The Trial of the Chicago 7: A Question of Allegiance

The Disrupted Trials

The problem of disruptive defendants who make orderly trials impossible demands a more philosophical jurisprudence than it has been getting. Obviously the acceptance of a court’s jurisdiction depends on one’s social allegiance altogether, and this can be taken into account. Consider first the case of the New York Panthers. Given their prohibitively high bail, the judge cannot exercise his ordinary power to impose short terms for contempt, since the defendants are in prison anyway. And psychologically, there can be no doubt that imprisonment during the crisis of a trial creates a pent-up frustration and sense of being trapped and railroaded that naturally will burst forth at any occasion to be heard. If the defendants were free on bail, at least some of this would explode outside, not in the court.

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The theory of their high bail has two overt reasons and perhaps one hidden one. (1) It is said the defendants are dangerous and might carry out the conspiracy they are charged with, bombing public places. I do not know any evidence that such acts by similar defendants on bail have occurred; but it ought not to be difficult to keep such marked persons effectively under surveillance and disarmed, especially since criminal association with them would spell almost certain arrest for any accomplices.

(2) More plausibly, it is feared that the defendants might forfeit lower bail and leave the country, as Williams, Cleaver, and others have done. Why is this bad? The claim by the defendants that the court itself is political part of an oppressive System, means that they have no allegiance to its justice. Allegiance cannot be compelled. If a person feels he is not a citizen, he may reasonably choose physical exile, and it is probably political wisdom for the sovereign to allow it, with penalties — as Castro has sometimes done in Cuba, though not in the (to me) interesting cases of anarchists and “moral” offenders. Needless to say, those who opt for exile, e. g. Williams or Cleaver, might not find themselves happy outside the United States either. Implicit in the idea of bail is that the defendant has a choice, to accept the jurisdiction or pay a penalty, of property and citizenship, for leaving it. There may be exceptions when a society cannot allow this choice, but then it has given up the idea of the social contract altogether. If one cannot refuse jurisdiction, there is no longer a question of identifying with the sentence, and a jail becomes equivalent to a dungeon or cage for animals. (To be sure, all penal systems degenerate to this any way. Prisons are not a workable idea.)

(3) But the hidden motive for prohibitive bail, or trigger-happy use of the contempt power, may be to keep the defendants from political, not criminal, action on the streets. This motive actually surfaced in the trial of the Chicago Seven when Judge Hoffman threatened Dellinger with contempt for having made a political speech outside the court! And political defendants claim, justifiably or not, that a chief reason for these recent trials is to put them out of circulation and tie up their time and money. In the pretentions of the American constitution, of course, this motive has no warrant whatever; and if there is the slightest trace of it, the court with its subpoenas becomes simply a place of violent politics and the defendants are right to try to disrupt it.

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All of the above should have no connection with the concept of a “political trial” that people like Dellinger, Spock, or the Berrigans have asked for. Traditionally, a Political Trial is one where the defendants try to show that political issues of the times are relevant to the meaning of their acts, and the legal guilt or innocence of the acts depends, at least in part, on their political justification. Often, indeed, it is impossible to separate the legal and political questions even formally, as when a ”law” may be unconstitutional, against the Nuremberg judgments, or so forth.

In my opinion, the meaning of all adjudicable acts is at least partly extra-legal. During a trial, acts are always interpreted in their real social and moral contexts, otherwise there would be no point in pleading extenuating circumstances or bringing in social and psychological factors or the current state of science and art, as in M’Naghten, Leopold and Loeb, Brown, Scopes, or all censorship cases. Rather, it is implicit in the very idea of trial by a jury or peers that the indictment will be interpreted and judged, at least partly, according to substantive social and moral, and not merely formal and legal, justice. The jury is supposed to bring in its own life experience and values; and it must consist of peers in order that the defendant’s acts may be understood in the sense that they were performed. (Thus the Panthers claim that white jurors are not adequate peers.)

But if all trials, and especially trials with novel issues, depend on the social, moral, and political interpretation of the community, it is unacceptable for judges to run them as if the meaning of acts could be defined in cut-and-dried courtroom terms; but this is what happened with Spock, the Chicago Seven, and others. In any State legal system, with abstract statutes and penalties imposed from above, it is inevitable, and perhaps useful, that there is a distinction between legal justice and moral or political justice — as an anarchist, I am not so sure that it is useful — but it is monstrous to try to make this distinction absolute, to direct a  jury not to consult its life experience and values, and to prevent a jury from hearing evidence in that direction.

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Political, moral, and civil libertarian defendants have always used Political Trials to address the public outside the courtroom. This is in itself a good thing, it is part of the democratic process. A man willing to risk his liberty for his beliefs has a claim to air them in. court, and the public can only profit by hearing deeply held convictions. The one disadvantage to it could be that the stump speeches may take so long as to be obstructive to the court procedure, but any judge has enough power to prevent this kind of filibuster. It is quite another matter for a judge to keep defendants from explaining themselves to the jury, including the jury’s political judgment, as part of the judicial process. The result of trying to prevent a trial from being political in this reasonable sense is to drive lively and intelligent defendants to make the court itself a place of confrontation, physical force, or tricks, not a judicial forum at all. The defendants can no longer give allegiance to the court, and we must go back to the problem of disruptive defendants that we started from.

Finally, in the midst of the courtroom uproar there is increasingly appearing a strain that is not political at all, but existentialist and religious: the middle-class young people, the witness-bearing of priests, the noise of the sons of uprooted urban poverty. This is a response of life in over-structured and dehumanized institutions; it is not aimed at the courts as such but at all authority. Naturally it ought not to shout demands for “constitutional rights” or “Power to the People” or “Socialism”­ — any constituted society would have statutes and courts — but it really makes no difference what the words are, though Abbie is unusually boring.

My own intuition, as a conservative anarchist, is that we ought to affirm Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights as among our great victories, that we have to preserve and extend, at the same time as we increasingly try to get away from States and Courts altogether. ❖

1970_Village Voice article about the Chicago 7 trial

1970_Village Voice article about the Chicago 7 trial


The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Conspiracy in Jail

The Press of Freedom: Transcending of Differences

The long-distance operator finally reached the Conspiracy office the Saturday before last, several hours after the Appeals Court granted bail to the Chicago Seven. The caller asked for several of the defendants, none of whom was available. “I’m really sorry, operator,”  blurted the euphoric, thoroughly exhausted staff worker, “they’re all out getting laid.”

The nightmare, or at least its first phase, is over. Prosecutor Foran is making the rounds on the Northern Illinois Kiwanis circuit manfully describing the defendants as “fag revolutionaries” and loathsome subverters of American youth. Sprung from their five-by-eight metal cages, most of the defendants spent last week relaxing and making plans to move the Conspiracy office to New York.

Last Wednesday, Dave Dellinger, who has been advocating the abolition of prisons for 30 years, talked with a few of us about his unexpectedly brief residence in the Cook County Jail, which he described as “from a racial point of view, one of the most ideal societies I’ve ever been in.”

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The defendants weren’t prepared for the instant heroism and generosity accorded them by the inmates, who had exultantly followed the trial on television. (Even the prison guards had soft moments: one wordlessly pocketed Dellinger’s stash of Cuban cigars during the daily 3 a.m. strip-and-search routine and returned them later; another knowingly overlooked Dellinger’s copy of the New Left Review, a British Marxist monthly, while other reading matter was confiscated.)

“The inmates really know what it means to run up against a legal system which is stacked against you,” Dellinger said. “A lot of them are there because they couldn’t make bail. The fact that we had stood up to the greased machine was something new to them.”

Dellinger had the good fortune to reside in a cage that was out of the direct glare of the bulb that stays on day and night. He shared it with a veteran safecracker with a very creative passion for new hustles. “The guy was actually very friendly. We took turns sleeping except that when it was my turn he would try to convince me of his plan. ‘Dills,’ he would say, ‘you’re big now, really big. With your name and my experience we could start an organization and get eight million people to pay $4 dues a year — say a buck every three months. That’s 32 million bucks a year — 32 million, Dills, whaddya say?’ I rolled over and asked him what the hell the organization would do. He told me to leave that to him. When I finally convinced him I wasn’t interested, he sort of groaned, ‘Dills, the trouble with you is that you’re an idealist.’ ” Dellinger laughed, “I tried to explain that if I wasn’t an idealist, I probably wouldn’t be in a position to consider the proposition in the first place.”

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“The best time in jail was Conspiracy Day when 7000 people gathered outside the jail to support us. We could hear the helicopters whirling overhead. One guy at the end of the cell row had a partial view of the crowd and passed along what he saw. It was a human information chain as it went from cell to cell. The inmates shouted and joked about how the Conspiracy kids were going to blast a hole in the jail and how everybody better hurry and get packed.”

I asked Dave to discuss the disagreement he had with Tom Hayden over whether it was worth speaking out in court, thereby risking contempt citations and jail terms. Generally, Dellinger thought it was and Hayden thought it wasn’t.

“Before the trial we all agreed to wage a ‘positive defense.’ I wanted a few of us to conduct our own defense but was strongly over-ruled on that. We did agree that we wanted to present testimony that would leave the jury with a sense of what we are about as total human beings. There was no way they could judge us fairly unless they heard and saw what we believe and what leadership meant to us. But the actual courtroom resistance didn’t come out of the pre-trial discussions. It developed organically and without much prior consideration. It became a real issue when Bobby Seale was bound and gagged. During the recess following the shackling, I argued that we shouldn’t go back to court willingly. If they wanted to drag us in, okay, but as long as they held Bobby, we couldn’t acquiesce in the business-as-usual routine of the court. Tom thought we had to learn like the Vietnamese to feel no pain, that our real job was to organize people outside and that symbolic acts of non-compliance with the court could only impede our larger purpose. My response was that unless we resisted each step which moved us further along toward a fascist state, we would end up in a hopelessly defensive position. But I also thought that showing solidarity with Bobby at that point was a form of organizing.

