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The Consequences of Panthermania

Mid-February. Their faces broke into the dinner hour on Channel 8 news. Ericka Huggins and Warren Kimbro, along with a Bridgeport Panther by the name of Jose Gonzales. Ericka did all the talking. New Haven was getting together a brand new Black Panther Party chapter.

Betty Osborne began to twitch and jump in her sleep. Her brother wouldn't answer the phone. His family ties were abruptly suspended—he belonged to something else.

"Don't interfere," Betty's husband counseled. "Warren is 34, after all."

"Someone has to find out what changes he's looking for that can't take place without his getting involved in the Panther Party."

Betty's husband promised to talk to Warren. Betty patrolled the house tucking in children and making lists from Julia Child's cookbook and came back to bed more agitated.

"But Uncle is a believer! He's loyal in the extreme. If my brother believes in Mother's Milk, he will give his full support to Mother's Milk. I will never forgive myself if—"

But Ernest Osborne, who had an early meeting with the black faculty next morning, was asleep.

March. Warren Kimbro's first loyalty test.

National headquarters sent word the Bridgeport chapter had no official Panthers except its director, Jose Gonzales, and he was under suspicion. "If you see Gonzales, hold him," Warren was ordered.

Amateurs . . . as far as Betty Osborne could see there wasn't a sophisticated revolutionary in the lot. She was comforted too by learning her brother's application to the party would take at least six months to be approved.

"So much of it is ego and sex." Betty was now trying to comfort her brother's wife, Sylvia. "If Ernie grew a beard and walked out on Yale Green shouting All Power to the People and Mother-effer, he'd have those suburban housewives following him like the Pied Piper."

". . . From the Oakland perspective, the East Coast brothers looked like loud-mouthed rubes. Central Committee wanted a purge . . ."

Warren's wife, however, cared less and less for the people hanging around her apartment. She went to Legal Aid. There was talk of divorce, which brought Betty Osborne back to the boiling point.

She intended to give conciliatory advice. But when she finally got a call through to her brother, the talk quickly disintegrated into the insults born of fear.

"How the hell do you even know they're Panthers?" Betty demanded.

"I know."

"Uncle, any dude can put on black leather and come up from Bridgeport with a big line."

Warren said he had been frustrated too long. His life was going nowhere. He wanted to see some real changes in New Haven for a change.

"You're grasping at the first thing to come along!" Betty countered. "Look at all you have to lose, your wife and kids . . ." letting this penetrate . . . "listen to me! Has the Hag ever given you phony advice?" Warren's pet name for his outspoken sister was the Hag, but now her words were nothing but a trickle in his ears.

Betty laid on him her trump card.

"They'll put you out there to do all kinds of dirt and then you watch, Uncle—they'll pull out on you the minute the ---- comes down!"

"Okay, Hag." Warren gave a final, affectionate laugh. "I'll watch my step."

April. Warren Kimbro's apartment at 365 Orchard Street had become Panther headquarters in Connecticut. As a setting it didn't seem to fit. This was no slum basement shared by derelicts and vermin . . . not remotely similar to the old Carpenter-Gothic frame houses on the other side of Orchard Street where eccentric roomers sat rocking in dark glasses and baseball caps, waiting to die.

Warren lived in an attached townhouse. Modern motor-inn style, it was one of the low-middle-income co-ops that drove out the poor during New Haven's romance with the bulldozer. Zinnias in its family gardens. Children playing tag around the outdoor gallery hung over its parking garage. Lots of children.

But now Warren Kimbro was in all the way—his home, his salary, his life and his agonized wife, who decided the lesser of two evils would be to stay there with the children and cope.

At this time, on a national level, Stokely Carmichael broke completely with the Panther Party. Tears were few for the former leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He had been given a top leadership position in the BPP as a tribute, but not without reluctance on the part of founders Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton. The conflict was over whether or not to unite in the revolutionary struggle with white radicals. The Panther Party was committed to this unity. Other black power organizations such as SNCC and US, the West Coast black nationalist faction, were dead set against it, requiring strict black separatism. This the Panthers condemned as racist. Months of feuding between Stokely and Eldridge exposed the growing contempt of younger militants for Stokely's attitude. Stokely was ultimately branded a hangover hero with a now irrelevant black nationalist hang-up.


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