Black Against Black: The Agony of Panthermania

From the November 16, 1970 issue of New York Magazine.

In New Haven the fuse of Panthermania was lit by the funeral of John Huggins in January of 1969. Four months later the Black Panther Party burned out in Connecticut. Plagued by its own inexperience and internal paranoia, the party went through a now-familiar chain of events: (1) murder of a suspected informer (2) police raid (3) Panther trial. But the fires lit in the imagination of young black minds did not fizzle out. Ignited by clashes around the country, these small painful fires, concealed inside the brightest of adolescent minds, smouldered on until it became evident to the black community at large that some new and unquenchable brushfire was taking their young, pulling them together in a far left corner of the national forest which they itch to defend … and that New Haven is a false boundary.

The state of the Panther party in any town at any particular time does not really matter, because the fever has passed to the children. The revolutionary lifestyle requires passionate commitment, battlefront reflexes, gut responses. It sends shudders through the white man. J. Edgar Hoover may be the nation’s greatest Panther recruiter. Who could have imagined that in 1969 he would label the Panthers—then a couple of dozen black men and women—as the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States? What a challenge to live up to! It can be strong enough even to pull a young dude back from the traditional comfort of dope. The pace is right. The demands of urban guerrilla life offer a substitute for the desperate habitual rhythm of hustling, which is the hardest thing for an addict to give up. In fact the demands on the guerrilla are greater.

Consider also the lure of mobility. Revolutionaries travel—planes, cabs, Chicago, Detroit, California, Cuba, Hanoi, Algiers, moving with the spontaneity of the jet set and the mystery of the Mafia, all financed by adoring white liberals and dignified by a noble cause. Imagine the prospect as seen by a boy raised before the bedroom TV, with a housekey around his neck, marking time among the shut-ins of the ghetto. Even his parents can see the pull. It extends past party lines and trial names. A certain psycho-political hold is on black children burning like a billion wooden matches struck in unison across the emotions, and certain primordial debts are about to be settled with white society at life-or-death stakes.

Outside New Haven the whole phenomenon goes by the name Bobby Seale, the Bobby Seale trial. Inside black New Haven, where doors are tight and the furies kept private and families think first of their own flesh and blood, it is known as Panthermania.

The strain of Panthermania is greatest on the black middle class. A break between the Toms and the young street guerrillas has been a long time coming. But the clash between middle-class values and radicalism—and even more internal and ferocious, the clash between Panthers and Black Nationalist groups—is tearing at the black community. It is killing more people than the shoot-outs between cops and militants. The most uncomfortable spot in America, 1970, may be in the black middle.

The new black pols, suburbanites, bus children and button-down, party-dip parents … the reviled black cops and hangover civil-rightsers caught in a tragic shift … the anti-poverty workers and college liaisons and community advocates belonging to a new professional class … the first-mortgage holders and franchise operators who cashed in on the fleeting opportunities of black capitalism … the ambivalent doctor, lawyer, college professor … and their black bourgeois wives, home, at last, with their Afros set in pink foam curlers—the whole spectrum of middle-class, upward-mobile black America is caught in a bind. With the middle beleaguered and fading, the choice is grim. Americans in the black middle stand between the Hoover-Agnew people, who threaten to take away freedoms so recently gained, and the Cleaver-Hoffman people, who giveth as the sane alternative “revolutionary suicide.” Most are with the Panthers in spirit. But in practice, Panthermania brings tragedy.

In the last two years, according to the Justice Department, 469 black people assumed to be Panthers have been arrested and eleven shot dead. The tragic crossfire has also claimed the lives of nine policemen.

When white student radicals descended on Yale green last May in support of a Panther rally, where was the local black middle? Tom Hayden, revolutionary theorist, proclaimed Bobby Seale’s trial “the most important trial of a black man in this century.” Why then weren’t the black people of New Haven out on that green in a chorus of Right On’s? White Panther brigades, it was promised, would return for the summer. Thousands would settle New Haven as a liberated zone.

But after the May Day rally the exhilarated radicals went back to their colleges or home. Feeling incomplete, the black photographer David Parks and I stayed around town. We slowly made friends and shared moments of crisis and weeks of normality with New Haveners. The real story of the Panther trial drifted away from Seale. It belonged to the black community.

This is the story of two men in different stages of Panthermania: John Huggins, who died from it, and Junius Jones (the name is fictitious), who, with a little help from his friends, will build a successor to it.

Tip-tick. Tip-tick. Tip-tick. Tip-tick. From the cellar only one sound, small and fitful, has been firing with steady precision for the past hour. It is May, 1970. Junius is down there. Fifteen and black in New Haven, Connecticut—unable to be a Panther, unable to sleep—Junius is in the cellar bunched up and sweating inside his bleached jeans on a second-hand sofabed, and the safe sounds have stopped. The monster flick on TV is off. The air is emptied of anesthesia from the Funkadelics and the inner-ear orgasm of Jimi Hendrix. Junius has turned them off. Tip-tick. Tip-tick. I have heard this sound before, where?

The cliché thought, conditioned by the media, would be a gun. Assumption: young and frustrated black boy in cellar is cocking and firing an unloaded gun. But Junius is cerebral. This is a controlled, cerebral sound. He keeps the world off balance through the artful use of paradox, such as attending prep school in white Methodist Massachusetts and appearing there as “Daddy” in Albee’s An American Dream. He also keeps a blue ring binder notebook. Its cover is decorated with the loves and hates and heroes Junius carries everywhere with him. Che. Giap. Commie Crusade. Sarah Weisman [a prep school classmate] not radical but she tries.

Off Viva Libra! Katy—the Mt. GraylockPig! Nationalist Red China School

Inside the notebook is his first play, called Panther! Two winters ago he showed it to a young woman, Ericka Huggins, who knew some people at the Black Reality Players. She said it was good. She was going to run it over to the group’s director at Yale Drama School. When Junius came home from boarding school again Ericka Huggins was Docket Number 15681 in Niantic Correctional Institution for Women.

“… The real story of the Panther trial in New Haven drifted away from Bobby Seale. It belonged to the black community …”

She and Bobby Seale and six others are standing trial in the State of Connecticut for conspiring to murder Alex Rackley, a suspected party informer. Junius has had no time for adolescence. He is growing up with a Panther trial in his town.

What is that tip-tick sound—this sound of Junius Jones that singes the air and ticks up the cellarway, building into apprehension? It strains in my ear through some distant consciousness, like a child’s stutter.

Upstairs with Junius’ father we are drinking a little Piña Colada before dinner. William Jones apologizes for the bread lumps in his homemade meat loaf. He is a widower. The fierce beauty of his face is lapsed somewhat under the wadding of cheeks and mellowed perspectives of middle age. His muscular frame speaks of raw uninterrupted physical exertion. Today, though, William’s neck is a bit ropy and his mid-section grown pillowy, and the reason he stays home drinking Piña Colada late of a Sunday afternoon is to avoid being trapped by the lusty widow across the street. William’s eyes, however, are working eyes. Normally level and amused, when presented with foggy concepts these eyes snap on like high beams. Behind them is a half-century of living, ten years of watching black movements rise and fall in New Haven.

CORE, SNCC, the Muslims, now the Panthers … William Jones has marked them all. Their discarded leaders remain his friends. About white New Haven he knows what he knows from working weekends as a steward in the Whiffenpoof Club. He served the Yale provost and the law school dean, for instance, while they fretted over the formation of Yale’s Black Students Alliance.

“I’d act stupid,” William chuckles at his own put-on. “But I was always listenin’.”

“Were your kids ever attacked in the neighborhood when they were small, by police?” William is asked.

“In this neighborhood? This happens to be a jive-ass af-flu-ent neighborhood,” William says. “We call it Peyton Place.”

Everyone laughs comfortably. Upstairs here the air is secure with cooking spinach. We can eat and drink and rationally discuss with Junius’ father the knot in his boy’s mind. It can even be given the name Panthermania.

“There’s another assassination … got to check it out with the party … might be this weekend,” said the taut voice over a long-distance wire. It was the first conversation I had with Junius Jones. His father, whom we’d met at a Panther rally at Yale, put us in touch on the upstairs phone last May.

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.

Another side of working Connecticut life is giant defense contractors: Sikorsky, United Aircraft, General Dynamics and the Winchester gun factory in New Haven where the lights burn all night.

On Sundays in New Haven the black women of means go with their families to Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church. Propped on their knees, like tea napkins, are these white pocket-books that come out of The Valley.

Black New Haveners have traditionally taken their manners from the least mobile white population—that careful, myopic, mildly-spoken core of liner-uppers and Sunday-besters.

On the ride out Dixwell Avenue for our first visit to William’s house, we made three stops which pretty well laid out where the lines are drawn in a northern black community.

In the American Oil Service Station we met a friendly young black mechanic. He explained his town in one memorable stroke of doublethink:

“In New Haven we’re like peas in a pod. The Man does his things on his side of the track, we do ours on our side. But one thing we don’t have in New Haven is segregation.”

