Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

The Consequences of Panthermania

Alex Rackley was improving. He even fingered New York State Chairman David Brothers and his secretary, Rosemary, for telling tales on the New York 21 before their arrest.

"Chairman Brothers and them was saying on the thing—like Alexander's, Macy's and Bloomingdale and Botanical Gardens—that all this added up to the thing that was on the indictment of the 21 brothers."

His inquisitors seemed to like the Chairman Brothers story, as people are always delighted by imagining corruption in the highest places. Rackley built on it. He accused Chairman Brothers of being sympathetic to Ron Karenga, the California leader of the US faction who killed John Huggins.

That must have gotten to Ericka.

Rackley droned on, barely coherent, until something in this lunatic scene hit Lonnie McLucas funny.

"Lumumba Shakur," offered the young man on the bed.

"That's no name!" McLucas blurted.

But the game had gone too far and big shots were in town and the locals on Orchard Street presumably needed more to build a purge on than a whimpering, tortured halfwit. Landon Williams criticized the insecure way Rackley was tied. "Use coat hangers." His followers fashioned a wire noose for Rackley's neck.

Hopefully this evidence of business-like interrogation would impress David Hilliard. Williams brought him to Orchard Street Monday evening before Bobby Seale's speech (according to Kimbro's testimony). The captive's voice was heard, rising out of his humiliation on the upstairs bed.

"Is Chairman Bobby going to have me killed?"

"I'm not concerned with you," Chief of Staff Hilliard scoffed (according to testimony). "You're a pig."

The important people then drove off with Ericka Huggins to her house, where Bobby Seale was to arrive. Warren Kimbro remembers being told to find another apartment where Chairman Seale could later speak to all Panthers from Connecticut.

Things grow murkier from there on because nobody wants to remember aloud exactly what Chairman Seale did and said before leaving New Haven. Mr. and Mrs. Huggins stopped by Ericka's apartment, still searching for the baby. Startled by Seale's presence, Mr. Huggins hid the pain behind his face and asked one question.

"What happened to the men who killed my son?"

"They're in jail," answered Seale.

Another little girl was lost that evening, during Bobby Seale's speech before Yale's Black Ensemble Theater Company.

"Diane Toney is missing," Chairman Seale announced. Most of the Panthers went off in search of the missing child and somehow the Chairman's meeting with the Connecticut rank and file never took place.

Warren Kimbro went home from the event to count receipts. He fell asleep after midnight. When Ericka woke him on the morning of May 20, she told him that Chairman Seale had stopped by Orchard Street to use the phone and then left town. They hadn't wanted to wake Kimbro. (According to Kimbro's testimony.)

George Sams later gave a different account of those early morning hours: He and Kimbro, Rory Hithe and Landon Williams were all present in the upstairs bedroom, Sams insists, when Alex Rackley was presented to Chairman Seale. What was to be done with him? "What do you do with a pig?" Sams recounts the answer from Seale. "Off him."

By Chairman Seale's own account, he did stop at Kimbro's apartment to make a phone call. But of the small-potatoes interrogation upstairs he knew nothing. He claims he met George Sams only once, in 1968. Had he known of the brutal scene, he would have expelled the guilty members. But according to Seale, the hierarchy of the Panther Party can't be expected to have time for policing the rank and file.

"I'm just the Chairman," says Seale. "I don't pay attention to everyone."

Tuesday and Wednesday. Orders had not been carried out. Rackley was not dressed to be taken away. No guns from Hartford. George Edwards—"Get Edwards over here; we can take care of him at the same time"—was conspicuous by his absence when Landon Williams and Rory Hithe returned to Orchard Street Tuesday morning. Warren Kimbro never did make the call to Edwards. All the harassed officials could manage was to reprimand Lonnie McLucas for pulling a blank on help from Hartford.

New orders started flying. "Put Kimbro on the phone to Hartford. Sams and the girls go up and cut Rackley loose. Get the rifle downstairs. Get dressed in dark clothes. And put your asses in gear!"

Was this any way to run a political purge? But the voicing of doubts would have been a dangerous, counter-revolutionary act.

The appointed disciples noticed something curious about Rackley as they led their shaky captive out the kitchen to a waiting car Tuesday night. The coathanger around his neck stuck out. Kimbro threw a green bush jacket over Rackley's shoulders to hide the hanger. (In the pocket was a phone message taken by Ericka Huggins for Bobby Seale which began: Don't Come to Oregon. That little clue was discovered later, under the dead body.)


Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift