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Black Against Black: The Agony of Panthermania

What assassination? I asked. Who?

"It's the book, I'll bring you one from the bookstore . . . the Little Red Book," the voice said to a total stranger, punctuated with gasps of the absurd.

What is in the book? "Rules . . . it's a party . . . a party has no room for individual convictions." I froze at that point. Once more the scared voice from a pay phone in Massachusetts reached blindly out. "If you don't go along with the assassination, you might be next on the list," it said. Three days later I met Junius Jones in New Haven. He remembered nothing of the conversation.

Stoned and scared at the time? Perhaps, or he might have been putting on a front. Discussing it later face to face, Junius looked suddenly, undeniably fifteen. His solemn face dipped and brooded behind Coke-bottle-thick glasses. He seemed caught between the narrow chest and crudely bolted limbs of adolescence and a leaping, precocious mind. Sensing his exposure, Junius said later of our phone conversation, "I was probably referring to Richard Nixon. He ought to be assassinated."

Panther Chief of Staff David Hilliard was arrested for making a similar statement. It was my first warning that talk is the most unreliable and over-reacted-to weapon in the black revolutionary toolbag.

". . . 'If you don't go along with the assassination, you may be next,' Junius had said. Three days later he'd forgotten . . ."

New Haven is a white-pocketbook town. Situated on a plain and ridged with mildly knuckled hills, it is not quite on yachty Long Island Sound, not really part of hard-nosed Naugatuck Valley life, and it is estranged from New York by its more fashionable cousin to the south, Fairfield County. Only after an extended rivalry with Hartford did New Haven settle for being nicknamed the "semi-capital" of Connecticut.

Eventually New Haven made its own way on the skirts of Yale. Its hub is Yale and her garden-party green, thrice-steepled in churches, and her Beaux Arts Gothic towers trimmed in stone ribbons and gargoyles. Yale's New Haven is aloof and aristocratic, preoccupied with pursuits of the mind. From here the city spreads in a wheel-spoke design through seven inner-city black neighborhoods, which liberals have done their best to weed out, whitewash and suburbanize into "just-like-us" acquiescence. Outside this inner city, very quickly, the spokes end and semi-professional bedroom towns spread up the hilly ridges where affluent suburbanites tuck themselves in after dark. And then out the escape routes of the last decade come the shore towns of ferocious Italian and Irish ethnic vanity.

The art of High Provincialism is commonly practiced in New Haven, but not without a certain puritanical pride. Residents keep abreast on the rumor pump. There is a black grapevine and a network of white ethnic grapevines and then the academic community, which attempts to monitor the appropriate grapevine only when the ignored residents of central New Haven blow the lid off the town.

But most of the time New Haven sits quietly with a white pocketbook on her lap. The pocketbooks, and a certain reinforced social inertia, come out of The Valley, where the Naugatuck River brushes up through central Connecticut (under sensible iron grid bridges), tracing the old water-powered artery of once-great mills and a metal industry. The Naugatuck is stony and shallow. Pinned to its banks are proud, homely nickel-and-dime towns . . . Derby, Ansonia, Shelton, Seymour, Waterbury, Thomaston…towns with sides made of asphalt shingles, the dull red crusty sides of the old mills. For good reason, the people of The Valley are not quite living in this century.

When unions pressed too hard, the great metal monoliths like Anaconda relocated their facilities in the South. The Valley's dim-windowed mills and the skeletons of its metal works were left to pock and rot, offering little more than irresistibly brittle windows for schoolboys to break. People of The Valley, accustomed to working the bedrock of the state's economy, became narrow and hard with the piecework left to them. Finally speculators walked through the ruins. With a shrewd eye for capitalistic reconstruction, they began breaking up the mills and foundries into rentals for small-time manufacturers. Novelty items, shoes, hats, house dresses. And pocketbook factories.

The ladies who today "go down the pocketbook shop" to put together white vinyl with tin frames, pass their lives gossiping about Hymie the owner. And watching the world through David Frost and waiting for jury duty. This year they are being brought to New Haven to judge the Black Panthers. Their husbands, the police and firemen and welders and tree surgeons, and their sons in the National Guard, may never have been as far away from home as Hartford. But they are the law enforcement pool for the state. And under the old county court system, they provide the juror pool for New Haven County.


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