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Black Against Black: The Agony of Panthermania

"Grass and acid, smack and coke—they're smoking it, popping it, swallowing it, I guess they're sniffing it, too," Junius sounds bored. "I'm not into that. No time. I've been writing the Manifesto for my new party."

"Hey, Junius," David presses him. "You really going to blow up that school of yours?"

Among friends Junius can be more precise. "Symbolically speaking," he says.

We stop at Hungry Charley's, a hangout near Yale where Junius likes to be seen. Yale is the power base. To organize the high schools Junius needs Yale radicals to back him up. They pass our table: a familiar face from the D4M movement at Columbia and a few Panther supporters of immense cool, who nod at Junius with barely a dip of their gold-rimmed shades. But just nod. Walter Dallas, who directs Yale's Black Ensemble Theater Company and first encouraged Junius to write plays, stops to ask what his former protégé is up to. Junius says he spent the summer doing political work. Walter Dallas, a busy and elegant man, drops a casual invitation to Junius to join a workshop. And moves on.

Frustration! By the surviving Panthers and his Yale heroes and even by the square white counselors down at Number Nine—Junius is still being handled with a sort of fond, head-patting, come-back-next-year-kid friendliness. Junius glowers over his horn rims. He begins to recite from his own Student Manifesto:

"We, the Youth International Party, RYM III, do not advocate the use of drugs but we do recognize the national symbol, the black flag with the red star and the marijuana leaf up front—"

Junius consults his blue notebook, which by now has grown fat and stringy with use. The cover hangs open to reveal its secret pouch—a scrap from his father's old fatigues—filled with the forbidden books he now lives by. The pouch is inscribed in large letters:


The boy bends to read from his Manifesto:

There is a definite need to abolish the educational system as it exists today. The educational system is the indoctrination of students into a society that is class antagonistic, racist, and economically exploits its people. It should be made clear the student is not actually learning but being fed facts like a computer, is not being trained to utilize these facts to benefit himself, but to aid a dying society. The black student in particular is given a twelve-year course in servility.

"Here, you can read it." Junius passes over his notebook, suddenly restless. In the margin a note from Junius to himself catches the eye:

Remain cool. Junius, do not become emotionally violent when you make your presentation, or you will blow everything.

"What happens if someone finds your notebook now?" we ask.

"I kill myself."

We went separate ways in the afternoon.

At home the phone is locked. (William found too many calls to Chicago and Oakland and Abbie Hoffman on the phone bill.) But there is a rifle in the cellar now. An old .30 caliber Japanese carbine his father brought home from World War II. Junius is still clumsy with it. Yet between the boy and the rifle in his cellar a certain friendship is developing.

"I've got to buy a book on guns," Junius tells us in the cellar. On the sofabed with the rifle between his knees, he is picking its rusted innards out of an oil can and turning them over in his hands.

"Take it easy, squirt," David Parks says.

"I'll stay alive," Junius says. Then, brightening, "Hey, the next time you come up I'll be running rallies like Abbie Hoffman. That's what I'm training myself for."

"Keep in touch, Junius Jones," I say, holding out an uncertain hand.

Junius stands stiffly up, arms pasted to his sides. The mask begins to crumble like papier-mâché. For an instant his face is stripped raw of scars and poses, theories, words, defenses and pretense—everything falls away except the loneliness of being fifteen and black in New Haven, Connecticut. Junius bolts forward and drops a kiss on my cheek.

Tip-tick. Tip-tick. Upstairs with Junius' father, we sit late into the evening, listening as one listens for a fever to break. The tip-tick seems louder this time. And we share now with William the burden of knowing the difference between the sound of a pen and the sound of a gun.

Junius lies in the cellar working it out in his head. He has incorporated both the white radical experience and the black revolutionary reality. The Panthers are already passé to him—a party racked with internal killings and external police raids, exposed in courtrooms and belittled in his own town. Walking around inside his head now are the local men and women who passed through early stages of Panthermania. Most are in prison. John Huggins is dead.

Jail holds little fear for boys like Junius. It is after all only an extension of everyday humiliations and comes to be expected. More difficult to deal with now are the flirtations with martyred death. The nascent man of fifteen can be quick to squander his life, too quick. But Junius is beginning to gain more accuracy in measuring the price of black manhood. He is more calculating than his predecessors. He does not plan to be killed cheaply.

Along with his contemporaries, Junius is struggling through to his own form. A volatile mix of black revolutionary experience and white radical style, it will lead to actions we cannot explain by simple cause and effect. It is a form which none of us—not William, Abbie, Bobbie Seale, the white liberals, nor the black neighbor ladies—have seen before. In the end, we are only listeners.

"Does Junius have his notebook down there with him?"

"I don't believe so," his father says. "He lost it this afternoon."


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