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Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s

“I assume we are all just an effete clique of snobs and intellectuals in this room . . . I am referring to the words of Vice-President Agnew, of course, who can’t be with us today because he is in the South Pacific explaining the Nixon doctrine to the Australians. All vice-presidents suffer from the Avis complex—they’re second best, so they try harder, like General Ky or Hubert Humphrey . . .” He keeps waiting for the grins and chuckles after each of these mots, but all the celebrities and culturati are nonplussed. They give him a kind of dumb attention. They came here for the Panthers and Radical Chic, and here is Old Queens Boulevard Real Estate Man with sideburns on telling them Agnew jokes. But Quat is too deep into his weird hole to get out. “Whatever respect I have had for Lester Maddox, I lost it when I saw Humphrey put his arm around his shoulder . . .” and somehow Quat begins disappearing down a hole bunging Hubert Humphrey with lumps of old Shelley Berman material. Slowly he climbs back out. He starts telling about the oppression of the Panther 21. They have been in jail since February 2, 1969, awaiting trial on ludicrous charges such as conspiring to blow up the Bronx Botanical Gardens. Their bail has been a preposterous $100,000 per person, which has in effect denied them the right to bail. They have been kept split up and moved from jail to jail. For all intents and purposes they have been denied the right to confer with their lawyers to prepare a defense. They have been subjected to inhuman treatment in jail—such as the case of Lee Berry, an epileptic, who was snatched out of a hospital bed and thrown in jail and kept in solitary confinement with a light bulb burning over his head night and day. The Panthers who have not been thrown in jail or killed, like Fred Hampton, are being stalked and harassed everywhere they go. “One of the few higher officials who is still . . . in the clear”—Quat smiles—“is here today. Don Cox, Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party.”

“. . . Lenny stands here in his own home radiating the charm and grace that make him an easy host for leaders of the oppressed . . .”

“Right on,” a voice says to Leon Quat, rather softly. And a tall black man rises from behind one of Lenny’s grand pianos . . . The Negro by the piano . . .

The Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party has been sitting in a chair between the piano and the wall. He rises up; he has the hardrock look, all right; he is a big tall man with brown skin and an Afro and a goatee and a black turtleneck much like Lenny’s, and he stands up beside the piano, next to Lenny’s million-dollar chatchka flotilla of family photographs. In fact, there is a certain perfection as the first Black Panther rises within a Park Avenue living room to lay the Panthers’ 10-point program on New York Society in the age of Radical Chic. Cox is silhouetted—well, about 19 feet behind him is a white silk shade with an Empire scallop over one of the windows overlooking Park Avenue. Or maybe it isn’t silk, but a Jack Lenor Larsen mercerized cotton, something like that, lustrous but more subtle than silk. The whole image, the white shade and the Negro by the piano silhouetted against it, is framed by a pair of bottle-green velvet curtains, pulled back.

And does it begin now?—but this Cox is a cool number. He doesn’t come on with the street epithets and interjections and the rest of the rhetoric and red eyes used for mau-mauing the white liberals, as it is called.

“The Black Panther Party,” he starts off, “stands for a 10-point program that was handed down in October, 1966, by our Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton . . .” and he starts going through the 10 points . . . “We want an educational system that expresses the true nature of this decadent society” . . . “We want all black men exempt from military service” . . . “We want all black men who are in jail to be set free. We want them to be set free because they have not had fair trials. We’ve been tried by predominantly middle-class, all-white juries” . . . “And most important of all, we want peace . . . see . . . We want peace, but there can be no peace as long as a society is racist and one part of society engages in systematic oppression of another” . . . “We want a plebiscite by the United Nations to be held in black communities, so that we can control our own destiny” . . .

Everyone in the room, of course, is drinking in his performance like tiger’s milk, for the . . . Soul, as it were. All love the tone of his voice, which is Confidential Hip. And yet his delivery falls into strangely formal patterns. What are these block phrases, such as “our Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton”—

“Some people think that we are racist, because the news media find it useful to create that impression in order to support the power structure, which we have nothing to do with . . . see . . . They like for the Black Panther Party to be made to look like a racist organization, because that camouflages the true class nature of the struggle. But they find it harder and harder to keep up that camouflage and are driven to campaigns of harassment and violence to try to eliminate the Black Panther Party. Here in New York 21 members of the Black Panther Party were indicted last April on ridiculous charges of conspiring to blow up department stores and flower gardens. They’ve had 27 bail hearings since last April . . . see . . .”

—But everyone in here loves the sees and the you knows. They are so, somehow . . . black . . . so funky . . . so metrical . . . Without ever bringing it fully into consciousness everyone responds—communes over—the fact that he uses them not for emphasis, but for punctuation, metrically, much like the uhs favored by High Church Episcopal ministers, as in, “And bless, uh, these gifts, uh, to Thy use and us to, uh, Thy service”—

“. . . they’ve had 27 bail hearings since last April . . . see . . . and every time the judge has refused to lower the bail from $100,000 . . . Yet a group of whites accused of actually bombing buildings—they were able to get bail. So that clearly demonstrates the racist nature of the campaign against the Black Panther Party. We don’t say ‘bail’ anymore, we say ‘ransom,’ for such repressive bail can only be called ransom.

“The situation here in New York is very explosive, as you can see, with people stacked up on top of each other. They can hardly deal with them when they’re unorganized, so that when a group comes along like the Black Panthers, they want to eliminate that group by any means . . . see . . . and so that stand has been embraced by J. Edgar Hoover, who feels that we are the greatest threat to the power structure. They try to create the impression that we are engaged in criminal activities. What are these ‘criminal activities’? We have instituted a breakfast program, to address ourselves to the needs of the community. We feed hungry children every morning before they go to school. So far this program is on a small scale. We’re only feeding 50,000 children nationwide, but the only money we have for this program is donations from the merchants in the neighborhoods. We have a program to establish clinics in the black communities and in other ways also we are addressing ourselves to the needs of the community . . . see . . . So the people know the power structure is lying when they say we are engaged in criminal activities. So the pigs are driven to desperate acts, like the murder of our deputy chairman, Fred Hampton, in his bed . . . see . . . in his sleep . . . But when they got desperate and took off their camouflage and murdered Fred Hampton, in his bed, in his sleep, see, that kind of shook people up, because they saw the tactics of the power structure for what they were. . . .


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