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Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s

The emotional momentum was building rapidly when Ray “Masai” Hewitt, the Panthers’ Minister of Education and member of the Central Committee, rose to speak. Hewitt was an intense, powerful young man and in no mood to play the diplomacy game. Some of you here, he said, may have some feelings left for the establishment, but we don’t. We want to see it die. We’re Maoist revolutionaries, and we have no choice but to fight to the finish. For about 30 minutes Masai Hewitt laid it on the line. He referred now and again to “that M ----- F ----- Nixon” and to how the struggle would not be easy, and that if buildings were burned and other violence ensued, that was only part of the struggle that the power structure had forced the oppressed minorities into. Hewitt’s words tended to provoke an all-or-nothing reaction. A few who remembered the struggles of the Depression were profoundly moved, fired up with a kind of nostalgie de that old-time religion. But more than one Park Avenue matron was thrown into a Radical Chic confusion. The most memorable quote was: “He’s a magnificent man, but suppose some simple-minded schmucks take all that business about burning down buildings seriously?

Murray Kempton cooled things down a bit. He stood up and, in his professorial way, in the tweedy tones of the lecturer who clicks his pipe against his teeth like a mental metronome, he summed up the matter. Dependable old Murray put it all in the more comfortable terms of Reason Devout, after the manner of a lead piece in the periodicals he worshipped, The New Statesman and The Spectator. Murray, it turned out, was writing a book on the Panthers and otherwise doing his best for the cause. Yes, Masai Hewitt may have set the message down too hard, but that was of little consequence. In no time at all another party for the Panthers had been arranged. And this time in the home of one of the most famous men in the United States, Leonard Bernstein.

"Who do you call to give a party!” says Richard Feigen. “Who do you call to give a party!”

And all at once the candid voice of Radical Chic, just ringing out like that, seems about to drop Don Cox, Field Marshal of the Black Panthers, in his tracks, by Lenny’s grand piano. He just stares at Feigen . . . this Yale-style blond in a tuxedo . . . And from that moment on, the evening begins to take on a weird reversal. Rather than Cox being in the role of the black militant mau-mauing the rich white liberals, he is slowly backed into a weird corner. Afro, goatee, turtleneck and all, he has to be the diplomat . . . He has to play that all-time-loser role of the house guest trying to deal with a bunch of leaping, prancing, palsied happy-slobber Saint Bernards . . . It’s a ball-breaker . . . And no wonder! For what man in all history, has ever before come face to face with naked white Radical Chic running ecstatically through a Park Avenue duplex and letting it all hang out.

One of the members of the Panther defense committee, a white, manages to come up with a phone number, “691-8787,” but Feigen is already pressing on:

“There is one candidate for governor,” he says—quite an impressive voice—“who feels very deeply about what is going on here. He had hoped to be here tonight, but unfortunately he was detained upstate. And that’s Howard Samuels. Now, what I want to know is, if he were willing to come before you and present his program, would you be willing to consider supporting it? In other words, are the Black Panthers interested in getting any political leverage within the System?”

Cox stares at him again. “Well,” he says—and it is the first time he falls into that old hesitant thing of beginning a sentence with well—“any politician who is willing to relate to our 10-point program, we will support him actively, but we have no use for the traditional political—”

“But would you be willing to listen to such a candidate?” says Feigen.

“. . .‘Every time there is violence, it’s used as an indictment of the Black Panthers,’ says Lefcourt. ‘I’m hip,’ says Lenny . . .”

“—the traditional political arena, because if you try to oppose the system from within the traditional political arena, you’re wasting your time. Look at Powell. As soon as he began to speak for the people, they threw him out. We have no power within the system, and we will never have any power within the system. The only power we have is the power to destroy, the power to disrupt. If black people are armed with knowledge—”

“But would you be willing to listen to such a candidate?” says Feigen.

“Well,” says Cox, a bit wearily, “we would refer him to our Central Committee, and if he was willing to support our 10-point program, then we would support that man.”

Feigen muses sagely inside of his tuxedo. Dapper. A dapper dude in pinstripe suit and pencil moustache in the rear of the room, a black named Rick Haynes, president of Management Formation Inc., an organization promoting black capitalism, asks about the arrest the other night of Robert Bay and another Panther named Jolly.

“Right on,” says Cox, softly, raising his left fist a bit, but only as a fraternal gesture—and through every white cortex rushes the flash about how the world here is divided between those who rate that acknowledgement—right on—and those who don’t . . . Right on . . . Cox asks Robert Bay to stand, and his powerful form and his ferocious Afro rise from out of the midst of the people in the rows of chairs in the center of the room, he nods briefly towards Haynes and smiles and says “Right on”—there it is—and then he sits down. And Cox tells how the three detectives rousted and hassled Bay and Jolly and another man, and then the detectives went on radio station WINS and “lied about it all day.” And Lefcourt gets up and tells how this has become a pattern, the cops incessantly harassing the Panthers, wherever they may be, everything from stopping them for doing 52 in a 50-mile-an-hour zone to killing Fred Hampton in his bed.

The beautiful ash-blond girl speaks up: “People like myself who feel that up to now the Panthers have been very badly treated—we don’t know what to do. I mean, if you don’t have money and you don’t have influence, what can you do? What other community programs are there? We want to do something, but what can we do? Is there some kind of committee, or some kind of . . . I don’t know . . .”


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