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“We were split on the issue of what to do and finally agreed that we would go back to the court for the afternoon session and then discuss it with Bobby that evening. Bobby insisted that we continue the trial, that one person locked up was enough.”

When I heard of the Dellinger-Hayden argument, having worked fairly closely with both of them, I thought, oh boy, are they ever in character. A certain caricature has developed depicting Hayden as a kind of revolutionary Bobby Kennedy, disdaining warmth and spontaneity and caring about nothing so much as raw power. I think this is an awful distortion of Tom and I don’t want to reinforce it. What is true, I believe, is that Hayden is usually thinking five, 10, even 50 years ahead and wants to be able to share his acute sense of what it will take to make a revolution in this country. He is, or at least used to be, terribly worried that personal indulgences would deflect the movement into fruitless culs-de-sac.

There is, in fact, a lot of Hayden in Dellinger. For more than 30 years, Dellinger has been a utopian, rejecting, where necessary, historical models as a guide for what is possible in human arrangements, and eliciting, throughout the ’40s and ’50s, patronizing contempt from left sectarians and realpolitik liberals for advocating such naive causes as unilateral disarmament, abolition of prisons, sexual freedom, and the like. Like Hayden, though, Dellinger has never succumbed to the precious irrelevance of the moralists, violent and non-violent, who kind of assume that maybe things will change when the rest of us are illuminated by their sanctity.

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There is a tension in both men which stems from, on one hand, an aching awareness of the destructiveness of the American system (not simply destructive to blacks and Vietnamese but to all of us) and, on the other, a fearful recognition of the force needed to undo that malevolence. It requires a prodigious balancing act of consciousness to keep a hold on both perceptions. (Try it. Most of us find it less demanding to fix one or the other or to ignore them both.) Dellinger, I suppose, represents the tradition more sensitive to the problem and Hayden to the solution, which may account for their different views on the matter of comportment in Judge Hoffman’s court. But Chicago was a crucible into which eight movement “leaders” were tossed. What emerged, says Dellinger, was not cleavage but a coming together, an incredible trust and love which transcended the real differences which distinguish Abbie Hoffman from Rennie Davis from Bill Kunstler. Six months ago, Dellinger said, it couldn’t have happened. ❖

1970 Village Voice article about the Chicago Seven Trial

1970 Village Voice article about the Chicago Seven Trial


The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Expectation of Rising Revolutions

Report From Chicago

CHICAGO — In the gym of a seminary on the North Side, an ex-marine is showing a Baltimore Weatherman how to ram a heavy pole into a cop’s gut. There’s a Vietcong flag on the pole. The floor is littered with helmets, fatigue jackets, gas masks, goggles, canteens, gauze, and gloves. Most of the Weathermen are sitting tensely on the floor. A few practice karate kicks. No one enters the building without emptying pockets and being frisked.

At another church, only a few blocks away, the RYM II (Revolutionary Youth Movement) coalition of SDS is busy assembling its members as they trickle in from out of state, regis­tering bail contacts on neat index cards, and frisking everyone at the door. Groups are organizing to leaflet the area’s black and brown communities. Someone announces an hour when tetanus shots will be given. Someone else wants to know how many Weathermen have arrived in Chicago. The mood is more relaxed, the church friendlier.

Chicago itself is uneasy. The heated clashes between blacks and whites in the construction industry have just cooled. The statue of a policeman in Haymarket Square was blown apart Monday. Tilden High, on the South Side, is on the brink of racial war. Policemen have shot one Puerto Rican, and two days later, will kill his brother, starting a major gun battle in which eight cops will be shot. The minister of the church housing the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican gang turned political, has just been killed. The Panther office has been invaded, several Panthers arrested, one ending up in critical condition in the hospital. The SDS National Office has been raided, Weathermen jailed and beaten, several severely. And the SDS National Action is about to begin three days in Chicago.

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Wednesday night. The gathering is in Lincoln Park, scene of last year’s convention violence. Several hundred pick their way through the dark toward the giant bonfire in the park’s center. The light off a Weatherman’s helmet, the occasional flash from a camera, the static buzz from newsmen’s walkie talkies. More bodies begin to fill the gloom. There are no uniformed cops in the park. A large banner pictures a coiled snake with the inscription “Don’t Tread On Me,” symbol of Rising Up Angry, the new paper of a white revolutionary gang in Chicago. A tall figure in burlap robes with a staff and a yoke is going through an Old Testament-cum-revolution rap to cries of “Off the Prophet!” (The next day, 50 of the same will line the streets of the Loop, Chicago’s downtown, providing cute six o’clock news copy, and then disappear as mysteriously as they arrived.)

The rally starts at eight o’clock. There are intermittent speeches and chants. By ten o’clock the crowd has grown to four or five hundred. Tom Hayden appears out of the dark and takes the bullhorn. “It’s a lie that we oppose this Weatherman demonstration. It’s good to see people coming back to Chicago, back to Lincoln Park. We welcome any intensification of the struggle.” While about half of the Conspiracy Eight endorse the Weathermen, there is only tepid official sanction, due to Panther opposition. Jeff Jones, inter-organizational secretary of SDS, announces himself as Mario Delgado — pseudonym of the Weather Bureau — to knowing tit­ters. As he speaks, there is a shift in the crowd, and the helmets begin lining up. There has been no announcement of a march, but within minutes the Weather­men are pouring out of the park, heading south toward Chicago’s plush Gold Coast and, hopefully, the Drake Hotel, residence of Judge Julius J. Hoffman. Most of the crowd trails along behind as the phalanx of 300 helmeted Weathermen begins running toward the string of luxury high-risers. Stones and bricks are picked up at construction sites along the way. Already some bottles are being dropped from windows. The crowd quickens. Now plate glass windows are, being smashed by rocks. Heavy poles shatter car windows and windshields. As the squad cars scream up and police race to head off the Weathermen, the mob suddenly swings east toward Lake Shore Drive. There are clouds of tear gas and scattered gunshots. The Weathermen have split in two. Those by Lake Shore Drive are met by car after car packed with cops, many unmarked. Shattered glass fills the street. In front of 1212 Lake Shore Drive, a pile of injured Weathermen is lying face down in the dirt with groups of cops glaring over them. One cop is holding up a piece of concrete, one foot on the back of his victim. “The motherfucker tried to hit me with this!” A team or five medics from the Medical Commission for Human Rights tries to get through to the wounded, but is charged by two policemen with clubs and quickly retreats. (Weathermen announced that unless MCHR carried rocks in their bags, they didn’t want help. Another medic, his face painted in gaudy dayglo, is soon hustled off into a van for carrying boric acid.

Fifty-eight are eventually busted. Several Weathermen are gunshot victims, one is in critical condition with a bullet in the neck. Some 30 store windows are smashed — banks, restaurants, drug stores, shops. No one reaches through the splintered glass to loot. The area is inundated with police. A Rolls Royce sits in front of one of the plusher high-risers, ringed by a crowd of incredulous onlookers. Three of its windows are smashed. A block away, a scarlet Lamborghini goes untouched. Several injured cops are hustled into cars. The com­ments of bystanders are not friendly: “I’m getting out my goddamn rifle.” “They shouldn’t put them in jail; they should be killed.” “They ought to shoot every one of the bastards!” “It’s commie backed.”

The next day Mayor Daley will call up 2500 National Guardsmen.

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Thursday. The Weathermen’s Women Militia is scheduled to “tear apart” a major induction center in downtown Chicago. The women assemble in Grant Park below the Logan statue, across from last year’s site of the Battle of Michigan Avenue. There are a cluster of 50 or 60 women, army-dressed, helmeted, many with clubs. Ringed by newsmen and photographers, they sing and chant “We love our Uncle Ho Chi Minh, deep down in our hearts. We love our chairman Mao Tse Tung, deep down in our hearts …” And cry out “Oink, Oink. Bang, bang! Dead pig!”

The leadership of the group is late in arriving. When it does, the number of newsmen has swelled and cars of cops line Michigan Ave­nue. Her face shielded by raised hands, Bernardine Dohrn speaks from the center of the cluster: “For the first time in history women are getting themselves together. We’re not picketing in front of bra factor­ies. A few buckshot wounds mean we’re doing the right thing. This is not a self-indulgent bullshit women’s movement. We refuse to be good Germans. We live behind enemy lines.”

After a quick huddle, the group opens up, lines up, and heads briskly down along the length of the park chanting “the only direction is insurrection; the only solution is revolution.” Police race to cut them off at the road. When the women reach the sidewalk, there is a double row of 20 cops. The front women try to break through, are stopped, wrestled to the ground, and thrown into nearby police vans, yelling “Power to the People!” One girl, her face squashed into the concrete by a cop’s foot, is screaming “Off the Pig!” The women regroup, but more police have arrived now, and set up a surrounding horseshoe of cops, keeping newsmen out. The women are outnumbered, out­maneuvered, and outmuscled. As they lose their momentum, several begin weeping. The cop in charge is ordering the women to drop their gloves and clubs and take off their helmets. If they don’t they’ll all be arrested. Eventually the women agree, and the police escort the women three blocks to the subway where they are ushered underground, shaken and torn by the outcome of their action.

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

An hour later, the RYM II forces, making their first open appearance, are rallying at the Federal Building where the Conspiracy Trial is going on. RYM II is supported by the Black Panthers and the Young Lords and is attracting a comfortable coalition of movement groups. There is none of the tension that the Weathermen elicit. It is lunch hour, Abbie Hoffman is down from the 23rd floor, spotting cameras, greeting friends, running his monologue. “Hey, Dick Tracy, did you get the money we sent you? … Let’s go see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid … We wanted to support the Weatherman action but there’s the Panther thing … I can’t go tomorrow — I’m Jewish and I gotta go to church … ”

An army of newsmen and camera crews is on a rooftop across the street. Squads of cops surround the skyscraper tower. The building itself is impossible to get into — all four entrances are heavily guarded by federal marshals. Even the press is having a hard time getting into the courtroom, and defense attorney William Kunstler has just filed a motion charging that legitimate newsmen are being excluded in favor of certain friends of the judge. (The New York Times had just run a spread on society women turning up at the trial.)

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A Young Lord from New York addresses the milling crowd of 500. “Fascism is here. Look at the life and property the pigs protect. It ain’t my property and it ain’t my life. In Puerto Rico, students just blew up the ROTC building.” Wild cheers. “But we’re talking about revolutionary love. Revolutionary love says you gotta pick up the gun. We’re not racists or hate mongers or war mongers. But revolution is not a dinner party. We’re fighting for all of you in those glass offices.” Speeches by Mike Klonsky, RYM II coordinator, and Carl David­son, Guardian columnist. And then Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party: “We support RYM II only. We oppose the anarchistic, adventur­istic, chauvinistic, individualistic, masochistic, and Custeristic Weathermen. We don’t dig con­frontations that lead people into struggles they’re not ready for. We want government by the people, for the people, and of the people. Fuck this shit of government by the pigs for the pigs, and of the pigs. This town’s hungry, and we need a barbecue.”

The Weathermen meanwhile have reshuffled their schedule — it had been clearly laid out on two sides of a detailed information poster.

They have abandoned the “Wargasm” (a revolutionary youth culture celebration), have postponed their high school actions, and are now filtering into the Federal Plaza for what is rumored to be a rally to co-opt RYM II support. But security quickly alerts Hampton who is speaking. The rally is abruptly ended, and everyone is urged to show up at the International Harvester plant in an hour for a massive action in support of the workers. About 150 Weathermen are now left alone in the plaza under heavy police scrutiny. They huddle together for a while and then, slipping helmets under coats, move out as unobstrusively as possible. But as has been happening since Wednesday, several are picked off and busted, identified as part of the action the night before, by Chicago’s Red Squad (The “subversive” division of police intelligence).

The RYM II action at Harvester is an orderly, sedate rally of about 40, sandwiched between the massive Cook Country courthouse and jail and the sprawling Harvester plant. About 60 brown-shirted deputies line the steps of the courthouse and more than 100 blue-helmeted cops guard the fences and entrance of Harvest. There is the familiar spectrum of movement groups, hawking politics and papers, passing around hats for bail money. The movement’s banner­-maker YAWF (Youth Against War and Fascism), provides some satin splashes of color, a gaudy orange. The sound equipment has arrived and is working perfectly. There is the repeated invective against Weatherman, this time from an organizer within the plant: “They’re a bunch of fool-ass punks running around downtown breaking windows. We shut this plant down today without firing a single shot and cost the company a quarter of a million dollars.” (It was announced that enough workers had walked out of key production departments to shut down the plant for the day.) More workers rose and told of inhuman working condi­tions, an uptight company and working men sold out by the UAW.

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The Harvester Plant is going to be torn down and moved to the suburbs where it will be inaccessible to the many black and Puerto Ricans now working in the factory. Thirty-five hundred jobs will be lost. It is rumored that a jail will replace the plant. “So the worker’s got no job, he’s standing around, he’s busted, and he ends up living — in jail — where he used to work!” The rally ends with a singling of “We Shall Overcome” and “Solidarity Forever” “When we say the ‘union,’ we mean the union of working men, not the UAW.”

Thursday night. The Weathermen mysteriously call a 10:30 news conference at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel. Sensing a hot late news item, more than 60 newsmen push through the convention crowds and pile in the narrow Club Room amidst the usual tangle and clutter of mikes, cables, plugs, lights, tripods, meters, tape decks, and cameras. There is the familiar news batter, traded with light readings, juvenile obscenities (“Stop goosing my ass!”), clowning with a helmet and gas mask, and what passes for fourth estate humor: “Call me a racist pig, Charlie.” “SD — what?,” “I wonder where our little friends are.” “Honky news collective over here.” and “Let’s get this show the road so I can eat dinner.”

Four Weathermen arrive, announce they will make a brief statement, and answer a couple of short questions. Half the newsmen start to walk out. Order is restored, and with two men standing behind them, the women give their names. One was shotgunned in the leg the night before and announces that a brother has just been shot. “Who?” click the questions, but she won’t elaborate for security reasons. Several cameras turn off and mikes are pulled out. There is a “no comment” on the Black Panther attack, and a short rap about Third World struggles from the other girl: “White people have lived off the labor of black and brown people for centuries. This is theft, and we are giving up the fruits and privileges of that labor.” She displays an NLF ring, recites “Determined to fight, determined to win” in Vietnamese, raises her fist along with the others, then the four quickly walk out past the angry and astonished newsmen

Friday. The Weatherman high school action is now cancelled. Too many people have been identified and arrested, high schools are reportedly under heavy police guard, and a long Weatherman meeting Thursday night began to challenge some of the tactics employed so far. Primarily, it is clear that not as many Weathermen have come to Chicago as expected (ditto for RYM II, who had predicted “more than 5000″), and that what was planned as demonstration actions are turning into highly vulnerable cadre actions. The Wednesday night attack has exposed the Weathermen to continued identification and arrest.

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The RYM II action for Friday is at Cook County Hospital where organizers have charged medical genocide, forced sterilization of blacks, and the use of the hospital by doctors as a cheap educational steppingstone into suburban practice. “We are sick and tired of medical moonshots, like heart transplants,” says one doctor at the rally. “We want health care that serves the people.” A Black Panther announces the opening of a free health clinic, and there is an elaborate skit depicting the “systematization” under Pig Daley of a sick welfare woman with 25 children, followed by some “radical surgery” at the Panther clinic. Awaking from the operation, the woman slowly sits up on the table. “How do you feel?” asks the Panther doctor. A huge grin spreads over her face as she slowly intones, “Ho … Ho … Ho Chi Minh!”

Again, RYM II draws about 500 people, a noisy buzzing police helicopter, hundreds of police around the street and hospital entrances, and no trouble. Some doctors join the rally, a few heckle, and many line the streets or hang out of hospital and residence windows. Organizing at Cook County has been strongest in the non-skilled job areas.

After the rally, RYM II calls a press conference at their move­ment center, a church on the North Side (in fact, all SDS groups spent the three days operating out of churches). The purpose, explains Klonsky, is to get a little press coverage of RYM’s work which is being ob­scured by a “handful of people running crazy in the streets.” Klonsky tries to keep together the idea of SDS as mass organization with some internal struggles, and repeatedly denounces the growing characterization of RYM II as non-violent and pacifist. A Young Lord adds another Weath­erman criticism: “Whoever heard of people breaking windows in a store and not taking anything?”

While RYM II meets openly and continues planning for the finale march and rally Saturday, the Weathermen are on the run. They have been temporarily thrown out of Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston when 150 Weathermen turn up instead of the expected 30. They are tossed out of another church when the pastor finds them in the basement beating a cop who has infiltrated the center. And as the Chicago rains pour down Friday night, flooding streets and cellars, there is frantic racing from center to center, from church to church, to head off an expected bust. It eventually comes at two o’clock in the morning at an Evanston church when 100 police break in on the Weathermen (mostly from New York) and arrest 43. Four warrants have been issued; two of those named are found in the church, the rest are arrested on charges of mob action and inciting to riot stemming out of Wednesday’s clash.

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Saturday. The final day of the national action. Everyone is both exhausted and primed for the final offensive. Both RYM II and Weatherman have marches and demonstrations scheduled. Both reportedly have parade permits. RYM II goes through black and brown communities, attracting several thousand marchers and a heavy police escort. The windows are filled with clenched fists. It ends with a somewhat listless, overlong rally in Humboldt Park demanding independence for Puerto Rico and withdrawal from Vietnam. Those in RYM II feel that the support has been impressive along the way.

The Weatherman action is uncertain. Nobody knows how many are left, how many are out of jail, or how many are in hospitals. Weathermen have been having trouble communicating, finding safe refuges and untapped phones. Those walking the streets have resorted to jackets and ties and straight dresses. In Chicago there is an uneasy sense that every third person is a cop. The march is slated to start from Haymarket Square where the statue’s pedestal reads “In the name of the State of Illinois, I command peace.”

As Weathermen begin to gather at the statue, plainclothesman — most disguised as longshoremen heavies — wade through the newsmen and pull out clubs. They haul off four Weathermen, among them Mark Rudd, who is making a rare public appearance. Despite the quick bust, the Weathermen group grows. Bands of 10 and 20 march into the square chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!” and join the larger group. There are speeches, Marxist-Leninist cries, raised fists, chanting, and then the Weathermen suddenly swing into the street. The cop escort is especially heavy, in front, in back, and along the line of march that sweeps through the Loop and the financial district. National Guardsmen are poised at all nearby armories. Two baby-blue sanitation sweepers swing menacingly behind the marchers, their brushes twirling, but are unable to keep up with the pace of the Weathermen. Unlike Wednesday night, there are few stragglers or observers. Newsmen are keeping to the sidewalk.

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Halfway down the route, the march suddenly breaks east through policelines. Bricks, clubs, and pipes are pulled out. Windows are smashed and chaos erupts as the column disintegrates into wild skirmishes with the police. Cops pour into the streets, grabbing everyone they can, pinning them to the ground or against cars until vans race up to cart off the arrested and injured. Several policemen appear badly beaten, the city’s corporation counsel lies motionless on the street, paralyzed from the neck down. Clumps of Weathermen dot the street and sidewalk with cops standing over them. The violence this time is brief. No guns are drawn. One hundred and three Weathermen are arrested.

It is difficult to assess the impact of the action. RYM II has not made much of a splash. Their numbers are not impressive for a much-publicized national action, despite grass-roots organizing with the Panthers and the Young Lords. Among those caught between RYM II and Weatherman, there is criticism of RYM’s political rhetoric, of a non-revolutionary appeal to workers, and of rather staid, uninspired actions and rallies. RYM has devoted a lot of energy to disassociating itself from Weatherman violence and confrontation and finds itself labeled as non-violent and pacifist. Suddenly, the Panthers and SDS (RYM) are the good guys, the friendly revolutionaries. They have been temporarily robbed of their bizazz, upstaged. On the other hand, they have incurred no liabilities, have not been busted, and have undoubtedly built up a stronger base of support than they had before the action.

With Weatherman, of course, the reverse is true. Close to 300 have been busted, some several times. Sympathies are low and bail money scarce. All are identified, labeled, photographed, catalogued. They have captured the headlines of Chicago papers for three days. They have demonstrated a street gang force that can march into the heart of Chicago and attack the police. They have provoked the calling out of 2500 National Guardsmen. They emanate an energy far in excess of their numbers. They aim to polarize and clearly succeed. At the moment, of course, returns are only in from the establishment poll, where there is extravagant hostility to the “roughneck fanatics.” At least in Chicago, there is a new sense of middle-class communion with the police. Police are praised and clucked over. Daniel J. Walker, architect of the report condemning the “police brutality” at the Democratic Convention, issues a statement applauding their behavior. Mayor Daley is smiling comfortably; his troops were restrained — at least in the publicity of the streets — and behaved as instructed. And even within the movement, there is an abundance of open hostility and despair at Weatherman politics and strategies.

Weatherman actions, however, are designed to turn on high school youths, white street gangs, working class kids. But it is unclear to what extent they have succeeded. Many Weathermen believe they are accomplishing just that. Many believe the Chicago action was a success. They have demonstrated the seriousness of their intention to physically smash the state.

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There is much internal criticism of tactics, however. The women’s action was clearly a bust. The high school actions were aborted. And there is a growing feeling that Weathermen cannot expose themselves as publicly as they did in Chicago, that the only alter­native now is to go underground.

The key to much of Weatherman politics appears in their conception of Third World struggles and the ideal of a world in revolution. They are out less to create a revolutionary movement in this country than to identify all “behind the line” white revolutionaries with anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world. It is this perspective that encourages a certain insularity from more “people-serving” organizing. There is a religious intensity to the Weatherman turn-on, a de­sperate exorcism of all mid­dle-class hangups and privilege, and a lunging attempt to magically raise the level of revolutionary consciousness through exemplary actions.

The impact of the Weathermen in Chicago is still uncertain. All returns are not yet in. ❖

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial


The Trial of the Chicago 7: Bobby Seale Case

Legal Left Says the Heat is On

ASHEVILLE, North Caroline — Paranoia? Not according to attorneys Arthur Kinoy and William Kunstler. Not if you’ve read the headlines for the past week. “I don’t want to sound like a Cassandra,” said Kunstler, speaking at a recent conference for movement lawyers, “but I don’t have to. It’s no longer a guess. It’s here.”

Kinoy outlined a cluster of grim developments that had staggered him over a 24-hour period: refusal by the government to postpone the trial of the Chicago “Conspiracy Eight”; indictment of Bobby Seale on a first-degree murder charge — “the first time the chairman of a national political party faces the electric chair”; refusal by a referral district court to reduce the $100,000 bail of 17 defendants from the New York “Panther 21” by the counsel for the House of Representatives that it had no intention of following the virtually unanimous Supreme Court decision reinstating Adam Clayton Powell, and the district judge then issued no order, saying this country “suffers too much from government by judicial oligarchy”; and finally, withdrawal by the government of its Mississippi desegregation plan, which prompted the revolt or half the lawyers in the civil rights division of the Justice Department.

And Kinoy paused, stopped pacing, his hands gripped the table, and his voice dropped to a whisper: “What the hell is going on?”

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Kunstler, also of the Law Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, focused on Seale. Movement leaders no longer face minor penalties, misdemeanor charges, and a few worthy months in jail. Seale, said Kunstler, faces the very real likelihood of execution. “The fun has gone out of our practice. We now face a deadening responsibility.”

The government’s case is good. There is incontrovertible proof that Seale was in New Haven on May 19, the night Alex Rackley was allegedly tortured and beaten for informing on the “Panther 21”; Seale was speaking at Yale. Police say they have the murder weapon, a .45. Police say they have tapes of the kangaroo “trial” of Rackley. And police say they have telephone proof that Seale was in the New Haven house where the trial and torture took place. Finally, police now have George Sams’s affidavit, and George Sams’s affidavit is strong stuff.

According to Sams, Seale stopped by the Panther house and, when told of Rackley’s treachery, ordered him to be killed. Legally, that means murder one. There is no room for self-defense or non-premeditation. There is no room for a mitigating defense, no room for reduction to manslaughter, as with Huey Newton.

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Sams’s affidavit could be strengthened if corroborated by one or more of the Panthers in the New Haven house. There are six girls age 16 and under. Faced with the possibility of death for murder, it is not inconceivable that one or more might cop a plea, get 20 years, be out in seven — at the age of 23 — and testify that Seale did order the killing.

And finally, there is the sensationalism of the crime itself. Rackley was reportedly tortured with boiling water. He was brutally murdered and dumped in a swamp. Seale himself was melodramatically picked up on a federal fugitive warrant for “unlawful flight to avoid prosecution,” at night, in his car, and arrested by about 20 FBI agents, with shotguns.

“These are enormous odds,” said Kunstler. ”I don’t know how we can overcome them. We need a major miracle, and that can only be the breaking of George Sams’s story.”

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So far, little is known about Sams. He was expelled from the party for stabbing another Panther in the leg, but was returned at the request of Stokely Carmichael. The circumstances of his capture, indicated Kunstler, are extremely suspicious. All the Panthers indicted for the New Haven plot were picked up almost immediately. Only Sams remained mysteriously at large, months after the crime, prompting a series of raids of Panther headquarters across the country. Then, quite extraordinarily, Sams is found in Toronto, not the most likely refuge for a fugitive Panther.

This summer’s raids and persecutions of Panthers by the government may stack up as child’s play if Seale is convicted. No one knows how much of a scare this could put into the movement, and no one knows how much it might alienate the broader base of Panther support. But few at the conference disagreed with the importance of Kunstler’s call for a crusade to Connecticut.

The speeches by Kunstler and Kinoy marked the emotional watershed of the 10-day conference organized by the Southern Legal Action Movement (SLAM). About 160 movement lawyers and law students shared notes, conferred, debated, and partied in this picture-book retreat in the North Carolina Smokies, with ideologies from ACLU to SOS. The focus of the conference was the South, but topics of discussion included the military, poverty law, school strikes, narcotics, political repression, housing, and new life-styles for lawyers. ❖

1969 Village Voice article about Bobby Seale and Chicago 8 -Chicago 7 trial by Jonathan Black

1969 Village Voice article about Bobby Seale and Chicago 8 -Chicago 7 trial by Jonathan Black


The Trial of the Chicago 7: Indictment and Protest

Spring’s Awakening 

It’s been a busy week. Thursday the Federal Grand Jury indicted eight “non-leaders” of the Chicago demonstration for conspiracy to break the law and incite a riot. Friday Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Dave Dellinger held a press conference at the Hotel Diplomat welcoming the indictment as “the academy award of protest” and asking others to “join the conspiracy.” Saturday there was a demonstration at Foley Square while the conspirators surrendered themselves to the authorities. Saturday evening another protest sponsored by Alternate U. and a group called the Crazies ran from the New York Times to Grand Central to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park and then back again. And then late Sunday night Abbie Hoffman’s office on East 5th Street was busted for narcotics and guns.

Spring had come. After months of being restricted to indoor sports everything seemed to burst out into the streets. There was a great deal of excitement and agitation leading nowhere in particular. The events seemed to follow each other in no particular sequence. One after another they would capture one’s attention and then disappear as rapidly as they had arisen, leaving the impression that they were somehow tenuously strung together and yet tracing no discernible pattern.

The indictment came as something of a surprise. After having anticipated it momentarily, waited for it patiently, feared it endlessly, and finally dismissed it entirely, Rubin claims that he was really shocked when it finally descended from the higher courts. “I was into something new and now they bring this whole thing back to us,” he complained. “Will Chicago never end?”

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The evening of their indictment, Rubin and Hoffman met uptown in the plush offices of their defense attorneys. Everyone hugged everyone else, talked about how this trial would go all the way, how they’d push it to the Supreme Court, how it might take six months of trial and years of appeals, but how this was what they’d been waiting for.

Most of the speculation centered around why Bobby Seale, (one of the last Black Panther leaders who isn’t in jail or in exile) had been included in the list of those indicted. One of the theories was that the New Left had friends in high places who wanted to see all its various factions unified. Others claimed that whoever had been the architect of the indictment was just plain stupid and clearly had no idea what the consequences of this cross-cultural, cross-racial, cross-political indictment would be.

The lawyers seemed more jubilant about the indictment than the indicted. Here was the test case every liberal constitutional lawyer in the country had been waiting for. The 1968 Civil Disorders Bill had been pushed through Congress by Southern reactionaries who were convinced that there was a combined black power-communist conspiracy to burn down the American cities. The bill was passed in order to stop H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael from running around the country preaching revolution. Now, for the first time, it had actually been applied, and would probably face the test of constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

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Later that evening, back at Hoffman’s apartment, the grim reality of it all began to come down hard. At first, when his mother-in-law called to ask about the indictment, Hoffman said lightly, “It’s all right, it’s just in the line of work I do.” Then, sitting in front of a color television set, listening to various garbled accounts of the indictment by pink-faced newscasters, Hoffman chewed reflectively on a lamb chop and mentioned for the first time the possibility of jail. Abbie the clown was instantly replaced by a real person. Under the law he is eligible for a grand total of five years and a $10,000 fine.

Saturday morning I arrived at Foley Square in front of the courthouse where Rubin, Hoffman, and Dellinger were to surrender themselves. An impressive contingent of some 20 elite Black Panther troops were on hand to give evidence that the Panthers are not going to be quiet about Seale’s indictment. Standing in formation in the cold morning sun, their uniforms and discipline gave them a presence which the twice as numerous white protestors lacked.

Once the three indicted men disappeared into the courthouse, the Panthers moved up and faced off with the police who were jealously guarding the steps leading up to the halls of justice. Kafka must have been somewhere in the crowd. Each Panther stepped up nose to nose with a policeman, raised his crossed arms in front of him, and started chanting: “No more brothers in jail. Off the pigs.” Then they filed out.

Inside, Hoffman lit up a cigarette in front of the judge and was told to put it out.

Outside, Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist, complained bitterly about not having been included in the indictment.

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The demonstration Saturday evening in front of the New York Times came as comic relief when compared with the seriousness of the indictments. The police, however, did not take it as a joke and deployed such an arsenal of force in front of the truck loading platforms on 43rd Street that only an idiot would have made a move. The Tactical Patrol Force lined the barricades, paddy wagons were invitingly open at each end of the street, patrol cars were illegally parked all over Times Square, and there were more plainclothesmen than people.

The United States is probably the only place in the world where demonstrations have turned into a spectator sport. Sailors, prostitutes, newsmen, printers in four-cornered newspaper hats, passing motorists, theatre-goers, local bartenders, and the whole gang took time off to come out and watch the Crazies do their bit.

“What are they bitching about now,” a cross looking little old lady with a Macy’s shopping bag asked a plainclothesman.

“Are you in this demonstration or reporting on it?” a detective from the Red Squad questioned me as he examined my press card.

“What’s in the bag, kid?” a detective asked a long haired boy who was carrying a sign which read “The Saturday Load and the Sunday Bullshit.” The boy handed the officer the bag. Opening it he found to his eternal disappointment and minimal embarrassment that it was not a concealed weapon of infernal destruction but only a bologna sandwich.

“Move along, miss,” a young cop suggested politely to a beautiful blond girl who was standing on his corner watching the picket line. “I can’t,” she said, batting her eyelashes at him shyly. “l’m with them,” she continued, gesturing toward the demonstrators.

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Suddenly there was the very strong smell of puke at the Broadway end of 43rd Street. Apparently one of the stink bombs which the demonstrators had brought with them went off by mistake within their own ranks. It was not the only weapon which ran afoul that evening. Several plastic bags of yellow paint, intended for the windows of the trucks which were taking away the Sunday issue of the Times, fell on the ground and splattered several hapless demonstrators who stepped on them.

A pregnant woman who had been holding a toilet-paper-roll version of the New York Times was snatched out of the picket line and hustled away by detectives for no apparent reason. Attorneys who tried to accompany her were turned back. For a moment it looked as if something might happen. The demonstrators surged forward and the police pushed back, banging their clubs on the barricades in a manner which invoked no less than utter terror.

“Scotty Reston is a You Know What,” one poster teased, “All the News That’s Shit to Print,” someone else claimed, “The New York Times Disguises Bald Racism with a Liberal Toupee,” another whined.

But no one could really get it up for the Times. Everyone had their own little bitch, everyone read it with their own kind of skepticism, but the point was that the picketers knew in the back of their minds that after the demonstration was over they were going to slink off to their local newsstand and buy a copy of none other than the Sunday edition of the Times — the very one they hadn’t been able to stop from coming out. They would buy it Sunday and buy it again on Monday to see if their little display of annoyance had hit the Big Times.

By 9:30 p.m. things were beginning to peter out. The picket line was getting shorter and shorter between the rows of policemen and everyone was just about shouted hoarse. The general movement seemed to be toward Grand Central. There another group of Crazies promised to lay a wreath of flowers at the information booth where last year’s bloody riot had begun when someone had climbed up on top of the clock and ripped the hands off.

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At a meeting at the Crazies’ storefront in the East Village several days before, Hoffman had told the others who were planning the demonstration that he didn’t think it was a good idea to go back to Grand Central: “I was knocked unconscious there last year and I don’t plan to do it again. Let’s at least make it a different place next time. Once you’re inside the station the cops can block off all the entrances and you have to run the gauntlet in order to get out.”

“All I hear is fear, fear, fear,” a boy by the name of Danny who was sitting on the floor complained. “People are supposed to be afraid of us. Remember?” he reminded the others.

In the end it was decided that they would go ahead with the Grand Central demonstration in spite of its risks. As one bearded member of the group explained, the strategy of the Crazies is “to walk that thin line between getting your head bashed in and just managing to get away with it — that’s what it is to be a Crazy.”

But by the time the Crazies got to Grand Central on Saturday it was already effectively blocked off by the police who had locked most of the doors and asked for tickets at the few entrances they left open.

“Where’s your ticket, kid,” a policeman asked a Crazy who had decided to make a test of his constitutional right of free movement.

“I don’t have one, but if you let me go in I’ll buy one,” he promised.

“Uh uh, you got to have it with you.”

“But how can I have it if you won’t let me in to buy it?” he argued logically.

“Look kid, we don’t want your demonstration here.”

“I’m not going to demonstrate, I just want to go out to Long Island to visit my grandmother,” he lied.

“Try Penn Station,” the cop countered.

“Here we are at the Prague border, everyone take out their ticket, you can’t travel here without a passport, remember, you’re in Amerika,” the boy shouted at the other freaks who had been listening intently to the dialogue.

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According to Howard Smith, who arrived at Grand Central slightly later, the police were not the only ones who were guarding Grand Central against an invasion of crazies. A number of men wearing buttons which read “PFB” (Peter Factor Brigade?) were patrolling the area, promising demonstrators that if they got inside they’d be “only too happy to kick the shit out of you.”

“What does PFB stand for?” they were asked. “You’ll know when the time comes.”

“What time will that be?”

“When Lee gets ready to tell you.”

“All right, now I guess we have to ask who Lee is,” Krassner said.

The question remained unanswered. Lee will remain a mystery … “until the time comes.”

Meanwhile, outside, most of the demonstrators had grown tired of standing around and headed off uptown, some 150 to 200 strong, toward the park where they were scheduled to meet at midnight. Marching together up Madison Avenue they began to feel their strength and [the] disruptive possibilities of such a large mobile force. “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh,” they chanted over and over, as if the second verse (“The NLF is gonna win”) had been forgotten over the winter or had simply disappeared out of pessimism. A few marchers strayed out in the street dodging in and out of traffic, trash barrels were overturned, and then the police arrived. They drove alongside the march for several blocks and people began to think they were just giving them an escort uptown. No such luck. At 50th Street a gray car drove up onto the sidewalk, splitting the marchers in half. All four doors opened simultaneously and plainclothesmen poured out, grabbing whoever was nearest. Half the group was forced back downtown and the other half continued east. A few blocks later it happened again, only this time it became clear that there were police spotters in the ranks who pointed out the demonstrators they thought were ring leaders. Each time it was the same. The police would run toward the center of a group arresting one or two and leaving the rest to wander around wondering where the hell everyone else had gone to. By the time I arrived at the park I was with four other people.

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“This is all bullshit,” a boy next to me mumbled as we walked through the park toward the Sheep Meadow. “This isn’t a revolution, it isn’t even a decent demonstration. It’s an outing,” he explained as if he finally divined the truth, “a walking tour of New York City.”

“Maybe the revolutionary logic behind it all is to keep the troops physically fit,” I suggested, “like Mao leading everyone down to the river for a swim.”

“Yeah,” the boy agreed, “it could be listed in ‘100 Ways to Lose Weight,’ or whatever that bestseller is called.”

Sheep Meadow was a bummer. The cavalry had the high rocky ground to the south, plainclothesmen blocked off the east, scooter cops could be seen to the north, and patrol cars covered the west. “We’re surrounded,” someone observed in the dark.

“Let’s go home, the cops have made their point, they can have this place if they need it so desperately. The Viet Cong never try to hold a hopeless position when they’re out-gunned,” a dark-haired politico with a pointy goatee announced. “Go home, no one’s having any fun here anyways. This sure doesn’t look like any festival of life to me.”

After a huddle it was decided to take the young man’s advice. On the way out of the park, the wreath (which was supposed to have been planted in Grand Central) was placed in the hands of a lovely nude statue which stands in the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel. Cheers went up and everybody got their thrill. Then we walked back down to Times Square again, where again the police insisted on intervening. A fairly large group then subwayed down to Sheridan Square and marched triumphantly over to St. Mark’s Place where they were greeted by those who had been too spaced out to make the trip. It had been a long walk and everyone was fagged out. No one except the most naive thought any of it had been worth it.

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The next night, Sunday night, Abbie Hoffman’s office on 5th Street — down the block from the police station — was raided and the police discovered a suitcase full of guns and blackjacks and a packet of heroin. It was all vaguely reminiscent of Rubin’s bust last year just before the Chicago convention when the police broke into his apartment, tore the posters off the walls, riffled his papers, and busted him for possession of pot.

While it’s still impossible to say whether the raid on Hoffman’s place was a frame-up or not (the young man who left the suitcase full of guns, for example, has mysteriously disappeared), we may never know for sure. However, Hoffman claims that “it is totally inconceivable that a person in my position would hide an arsenal of guns and dope a couple of houses away from a police station.”

To make matters even more mysterious, rumor has it that heroin was found planted in the Peace Eye Bookstore and at the Switchboard — both likely places for busts if there was to be a heavy crackdown on the Movement in the East Village. Nothing, however is revealed. ❖


Huey Newton: Armed and Intellectually Dangerous

Huey Newton, 1942-1989

One night in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a group of white boys drove along­side my drop-top 1963 Chevy Im­pala, called me a nigger, and threw empty beer cans at my ride. I chased them down a darkened street. They stopped and got out the car, smiling like they was going to kick some black ass. I got out, went to the truck, and pulled out my 300 Savage semiautomatic rifle. I fired a couple of rounds with the intent, but not the nerve, to kill. They jumped back in their car and fled.

Sweating and shaking with fear and adrenalin, I got back into my Impala laughing, convinced that Huey Newton was right when he said political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

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Just a year before that incident I had never really thought much about where political power came from. I was into processes or ‘dos, black-and-white shoes, and big cars. But when the media brought Huey along, I immediately dug him because he scared the shit out of redneck peck-a-woods. I came to hate them at an early age. I hated them for attacking children with dogs in the South and for their false generosity in the North. I hated them for denying econom­ic survival to a people who asked for little more. I knew that the last thing white folks really wanted to see was a pissed-off black man heavily armed and intellec­tually dangerous. But as far as African Americans were concerned, Huey and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, a name taken from the Lowndes County, Alabama, chapter of the SNCC, came along just at the right time. We had had enough — enough police brutality, enough intimidation, enough racism.

So when I heard that Huey had been gunned down in a possible dope deal in the early morning hours in West Oak­land, I really felt the loss. Sure, he was a wild man, and I won’t try to excuse that. But who wouldn’t be after living for years under constant and intense pressure from The Man’s Thought-Cops Division. They were after him because he was a symbol. Huey, in the days before his madness, represented a revolutionary alternative for those without an ounce of faith in this country’s social, political, and economic order. He was our David taking on a ruthless, big, white giant from the West.

Even those African Americans who disagreed with his tactics sympathized with his goals in the Black Panther Par­ty’s Ten Point Program, which included: an end to robbery by the white man of our black community; an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people; and more bread, housing, educa­tion, clothing, justice, and peace.

The program attracted a lot of people in the ’60s and it seems, especially in light of the Howard Beach and Benson­burst crimes, long overdue today.

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After seeing a poster of Huey and Bob­by Seale decked out in berets and black leather jackets and toting pieces, I went right out and bought my rifle. To quiet my hustler’s instincts, I replaced my back-pocket copy of Iceberg Slim’s The Pimp with a copy of Mao Ze-dong’s Little Red Book.

I enjoyed reading Huey’s articles in the BPP newspaper. He was the first person to persuade me to dull the edge and even­tually conquer my homophobia. He got me to thinking about women’s liberation and liberation struggles in Third World countries. I listened and learned from his sermons of love and internationalism. There was much Huey did and said that I didn’t agree with, but I owe him thanks for forcing me to think about so much.

Because there was no Black Panther Party in my hometown, Lansing, Michi­gan, I didn’t join the BPP. Since we could not be real Panthers, a group of us, high school students, Vietnam vets, and fac­tory workers, got together in 1968 and started a breakfast program for children. I often looked into the faces of those children and wanted to cry.

We didn’t have the resources to open health care centers and legal defense of­fices like the BPP, but we were all sure that when the revolution came, when we seized the power, we’d have all the re­sources we needed.

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But I had real trouble with the Jimi Hendrix aspects of Huey. It was electric and bigger than life. It was the side that reached out to whites to form alliances. For my money, white folks could go straight to hell. I was that angry. I fig­ured that if they did join in our struggle they would eventually sell us out. But looking back now, through the prism of Jesse Jackson’s coalition-building presi­dential campaigns and my own years of experience in the struggle, I see that Huey, like Jimi, was ahead of his time and true to his roots. That’s probably what shook both of them so tragically out of control.

Was Huey P. Newton right when he called on the people to arm themselves? So far, history hasn’t proved anything about Huey’s strategy. The only thing we know for sure is that the BPP’s demands have not been met, which proves that the beast we progressive-minded people struggle against cannot be defeated with one strategy; neither the ballot nor the bullet alone. And no matter what strategy we do decide to use, history has already shown us that there will be casualties, and that’s what Huey was, a casualty of war. Another niggah, from The Man’s point of view, dead of low-intensity warfare. ■


Huey Without Tears

Huey P. Newton, 1942-1989

WHEN I FIRST met Huey Newton that July of 1967 in San Francisco, I was as intensely in love as only very young women can be. I was captivated by the soft-spoken, enigmatic, bril­liant writer named Eldridge Cleaver I had met that spring. He had come to speak at the Black Student Conference the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had held on the Fisk campus, and as SNCC’s Campus Program secretary, I had spent many hours in his company. In tandem with our commitment to revolutionary change, my romance with Eldridge had blossomed, and following three months of talking on the telephone and exchanging letters, I went out to see him in California.

SNCC’s chairman Stokely Carmichael had inspired a black power movement that was breathing new life into the floundering civil rights struggle. Those of us in SNCC thought that of all the mili­taristic urban groups espousing black power, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense gave flesh and blood to our revo­lutionary ideas, which had outgrown the civil rights arena. Huey’s face-to-face confrontation with police, in which he had shouted, “Draw your gun, pig, and I’ll draw mine!” gave him heroic stature in those days when police were killing blacks with impunity.

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Eldridge had become the minister of information in the phalanx of black revo­lutionaries organized by Huey Newton into the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Huey had heard Eldridge speak on the radio about his program at the Black House — a cultural center he had started — and had promptly asked him to join the Panthers. But the Panthers were an armed organization, and paroled con­victs were prohibited from possessing weapons, so Eldridge’s affiliation was not publicized. He signed the articles he wrote in their newpaper anonymously as “Minister of Information.”

Eldridge’s prison involvement with the Black Muslims had made him the target of harassment, and when he was finally released on parole in December 1966 he became what prison authorities referred to euphemistically as a “special study” case. He was required to report weekly in person to his parole officer. But as a consequence of his having been arrested that May, along with the 21 armed and uniformed Panthers who had marched into the California state capitol in Sacra­mento protesting a new law to ban the carrying of weapons within city limits, Eldridge had been placed under extreme restrictions. When I arrived, he was not allowed to travel outside of San Francisco and was prohibited from making public statements of any kind.

The Panther’s headquarters were in Oakland, but Eldridge risked violating his parole if he were caught driving across the bridge to Oakland. So the Pan­thers regularly trooped over to his studio apartment on Castro Street.

I always knew when Huey was on his way to see us, because his footsteps on the stairs outside were always twice as fast as anyone else’s. He was invariably in a hurry, and rushed into the room full of excitement over the immediate crisis or project he wanted Eldridge’s help on. He usually spoke rapidly, his high-pitched voice rising and falling in a peculiar cadence.

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Huey was not a tall man, nor especially muscular. But his smooth, reddish-brown skin, his large, deep-set dark eyes, and that rakish devil-may-care expression made him extraordinarily appealing. He was handsome, energetic, charming, and fearless. He had a reputation among Oak­land’s toughest street fighters. In this elite company, he was considered the best. But his volatile aggressiveness was enveloped, at least in the company of women, by a gracious, cultivated exterior that concealed all but a glint of his under­lying ferocity.

Bobby Seale and Huey had met at Merritt College in Oakland in a black student organization, part of the bur­geoning “black consciousness” movement that was sweeping college campuses. But unlike many students, neither of them was content to pontificate in relative comfort about the urgent problems facing black communities, to be what Bobby contemptuously referred to as “armchair revolutionaries.” In October 1966, while Bobby and Huey were on the payroll of one of the poverty program projects in Oakland, they founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

They adopted the style and structure of foreign revolutionary organizations, with Huey taking the title of Minister of De­fense, as opposed to President, and Bob­by calling himself Chairman. Bobby Hut­ton, one of the street kids their program was supposed to serve, whom they called “Little Bobby” to distinguish him from Bobby Seale, became their first member and the organization’s treasurer. They modeled the 10-Point Platform and Pro­gram for the Black Panther Party for Self Defense on the Nation of Islam state­ment “What We Want, What We Believe,” that appeared on the back page of every issue of Mohammed Speaks.

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In the wake of the 1965 Watts riot, an organization called the Community Ac­tion Patrol had come into being. Its members, all dressed similarly, drove around the streets of Watts to protect black residents from the type of police abuse that was provoking riots across the country. The image of that group had stuck in Bobby’s and Huey’s minds. Both had been deeply affected by the assassi­nation of Malcolm X and wanted to cre­ate a genuine means for blacks to exercise the self-defense Malcolm had advocated, in particular against the violence perpet­uated by those Huey called “racist dogs”: the police. Oakland’s police, with whom Huey had had his share of run-ins, were renowned in the black neighborhoods for their brutality and arrogance.

The first action they planned was to send out patrols, armed with guns, tape recorders, and law books to follow the police in the streets of Oakland. They consciously sought to destroy the fear the police engendered, confronting them in broad daylight, while openly carrying guns — Huey with a riot shotgun and Bobby with a .45. At the time, California law permitted the open carrying of weap­ons within the city limits, as long as no live round of ammunition was held in the chamber. Huey’s aborted law school ca­reer was sufficient to unlock the secrets hidden within arcane law books.

Huey’s girlfriend at the time, LaVerne, who planned to have a classical music career, did not approve of Huey’s involvement with the Panthers. He was her ac­companist at rehearsals and concerts, and she believed her singing career would be jeopardized if Huey got more involved with the Black Panthers. Bobby Seale, David Hilliard, Bobby Hutton, and other close friends who followed Huey’s lead in forming the party were pulling him in the opposite direction. In those heady days when the Vietnam war was tearing the entire body politic into shreds, its blood­stained reality made social revolution seem like a valid alternative to integra­tion; for many blacks thought that we were trying to get inside a house already on fire.

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I returned to San Francisco again that November, and Eldridge and I got mar­ried. By then, Huey was in the Alameda County Jail, locked in a cell atop the courthouse that sat on the edge of Lake Merritt. In late October 1967, not too long after Che Guevara was killed in Bo­livia, Huey had been jailed for murdering Officer John Frey. Frey had stopped Huey late one evening for a traffic check; and in the ensuing gun battle, Huey’s passenger escaped, Officer Hilliard was wounded, Huey was shot in the stomach, and Frey was killed. Huey was indicted for murder and faced the gas chamber if convicted.

At the time of the shooting, most of the Panthers, including Bobby Seale, were doing time on charges stemming from their arrest in Sacramento. When I got to San Francisco, they no longer had an office; the newspaper had not been published in months; they had no money; and the passage of a law banning the open carrying of weapons had put an end to their patrols. But Huey was facing the gas chamber if nothing was done. So, Eldridge asked me to help him mobilize a defense for Huey. He knew that taking on such a visible role might jeopardize his parole, but, he told me, “Keeping Huey out of the gas chamber is more important than keeping myself out of San Quentin.” By the time of the trial, the support we gathered for Huey had ballooned into a full-fledged “Free Huey” movement.

This momentum led to the rebirth of the organization Huey had started, but now with the abbreviated name the Black Panther Party. No longer a squad of armed men, it became a multipurpose black liberation movement advocating “Power to the People” that took the Leave-It-to-Beaver mentality of white America by surprise, and projected a brand new black image as ferocious and fearless as Huey Newton. Even though he remained behind bars, Huey became a living symbol of the transformation of black America. He was more a legend than a leader. The tumultuous insistence that blacks’ rights be respected, Huey’s need to defend himself, and the Panthers’ political platform of self-defense all com­bined into a powerful message for change.

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Aside from a few brief visits in the county jail, I never saw Huey Newton again. In September 1968 he was convict­ed in a compromise verdict of voluntary manslaughter and sent off to San Luis Obispo to serve his sentence. By then Eldridge was fighting to stay out of pris­on on bail; he, along with five other Pan­thers, faced charges stemming from an­other shoot-out with the Oakland police, in which “Little Bobby” was killed, days after Martin Luther King’s assassination. He lost the court battle and left the coun­try a fugitive. We were reunited in Algeria the following year. In 1971 Huey expelled us from the Black Panther Party by transatlantic telephone call, setting in motion the “split” in the party, one of those violent internal struggles over the the direction of the organization provoked by the FBI’s counterintelligence program. There was no further communication un­til I got a call from him last year. He said he wanted to talk. We agreed to get to­gether. He seemed to have attempted a reconciliation of sorts with some of the people who had loved and fought for him but whom he had perplexed and infuriat­ed by the string of bizarre and brutal episodes that had become his life. But the attempt fizzled.

His murder, like Abbie Hoffman’s sui­cide, gave me a deep sadness. Their deaths, in a sense, serve as an epitaph to the ’60s. Their passion and flamboyance, brilliance and vision defined our era, en­hanced our lives, and changed history — ­but could never calm the insatiable de­mons within that took them away. ■

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1989 Village Voice obituary - remembrance of Huey Newton by Kathleen Cleaver

1989 Village Voice obituary - remembrance of Huey Newton by Kathleen Cleaver


The Black Panthers: Pictures at a Revolution

Like many American icons — P.T. Barnum, Andy Warhol, Ronald Reagan — the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense got its start through a bit of flimflam. Huey Newton, an ex-con and self-taught radical intellectual, and Bobby Seale, foreman of an Oakland, California, anti-poverty youth program, founded the party in October 1966. The fledgling organization needed cash to build membership, and Newton hit upon the idea of selling copies of Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book at a San Francisco protest against the Vietnam War. By buying the books in wholesale lots from a Chinese bookstore, the budding revolutionaries realized a 400 percent profit. “That was our first fundraiser,” Seale said later. “We had not even read this book.”

College student Stephen Shames photographed Seale hawking the tiny volume — “Get your ‘Red Book’! One dollar! The thoughts of Chairman Mao Tse-tung!” — and the two have remained colleagues ever since, most recently collaborating on Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers, a fiftieth-anniversary collection of photographs, graphics, and reminiscences.

Seale (born 1936) and Newton (1942–89) used their big markup on the Communist bestseller to rent office space, install telephones, and buy shotguns, which they used to “police the police.” The Panthers’ initial program consisted of following members of the overwhelmingly white Oakland police force around predominantly black neighborhoods to guard against police brutality. As Newton told an interviewer in 1968, “In America, black people are treated very much like the Vietnamese people or any other colonized people because we’re used, we’re brutalized by the police in our community.”

Kathleen Cleaver (in dark jacket) at a “Free Huey” rally in DeFremery Park, Oakland, 1968; as she told an interviewer at the time, “All of us were born with our hair like this and we just wear it like this because it’s natural, because the reason for it you might say is like a new awareness among black people that their own natural appearance, physical appearance, is beautiful.” (More recently she added, “That clip has taken on a life of its own on the internet. I keep getting messages from kids: ‘I saw that. That’s so cool.’ ”)
Kathleen Cleaver (in dark jacket) at a “Free Huey” rally in DeFremery Park, Oakland, 1968; as she told an interviewer at the time, “All of us were born with our hair like this and we just wear it like this because it’s natural, because the reason for it you might say is like a new awareness among black people that their own natural appearance, physical appearance, is beautiful.” (More recently she added, “That clip has taken on a life of its own on the internet. I keep getting messages from kids: ‘I saw that. That’s so cool.’ ”)

A number of Shames’s photos in Power to the People feature heavily armed, sharply dressed Panthers standing outside party offices or government buildings, where they had gone to demand equal rights. As Seale remembers in the book, “I saw Huey one day. He didn’t know what he had on. A sporty leather jacket, black slacks, nice blue shirt. He’s walking down the street. I say, ‘Hold it, Huey,’ just like a director.” That street encounter, plus a movie Seale saw featuring the black berets worn by French resistance fighters in World War II, resulted in a party uniform that added a stylish swagger to the Panthers’ revolutionary front.

Peppered throughout the book are streetwise graphics by Emory Douglas, the Panthers’ Minister of Culture, who designed the party’s newspaper. The June 27, 1970, issue of The Black Panther features “Warning to America,” a drawing of an African-American woman hefting an automatic rifle under the headline, “We are armed, and we are conscious of our situation, and we are determined to change it, and we are unafraid.” (Shames’s photos, a selection of Douglas’s graphics, and copies of The Black Panther are on display at Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea through October 29.)

One of Emory Douglas’s variations on his visual epitaph for Fred Hampton (1970). Douglas would sometimes change the color schemes in different editions of Panther newspapers and posters.
One of Emory Douglas’s variations on his visual epitaph for Fred Hampton (1970). Douglas would sometimes change the color schemes in different editions of Panther newspapers and posters.

Shames includes an excerpt from Newton’s autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide: “I constantly felt uncomfortable and ashamed of being black,” he wrote. “During those long years in Oakland public schools, I did not have one teacher who taught me anything relevant to my own life or experience…. All they did was try to rob me of the sense of my own uniqueness and worth, and in the process nearly killed my urge to inquire.” Newton was functionally illiterate after graduating from school, and taught himself to read as an adult by working through Plato’s Republic; he went on to study law with Edwin Meese, who eventually became President Reagan’s retrograde attorney general.

Meese later observed, “I was teaching law, criminal law, for police officers and people who wanted to be police officers and one of the students in my class was Huey Newton. He later wrote in his book that he was taking these law enforcement courses because he wanted ‘to know as much as the pigs knew.’ ” Meese recalled, “In the middle of the course, one day he asked if he could ride to the courthouse with me…. Well, it turned out actually he was on trial. He had stabbed someone with a steak knife at a barbecue some months before.” After serving a year for assault with a deadly weapon, Newton returned to Meese’s class while on parole, and earned an A.

Newton schooled the party members in both constitutional and local California law, making sure they carried law books containing the relevant statutes whenever they went on armed patrols. Power to the People exposes the pretzel logic that still governs America’s racial divide, pointing out that in 1967, Reagan, at that time the governor of California, signed a very strict gun-control law after the Panthers began toting rifles and pistols in public. Seale notes in the book, “The NRA wanted us arrested for carrying guns back in those days. Yes, they did.” Shames adds, “The National Rifle Association did not utter a peep of Second Amendment protest. Can you imagine what they would say if President Obama proposed a [similar law] today?”

But while stories about armed black men marching through California’s state assembly building were making nationwide headlines, the Panthers were also creating programs based on Newton’s and Seale’s ten-point platform demanding job opportunities, better public education, increased access to healthcare, prison and judicial reform, and other improvements in the lives of black citizens. The Panthers struck a balance between Malcolm X’s black separatism and Martin Luther King’s pacifism (they admired both leaders greatly). As Seale puts it in the book, “I can understand the difference between a white left radical who stands up for my constitutional rights and some goddamn racist Ku Klux Klan who wants to murder me.”

Emory Douglas: “Warning to America.”
Emory Douglas: “Warning to America.”

Shames (who is white) documented numerous multiracial “Free Huey” rallies when the Panther co-founder was on trial in 1968 for the killing of a police officer. (After Newton was convicted, two drunken Oakland police officers fired shots through the plate glass window of the Panthers’ office; they were later dismissed from the force. One of Shames’s iconic photos captures the bullet holes rending a poster of Newton sitting in a wicker chair holding a spear and gun. One can only imagine the reaction of the two former cops when the conviction was reversed on appeal and, after two subsequent hung juries, Newton was released in 1970.) Shames also photographed a massive funeral for party member George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother, a collection of letters condemning brutality and racism in the prison system. Jackson was killed during a 1971 prison break.

The Panthers were perpetually in the crosshairs of local and federal authorities. A December 1970 copy of the party newspaper features a portrait of Chicago leader Fred Hampton surrounded by black chevrons, with party slogans in red — “You can jail a revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution” — along with an epitaph of sorts: “Born August 30, 1948, Murdered by Fascist Pigs December 4, 1969.” None of the officers who raided Hampton’s apartment at 4:45 a.m. were charged with murder for shooting the unarmed Panther leader multiple times in the head, but his family and that of another victim won a massive $1.85 million settlement from the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government in a wrongful-death suit, in part because it emerged that Hampton had been drugged by an agent provocateur directed by FBI COINTELPRO operatives.

Even non–party members were harassed. Power to the People recounts how the FBI tailed the man who’d volunteered to do the plumbing at the George Jackson People’s Free Medical Clinic. “God, they wasted millions of dollars following innocent people around,” Dr. Tolbert Small remembers. The Panthers’ medical facilities were some of the first in the nation to routinely screen patients for sickle cell anemia, and they provided free STD screening for local youths as well. Shames also photographed members distributing free food and clothing in poor neighborhoods. One shot captures party member Leonard Colar, big as a linebacker and natty in a double-breasted overcoat, escorting an elderly woman on a grocery shopping trip, as part of the Panthers’ SAFE Club that accompanied seniors to cash checks and buy food in high-crime areas.

The book’s oral histories (which elide time periods by mixing quotes from the deceased with current conversations) point out that the Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children Program provided a template for school breakfast and lunch programs today, and that the Panthers’ police patrols eventually evolved into civilian-review boards and what we now consider community policing. And for all their machismo, the Panthers were open to women in their ranks. A former leader, Ericka Huggins, notes in the book, “Part of the legacy of the Black Panther Party is that we were not afraid to look at race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. All of it. Huey wrote in support of the woman’s movement and the gay liberation movement. Who the heck — what black man, what white man, what any man was talking like that in 1970?”

Eldridge Cleaver in the Panther office the day it was shot up by two Oakland police officers, September 29, 1968.
Eldridge Cleaver in the Panther office the day it was shot up by two Oakland police officers, September 29, 1968.

Shames often composed portraits to include telling background details. A photograph of Eldridge Cleaver, taken in 1968 when he was running for president representing the Peace and Freedom Party, is dominated by a huge banner behind the Panthers’ Minister of Information’s head, reading, “Don’t Vote for Shit.” (The electorate took him at his word: He received 0.05 percent of the vote.) And despite the perils of their endeavor, the party founders retained a sense of humor. Toward the end of the book, Shames includes a four-frame sequence in which Newton and Seale stare at the lens with steely gravitas, glare at each other, and then begin cracking up before the camera pulls back as they double over with laughter.

The book closes with a litany of current concerns that echo the Panthers’ original ten-point program: a justice system that remains stacked against the poor, galloping wealth inequality, shadowy oligarchs pouring money into the electoral process, a tax system that favors the wealthiest 1 percent of citizens, racial disparities in employment and education, banks that redline minorities out of homeownership. And of course, the continued killings of unarmed black men and youths by police, which has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. The Panthers were canny in their ability to turn protest into publicity, forcing issues that too many Americans wanted to ignore — police brutality, institutionalized racism — beyond the pages of the party’s own newspaper and into the mainstream media. It has fallen to BLM to update the imagery of outrage by using social media via instantaneous cellphone uploads — so different from the laborious process of shooting and developing film in Shames’s day.

Panthers line up at a “Free Huey” rally in DeFremery Park, Oakland, July 28, 1968.
Panthers line up at a “Free Huey” rally in DeFremery Park, Oakland, July 28, 1968.

One double-page photo (taken in Brooklyn circa 1970–71) captures a rubble-strewn lot hard against a crumbling brick wall spray-painted with the phrase “THE MOON BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE!!!” Is this a cry against the millions spent in 1969 to land a man on the moon even as some American children went to bed hungry, or a joyful outburst that finally there was something all Americans could share equally?

Outmanned and outgunned, the Panthers stood their ground, and paid a fearsome price, but they remained steadfast in the belief that Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is the birthright of all Americans. That wasn’t true for slaves when those words were written in 1776, and they remain unattainable for many of their descendants — and for too many of the 99 percent of any color. Seale and Shames remind us that progress has been made but that true equality can still feel as distant as the lunar surface.

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers
By Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale
256 pp., Abrams, $40
‘Power to the People: The Black Panthers in Photographs by Stephen Shames and Graphics by Emory Douglas’
Steven Kasher Gallery
515 West 26th Street, 212-966-3978 Through October 29
Bobby Seale & Stephen Shames talk + book signing
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard, Thursday, October 27, 6:30 p.m.


In 1970, an editorial in the weekly The Black Panther, published by the Black Panther Party, stated that the paper was established to “present factual, reliable information to the people.” Artist Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, created the iconic political imagery that illustrated the newspaper and other party ephemera. In Emory Douglas: Black Panther, which exhibits about 165 posters, newspapers, and prints dating from 1967 to 1976, it is evident how Douglas (credited for giving the BPP a “militant-chic” look) took advantage of inexpensive printing technologies—including photostat machines, press type, various textures, and patterns—to get the word out, creating simple illustrations that made a big impact. Opening day also includes a discussion with Douglas and an introduction by artist and activist Rigo 23.

July 23-Oct. 18, 2009


Black Enough For You

Huey P. Newton’s voice is high, clear, unhesitating, and authoritative. His sampled speech lasts 27 seconds, applause included.

“The Black Panther Party calls for freedom, the power to determine our destiny. The Black Panther Party calls for full employment for all our people. The Black Panther Party calls for an end to the capitalistic exploitation of our community. The Black Panther Party calls for decent housing for all people. The Black Panther Party calls for an educational system that will tell us the true facts about this decadent society.”

Then comes another clear, high voice, also authoritative, but with hesitation built into its sense of rhythm. Marvin Gaye’s “You’re the Man” went No. 7 r&b in 1972 but flopped pop, and I’d never registered it before: “Don’t give us no peace sign/Turn around and rob the people blind/Economics is the issue/Do you have a plan with you?” Two parts, six minutes, immediately intensified by a forgotten r&b No. 4 from 1977: the Philadelphia International All Stars’ impeccably forward-moving “Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto,” which—without casting aspersions on striking sanitation workers or rats hustling chow—advocates preemptive garbage removal that will also “make the streets safe for women to walk.” Capped by a few seconds of Kathleen Cleaver, these two rediscoveries provide Shout! Factory’s Black Power: Music of a Revolution with a liftoff that keeps on pushing through two CDs.

The selections and segues are by 38-year-old Jonathan S. Fine, who as it turns out also fabricated two less noble compilation-worlds I’ve fallen for: K-Tel’s bouncing, rocking, skating Roller Disco, and Robbins Music’s porn-lite Strip Jointz. Good songs make such projects, of course, but so do sequencing and framing. “You’re the Man” gets lost on the German Trikont label’s patchier two-volume 2003 Black & Proud, which also resuscitates the three message-laden nonhits—Segments of Time’s “Song to the System,” Sons of Slum’s “Right On,” and S.O.U.L.’s “Tell It Like It Is”—that follow Cleaver in Fine’s version. All three signify more powerfully here, in part because they’re picked up by Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Mighty Mighty,” where Maurice White’s air pudding gains force and gravity from his intricate part writing and unerring beat. Then two more striking semi-obscurities—the secular skepticism of Les McCann & Eddie Harris spun around by the gospel activism of the Soul Children—lead into an inspired run of four speech squibs and five songs, the latter a representative mix of totemic, memorable, and strange. Only the strange one—Hank Ballard’s James Brown- powered “Blackenized”—shows up on Trikont.

Black Power’s second disc begins with actual “music of a revolution”—Last Poets and Watts Prophets as well as Gil Scott-Heron’s inevitable “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” But quickly defiance turns questioning (Billy Paul’s “Am I Black Enough for You?”) and beleaguered (Eddie Kendricks’s “My People . . . Hold On”), then retreats into William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful for What You Got” and a succession of anthemic closers longer on advice than program, including “Express Yourself,” “Respect Yourself,” and McFadden & Whitehead’s climactic “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” theme song of the 1978 Philadelphia Phillies until they lost the playoffs to L.A. The set adds up to a convincing portrait of a world Fine is neither old enough nor, as Billy Paul might note, black enough to have experienced firsthand. It’s an exciting world where political ferment fed both into and off musical expression, where speeches became songs and left-wing agitators raised artists’ consciousness by cultural osmosis, and I’m glad it exists. But it’s no less a fiction than the neurotic erotica David Toop conjured from slightly later r&b on his Sugar and Poison comp—or for that matter than the Subtle Distinctions, the not-for-sale ’70s soundtrack Jonathan Lethem pieced together to buttress The Fortress of Solitude.

The undated speeches all appear to be from the deep ’60s—Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, H. Rap Brown equated violence and cherry pie in 1966, etc. The 29 songs, on the other hand, are mostly ’70s—just six from 1969, and only Kim Weston’s solid if not stolid gospel revival of James Weldon Johnson’s 1900 “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” recorded earlier. Typically, Weston’s track didn’t break (to No. 50 r&b) until 1970, when the ’60s were over but nobody knew it yet. Although protest had hit a wall and real income was commencing a disastrous slide, rhetoric continued to heat up, in culture at least as much as politics. Fine includes the loose-limbed live solo version of the Impressions’ 1968 “We’re a Winner” (No. 1 r&b, only No. 14 pop), recorded in 1971, where Curtis Mayfield recalls incredulously that three years before some stations had denied airplay to what is now remembered as the civil rights movement’s greatest hit. This was the era when the Chi-Lites got to “Have You Seen Her” via “(For God’s Sakes) Give More Power to the People,” when labels signed S.O.U.L. and Sons of Slum, when the Wattstax movie and album that generated Fine’s Soul Children cut made black-owned Stax look like a million bucks as it spent itself broke. For a few years, even after the McGovern debacle, progressivism was a strain of conventional wisdom. But like the dream of determining your own destiny, that didn’t last.

These nuances emerge from Black Power only if you know where to look. Fine senses them, else he wouldn’t have proceeded from revolutionary poetry to inspirational generalizations, and he’s savvier historically than the Maoists manqué at Trikont, who cite “Blackenized” as evidence of Hank Ballard’s radicalization when it mostly proved he’d do any damn thing for a hit. But Fine’s strictly educational goals are modest: “I hope a young person who’s into hip hop and has heard these names will want to learn more about them,” he says, meaning the Panthers et al., not Syl Johnson waxing cultural. The Panthers didn’t know as many true facts about this decadent society as they thought. But they knew more than the average thugarooney, and if Fine’s fiction generates a few wannabe politicos, good. If it doesn’t, well, it’s still every bit as wild a theme-park ride as Strip Jointz.