May 20, 1969: Four members of the revolutionary Black Panther Party trudge through woods along the edges of the Coginchaug River outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Gunshots shatter the silence. Three men emerge from the woods. Soon, two are in police custody. One flees across the country. Nine Panthers would be tried for crimes committed that night, including National Chairman Bobby Seale, extradited from California with the aide of Panther nemesis, California Governor Ronald Reagan. Activists of all ...
May 20, 1969: Four members of the revolutionary Black Panther Party trudge through woods along the edges of the Coginchaug River outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Gunshots shatter the silence. Three men emerge from the woods. Soon, two are in police custody. One flees across the country. Nine Panthers would be tried for crimes committed that night, including National Chairman Bobby Seale, extradited from California with the aide of Panther nemesis, California Governor Ronald Reagan. Activists of all denominations descended on the New England city--and the campus of Yale. The Nixon administration sent 4,000 National Guardsmen. U.S. military tanks lined the streets outside of New Haven. In this white-knuckle journey through a turbulent America, Doug Rae and Paul Bass let us eavesdrop on late-night meetings between Yale President, Kingman Brewster, and radical activists, including Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, as they try to avert disaster. Meanwhile, most heartrending of all is the never-before-told story of Warren Kimbro--star community worker turned Panther assassin--who faces an uphill battle to turn his life around.
Against the backdrop of an era when the Nixon administration and the FBI encouraged discord among dissident groups through informants and phone tapping, Rae and Bass recount the circuslike trial of eight Black Panthers accused of killing a suspected spy among them. After the body of Alex Rackley was discovered near New Haven, Conn., on May 21, 1969, Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party's National Chairman, and seven others were called to court. Rae, a professor at the Yale School of Management, and Bass, a local journalist, write with a keen eye for detail, juxtaposing the events in New Haven with the story of Warren Kimbro, the man who was sentenced to life for Rackley's killing. A community leader whose Panther associations were "a short-lived aberration," Kimbro served less than four years before being released, and graduated from Harvard shortly afterward, dedicating himself to assisting people leaving prison. The authors succeed in crafting an unbiased and clear account of the Panther trials, yet it is the quietly moving story of Kimbro's redemption that will affect readers long after the book is finished. Photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A thoughtful work of true crime, recounting a "political execution" and its unanticipated results. Warren Kimbro wasn't the likeliest candidate for the job of shooting Alex Rackley in the head back in 1969. Write political scientist Rae (Yale School of Management) and journalist Bass, Kimbro was well known for his work as a counselor to the disaffected young and addicted of New Haven, appreciated by civic leaders and cops as well as community activists. But Kimbro took up the Black Panthers' revolutionary cause, in part, it seems, to win the heart of a beautiful comrade. Ordered by a dimwitted operative to slay a still more simple-minded wannabe who was suspected of being a police informant-the real informant being elsewhere in the cell-Kimbro complied. It took only a short time to find and arrest him; he confessed quickly and was dispatched to a long term in prison. Meanwhile, the FBI and other federal and state agencies expanded the charges to embrace Panther leader Bobby Seale as the hub around which the conspiracy to murder Rackley turned. Brought to New Haven, lauded as a "model city" for its spending on urban renewal, to stand trial, Seale held every promise of inspiring revolution on the Yale campus and elsewhere. Enter a who's who of '60s figures, from a young, conservative Hillary Rodham to lapsed Republican Yale president Kingman Brewster to Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin-to say nothing of the nameless National Guard troops who were promised, "You will not be successfully prosecuted if you shoot someone while performing a duty for the State of Connecticut." Kimbro testified and Seale fulminated, but New Haven did not burn. The verdict defied expectations then and remainssurprising today; so did Kimbro's fate. Bass and Rae skillfully relate these events, and a narrative interesting from the first paragraph steadily gathers storm force, as befits its era. A fine study in modern-but largely forgotten-history.
Paul Bass has covered Connecticut for local, regional, and national publications since arriving at Yale as an undergraduate. He has won dozens of awards for journalistic excellence, including the New England Press Association's 1997 and 1999 "Journalist of the Year." He lives in New Haven, Connecticut. Doug Rae holds the Richard Ely Chair in the Yale School of Management. His published writings include the prizewinning Political Consequences of Electoral Laws, Equalities and City: Urbanism and its End. Rae has won numerous awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1968). He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.