mayor Gus Newport, a titan of progressive politics in the late 20th Century, social justice champion who worked with Malcolm X, and a lifelong humanitarian and internationalist, died June 17 in San Francisco. He was 88.
Gus was the embodiment of the adage of a life well lived. His record of accomplishments from civil rights activism to groundbreaking political initiatives to far-sighted community economic development programs to global solidarity and elder statesman leadership could fill volumes.
Gus Newport, as Mayor of Berkeley, 1979–1986
“The beauty of Gus,” said actor Danny Glover in an interview, “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.”
As a young activist in 1962, leading the Monroe County Nonpartisan League, the largest civil rights group in his hometown of Rochester, NY, Gus shepherded the first successful police brutality case in federal court after the beating of a Black gas station attendant Rufus Fairwell who would win a financial settlement from the city.
Daisy Bates, who led the NAACP campaign to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School in the late 1950s and now organizing in Rochester for the NAACP, introduced him to Malcolm X by phone. Gus and Malcolm worked to defend nine Black Muslims assaulted and arrested in a police raid on a Black Muslim Mosque in Rochester during a worship service.
When Malcolm flew into Rochester, and landed on the tarmac on a cold February day, Gus was waiting in the airport surrounded “by a lot of white men in felt hats and white shirts and ties. When Malcolm walked in and asked, ‘who is Gus Newport.’ I raised my hand and said, “I am.” He said, “Young blood, you got the best-tapped telephone in America. This is all FBI around you.”
He would go on to count Malcolm and Harlem Congress member Adam Clayton Powell as mentors. He assisted Malcolm in founding his Organization of Afro American Unity (OAAU).
In February 1965, after Malcolm’s house was firebombed, Malcolm asked him to join him for a speech in Rochester about his situation. Returning to New York, “when we landed at LaGuardia, we were met by the chief of police of New York and the fire marshal. They accused him of firebombing his own home.” Four days later Malcolm was assassinated. Later Gus would help Malcolm’s widow Betty Shabazz with burial and financial support, including with a fundraiser for the family headlined by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Max Roach at the home of Sidney Poitier.
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.”
Gus would move west after leaving a Department of Labor stint assigned to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, due to a distaste for the politics of President Nixon. A cousin helped him get work for the city of Berkeley, developing youth employment service programs and as a senior analyst in the City Manager’s office and Parks and Recreation department.
In 1979, Gus was elected Berkeley Mayor, with the backing of the progressive Berkeley Citizens Action coalition on a platform of community economic control, serving two terms until 1986. “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.”
Excellent article about Gus “in it for the long haul” published in 2020.
Tribute to Gus in a Berkeley, California publication. Gus was the mayor of Berkeley from 1979-1986 and protected housing rights and established commercial rent control, was the first mayor to establish domestic partnership benefits, compared policy notes with contemporaries like Harold Washington and Bernie Sanders, and divested city funds from all companies that supported apartheid South Africa.
Gus in conversation with Danny Glover about the Beloved Community, moderated by Rev. Dr. Dorsey Odell Blake, recorded February 13, 2023.
Gus was an active leader in DSA. An Honorary Co-Chair. Read much more.
North Star caucus members
antiracismdsa (blog of Duane Campbell)
Hatuey's Ashes (blog of José G. Pérez)
Authory and Substack of Max Sawicky
Online University of the Left
In These Times
The American Prospect
Black Agenda Report
Dollars and Sense
Working Families Party
Poor People's Campaign
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Progressive Democrats of America
Democracy for America
Black Lives Matter
Movement for Black Lives
The Women's March
Jewish Voice for Peace
National Abortion Rights Action League
National Organization for Women
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights