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Rallies, riots, and a radical response

On the night of April 15, 1970, demonstrators protesting the upcoming trial of Black Panthers in New Haven stormed through Cambridge's Harvard Square, trashing storefronts and clashing with police in riot gear. A May Day protest of the trial had been set for New Haven's College Green, adjacent to the Yale University campus.

Determined not to see a replay of the Cambridge violence, Yale president Kingman Brewster asked Harvard Law professor Archibald Cox for advice. They met, during the anxious weeks before May 1, beside a brook in Sturbridge, Conn., Brewster bringing a picnic basket of martinis, Cornish hens, and white wine.

What went wrong in Cambridge, Cox told Brewster, was that as the demonstrators marched up Massachusetts Avenue , Harvard president Nathan Pusey ordered the gates into Harvard Yard closed, forcing the demonstrators into confrontation with police.

Yale, said Cox, should learn from Harvard's mistake and keep its gates open. Which Brewster did, even opening Yale's residential colleges to the demonstrators for food and shelter.

The evening before the rally, Brewster met with its leaders, among them Yippie Jerry Rubin, who, during the rally, would alternate between foul-mouthing Brewster and counseling peaceful protest.

``Call it luck. Call it brilliant planning. Call it a conspiracy between the Man and the Panther," write journalist Paul Bass and Douglas W. Rae, a professor of management at Yale. ``Whatever the reason, death and destruction passed by New Haven." In ``Murder in the Model City" they present a noteworthy account of two tumultuous years when New Haven's reputation as a ``model city" in dealing with urban unrest hung in the balance. Yale's response to the Panther rally stands as a watershed.

The Black Panther movement had moved into New Haven in the late 1960s, but its community welfare programs had degenerated into internal strife, culminating in April 1969 with the torture and murder of Alex Rackley, a Panther who was seen as a police informer.

Panthers involved in the killing were soon arrested, including Warren Kimbro, who had been widely respected for his work in local agencies funded by the federal Model Cities program. It was the prospect of the trial that prompted the May Day rally the following year.

During the trial, Kimbro pleaded guilty to the murder. But the state's case against national Panther leader Bobby Seale and Kimbro's former lover, Ericka Huggins, foundered, and , with one juror holding out for a guilty verdict, a mistrial was ordered.

In an unexpected and startling move, Judge Harold Mulvey dismissed the charges against Seale and Huggins, noting that because of ``the massive publicity attendant upon the trial," it would take ``superhuman efforts" to find an unbiased jury.

In the end, the authors write, the conservative Irish-Catholic Mulvey had agreed with the liberal patrician Brewster that ``at least in this case . . . two black revolutionaries could not receive a fair trial in this country."

Kimbro, having pleaded guilty, received a life sentence. But he was regarded as a model prisoner and was released after serving 2 1/2 years, which allowed him to attend classes at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. He returned to community service work in New Haven, including one program fittingly named Project MORE -- ``Model Offender Reintegration Experience."

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