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Black Against Black: The Agony of Panthermania

But after the May Day rally the exhilarated radicals went back to their colleges or home. Feeling incomplete, the black photographer David Parks and I stayed around town. We slowly made friends and shared moments of crisis and weeks of normality with New Haveners. The real story of the Panther trial drifted away from Seale. It belonged to the black community.

This is the story of two men in different stages of Panthermania: John Huggins, who died from it, and Junius Jones (the name is fictitious), who, with a little help from his friends, will build a successor to it.

Tip-tick. Tip-tick. Tip-tick. Tip-tick. From the cellar only one sound, small and fitful, has been firing with steady precision for the past hour. It is May, 1970. Junius is down there. Fifteen and black in New Haven, Connecticut—unable to be a Panther, unable to sleep—Junius is in the cellar bunched up and sweating inside his bleached jeans on a second-hand sofabed, and the safe sounds have stopped. The monster flick on TV is off. The air is emptied of anesthesia from the Funkadelics and the inner-ear orgasm of Jimi Hendrix. Junius has turned them off. Tip-tick. Tip-tick. I have heard this sound before, where?

The cliché thought, conditioned by the media, would be a gun. Assumption: young and frustrated black boy in cellar is cocking and firing an unloaded gun. But Junius is cerebral. This is a controlled, cerebral sound. He keeps the world off balance through the artful use of paradox, such as attending prep school in white Methodist Massachusetts and appearing there as "Daddy" in Albee's An American Dream. He also keeps a blue ring binder notebook. Its cover is decorated with the loves and hates and heroes Junius carries everywhere with him. Che. Giap. Commie Crusade. Sarah Weisman [a prep school classmate] not radical but she tries.

Off Viva Libra! Katy— the Mt. Graylock Pig! Nationalist Red China School

Inside the notebook is his first play, called Panther! Two winters ago he showed it to a young woman, Ericka Huggins, who knew some people at the Black Reality Players. She said it was good. She was going to run it over to the group's director at Yale Drama School. When Junius came home from boarding school again Ericka Huggins was Docket Number 15681 in Niantic Correctional Institution for Women.

". . . The real story of the Panther trial in New Haven drifted away from Bobby Seale. It belonged to the black community . . ."

She and Bobby Seale and six others are standing trial in the State of Connecticut for conspiring to murder Alex Rackley, a suspected party informer. Junius has had no time for adolescence. He is growing up with a Panther trial in his town.

What is that tip-tick sound—this sound of Junius Jones that singes the air and ticks up the cellarway, building into apprehension? It strains in my ear through some distant consciousness, like a child's stutter.

Upstairs with Junius' father we are drinking a little Piña Colada before dinner. William Jones apologizes for the bread lumps in his homemade meat loaf. He is a widower. The fierce beauty of his face is lapsed somewhat under the wadding of cheeks and mellowed perspectives of middle age. His muscular frame speaks of raw uninterrupted physical exertion. Today, though, William's neck is a bit ropy and his mid-section grown pillowy, and the reason he stays home drinking Piña Colada late of a Sunday afternoon is to avoid being trapped by the lusty widow across the street. William's eyes, however, are working eyes. Normally level and amused, when presented with foggy concepts these eyes snap on like high beams. Behind them is a half-century of living, ten years of watching black movements rise and fall in New Haven.

CORE, SNCC, the Muslims, now the Panthers . . . William Jones has marked them all. Their discarded leaders remain his friends. About white New Haven he knows what he knows from working weekends as a steward in the Whiffenpoof Club. He served the Yale provost and the law school dean, for instance, while they fretted over the formation of Yale's Black Students Alliance.

"I'd act stupid," William chuckles at his own put-on. "But I was always listenin'."

"Were your kids ever attacked in the neighborhood when they were small, by police?" William is asked.

"In this neighborhood? This happens to be a jive-ass af-flu-ent neighborhood," William says. "We call it Peyton Place."

Everyone laughs comfortably. Upstairs here the air is secure with cooking spinach. We can eat and drink and rationally discuss with Junius' father the knot in his boy's mind. It can even be given the name Panthermania.

"There's another assassination . . . got to check it out with the party . . . might be this weekend," said the taut voice over a long-distance wire. It was the first conversation I had with Junius Jones. His father, whom we'd met at a Panther rally at Yale, put us in touch on the upstairs phone last May.


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