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The Consequences of Panthermania

George Sams, a volatile Panther stalwart, was relieved as Stokely's bodyguard. It is not known for certain, but Sams may have cried.

Stokely, maintaining a distant dignity in Guinea, sent his wife to meet the press at Kennedy Airport with a letter in which he warned against the high authoritarianism of the Panthers:

. . . The present tactics the party is using to coerce everyone to submit to its authority . . . the demand for loyal and unquestioning followers rather than critical colleagues . . . will lead the BPP to become, at worst, a tool of racist imperialists used against the black masses . . .

Ericka Huggins, meanwhile, was gaining a reputation among kids in the Liberation Children's School on Lamberton Street. Children were given breakfast at the Legion Hall and ferried to a former Episcopal church. A few black and white Yalies taught them in a relaxed atmosphere.

School policy was not to force any political message on the children. They came to school with their parents' politics . . . and, as another teacher said, "Parents weren't against the Panthers, but they weren't out selling Panther newspapers either."

". . . A local newspaperman interviewed the Panthers about their programs while upstairs Rackley lay spreadeagled and naked . . ."

May. The Bridgeport Panther chapter folded. It seems Jose Gonzales, the director, had made off with the chapter treasury. New York was also in bad trouble with 21 Panthers arrested and charged with complicity in a bomb plot. National officials Landon Williams and Rory Hithe were dispatched from headquarters in Oakland "to straighten out the party on the East Coast."

Every political organization has its regional prejudices. And from the Oakland perspective, these East Coast brothers running around calling themselves Panthers must have looked like a bunch of loud-mouthed, chicken-tailed rubes. The Central Committee wanted a purge. Informers had to be cleaned out.

Connecticut was the first concern of Hithe and Williams. The New Haven chapter, less than four months old, was warned by Ericka that Central Committee people were coming. She confirmed the official status of George Sams, Rory Hithe and Landon Williams. Williams would be in over-all charge.

On May 14, eve of the purge, Landon Williams made a statement to a meeting of Connecticut revolutionaries, the irony of which only struck home much later.

"There are no Panthers in Connecticut except Ericka," he said.

As far as Warren Kimbro knew, the plan for the weekend was to picket an Adam Clayton Powell rally in Hartford. From there on he would take orders. But one does not have to be a Panther to catch—or be caught for—Panthermania.

Saturday, May 17. Confusion. Meetings. Vague orders being dispatched. Doors slamming and people leaving for Hartford. The way the front and back doors were flapping and people knocking each other down to get in and out of Kimbro's house, it might have been Stop and Shop.

Warren Kimbro and George Edwards, another aspiring Panther, were the only New Haveners there. Ericka Huggins was the only accredited Connecticut Panther present. Yet through Warren's apartment during that weekend there passed, on faith, more than a dozen near-strangers from other cities.

The action began when Landon Williams and Rory Hithe drove up with George Sams and a young, square, semi-literate kid named Alex Rackley, an instructor in martial arts from the New York Panther chapter. They had picked him up on the streets of New York, he thought, to provide extra security for the impending visit of Bobby Seale. Rackley figured he was in for a thrill of his life. He was accustomed to sticking out like a sore thumb, the dumbest and weakest link in New York Panther organization. For once he was running with the big-time dudes. But Rackley was not long in the paranoid Panther milieu in New Haven before he was accused of being an informer.

Dapper Lonnie McLucas checked in with pretty Peggy Hudgins, survivors from the Bridgeport chapter. More girls arrived, incredible female traffic passing the neighbor's zinnias and baffled stares. Eager Loretta Luckes, and Frances Carter with her poised, motherly air . . . followed by the irresistible Rose Marie Smith with baby hair still bunched tight to her scalp. All disappeared into the motel-modern interior of Apartment 3-B.

The reason for everyone's being on his best revolutionary behavior was that Chief of Staff David Hilliard was in town. And Chairman Bobby Seale was arriving to deliver a speech at Yale on Monday.

"Rackley should be kept overnight," Kimbro and Ericka were told. "Send George Edwards out for hamburgers. But watch him. He might make a call from the drugstore."

Now there was a puzzle. Among members of the Yale-affiliated Black Arts Theater group, all George Edwards was famous for was being a fine actor. Unforgettable in a turban and backed up by Gregorian chant, he had played the bedeviled George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Suddenly it appeared that George Edwards, too, might be cast in the role of informer.


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