The hippest dudes and young sharpies hang out on the sidewalk where Liggett’s wraps around a central corner on Dixwell. A tall handsome cat waved a Panther newspaper at us. He had on this terrific elephant-brimmed Al Capone hat, tilted at a rakish diagonal and wrapped with an orange bandana. He kept tapping that hat and smiling and jiving on the corner as if money were suddenly free. It was infectious. We smiled back. He bounded over to sell us a paper and gave us the black power fist. Then he tilted his hat still further and smiled. We asked him about the hat because it seemed to matter more to him than anything in the paper.

“Dig it,” he said, “that’s a New Yawk racketeer hat!”

“… ‘The party requires six months on probation. They investigate. You’re either in good standing or you’re not a Panther.’ …”

Out past the Eli Clothing Store, on the other side of town from North Haven where the Polish Falcons gather in Nest 81 and the Broadway Service Station flies the sign USED BICYCLES - GUNS - MOWERS - BOUGHT AND SOLD, we began driving slowly to find William’s house. We pulled alongside a group of black women in three-button Sunday spring coats. It was a broken-stoop neighborhood, a block from William’s house. “Can you tell us where to turn for Munson Street?” David asked.

“Munson Street? Don’t know it. Munson Street?” puzzled the women in bird-like voices, about a street that turned out to be a block away. “Jes’ keep straight on is best.”

“Jesus,” said David Parks way down in his throat, as he waved thanks to the local black women. “These people live here, and they still don’t know where they’re at. We have so far to go.”

When William’s two children were born the family lived “on the limb” down in Congoland—that is to say, on Congress Avenue where the rats run all night inside the walls. His wife worked as a psychiatric nurse, trained at Bellevue. To get out of Congoland William worked four jobs at once. Before dawn he left to make seat covers for the Avco factory and at night he ran a dry cleaning business and on the side he sold baby furniture and on the weekends he buttoned up in the white mess jacket of a steward. Playing the distinguished but mute colored gentleman, William circulated past the elbows of Yale dons until his Uncle Remus beard turned silver. Until he had $1,000 for the down payment on this house. By the time he finally had it paid for, his wife was dead of cancer.

Today William’s beard is clipped and juts forward, rather like a Pharaoh’s. He is proud of his home in Hamden, a block or so over the New Haven city line, which qualifies as suburban. Things are moving that way now, out Dixwell Avenue from the Congoland into a black suburban settlement in Hamden. William put the red Volkswagen in the driveway and tulips beneath the Japanese maple and this year he put his fifteen-year-old son Junius in a fancy prep school. Above all he is proud, though uncertain,0020of his son.

Last winter Junius fled prep school in white Methodist Massachusetts and bused home to Hamden. He had decided to join the party. On a night cold enough to crack sidewalks, Junius announced he was going downtown to the Panther Defense Committee office to begin his apprenticeship. William said he could stay home and call himself a Panther.

“The party requires six months on probation,” Junius corrected him. “They investigate. You’re either a Panther in good standing or you’re not a Panther. You can’t just call yourself a Black Panther.”

Down on Chapel Street in New Haven they would give him a stack of Panther newspapers and he would come back to Hamden to sell them. William said he would probably be shot. If not by a cop, by a neighbor. Hamden’s black neighborhood is red-shingle suburban, two-family lawns, little girls with old faces and parts between their braids and young dudes in kelly green trousers. Hamden is alarm clocks going off at five in the morning. Parents who rise to those alarms, for jobs in the Winchester gun factory or the Hostess cupcake plant, do not take kindly to a teenage native son out late peddling revolution.

Junius stood the streetcorner test until midnight. He was scared and cold. He sold one paper—to his father. At midnight Junius headed downtown to Number Nine, the storefront drug-rehab center loosely run by school dropouts in the absence of any other mental health outlet for New Haveners under sixteen. Kids drop by there not so much to rap about dope as to talk out the knots in their minds. But they were mostly middle-class white kids, Junius discovered. So again he felt alone and went home.

The next day a friend asked Junius if he was in. No, Junius said, he was not in. Membership in the Black Panther Party was closed, frozen, to protect against police infiltration and power-hungry black political rivals. It was frozen nationally, he found out, when John Huggins and Bunchy Carter were killed at UCLA in January of 1969.

That was over a year ago, Junius told his friend last winter.

“… It was all there waiting for John and Ericka. Action in the Panthers and a ready-made feud with the Black Nationalists …”

John Huggins came out of the white-pocketbook-Negro tradition which goes way back in New England. He never saw a real ghetto before his twentieth birthday. Around New Haven he was known as the prodigal son of one of the oldest-line haute black bourgeois families. His grammar school was private (Hopkins, the same school attended by the judge and defense attorney in the New Haven Panther trial). His home, a composed brick five-bedroom Colonial, was the envy of his few black friends. Mostly it drew white children, his classmates, to the acre of play yard spread around it and waiting just up the street from Hill House High School.

John’s room bulged with 300 books. His mother worked at Yale’s Sterling Library. Everyone respected his father, a formidable patriarch with finely groomed parlor-car hair, because he followed the traditional housefolk route to success in New Haven. John Huggins Sr. manages the Fence Club. Indeed, the exclusivity of this Yale social society has been 40 years under his iron guardianship. The name is hammered deep into the brass nameplate outside its ivy-whiskered door: John Huggins, Permittee—reminiscent of a more exclusive heyday which Mr. Huggins mourns. But Yale masters and students of untarnished Anglo-Saxon heritage still gather at the Fence to drink and dine in the heavy oak Great Hall manner of medieval English kings.

Respect for patina rubbed off on John Huggins Sr. He passed it on to his children. Reserved, temperate, academically inclined, the Hugginses were always considered white-pocketbook perfect.

John lulled through Saturdays reading and tinkering with a tape recorder. He hiked with the Boy Scouts and spun the fantasies of a white prince.

One of John’s friends, who came up the hard way through welfare and the projects and today attends Yale Medical School, remembers his childhood picture of the Hugginses: “They were a together black family living decent up on Munson Street.” John Huggins taught his friend to daydream white.

“We’d hike about fifteen miles out to Sleeping Giant Park,” his friend recalls. “There’s an old castle on top of the mountain and this was our domain. Every Saturday we’d pack a lunch and climb the mountain to eat in the castle. We pretended we were knights in shining armor and the castle was in sixteenth-century England. The other Boy Scouts we took along were our court.”

Sundays, John would stroll with his parents down Dixwell to the white-pocketbook Congregational Church. John Huggins apparently wanted for nothing. Except a car. If he had a car, he could roll out of New Haven and see what the world was about.

“I’m thinking of heading out to California, to UCLA,” came the call to his father from Lincoln University where John was a restless freshman. “I got to do something for my people.”

“They’re not your people!” The father’s voice thickened then, as it does today, with scorn for what he calls the Negro downtrodden. “I know a lot of them, laying about with their hands out, and they’re no damn good.” New Haven was where John belonged, the father insisted, where his powerful white friends would bend over backwards to pass out opportunities.

By then a Navy veteran, John had seen something of the world. He had learned how to kill and how to stay alive as a Class A radarman in Vietnam. Discharged with a Navy unit commendation, he returned to enter Lincoln University. Next door to this quiet black college in Pennsylvania John met a high-spirited super-black girl, Ericka, whom Junius came to know later in New Haven. A tall, angry, insistent girl whose militant ideas were new to John. She was not about to stick around West Chester, Pennsylvania, at the proper black Cheyney School, studying to be an old- biddy school teacher with the rest of the Oreos.

There was no way for John to explain these things to John Huggins Sr., Permittee of the Fence Club. So he switched tactics.

“I want to marry a college girl. We’ll come home together this summer so you can meet her.” The one thing he could really use, John mentioned to his father, was a car.

He got a Chrysler. Mr. Huggins bought it in the fall of ‘67 for the betrothed couple to drive back to Lincoln University. But they sailed right through to Southern California, and that was the last time the Hugginses saw their son alive.

Southern Cal… . the ideal tinder-box for Panthermania. Watts offered itself as a reference on one side, and on the other, winding hot off the desert over the Santa Ana hills, blew a wind that dries out the nerves. If one is looking for them, one can find people as capricious and primitive as that wind, which has a habit of fanning sparks over parched canyons, generating fires that drive men and animals to the sea. Inevitable. John Huggins was baptized into instant black consciousness.

It was all there waiting in and around UCLA. Exotics, parolees, other misfits from retarded hamlets like New Haven looking for action with a new mixed force of black and white revolutionaries … known as the Black Panthers … and a ready-made feud with the prevailing Black Nationalist group called US, led by UCLA graduate Ron Karenga. US stood for black separatism and wanted UCLA as a power base. Karenga had style. He also had a string of goons with Swahili names ready to launch deadly power games on the infant Panther movement.

“… Gunfire began to howl and screech in the air. John caught the first dumdum bullet an eighth of an inch from his heart …”

John and Ericka looked over UCLA as a base for political organizing. The High Potential program looked fertile, with a black component of 50 scholarship students. They met Alprentice (Bunchy) Carter, who agreed. Bunchy was on parole from an armed robbery sentence and knew the militant black network of Southern California, including a hot-tongued sister by the name of Elaine Brown. They all joined the High Potential program. Between perfunctory appearances in class, they made friends for the cause. Bunchy and John became the brains of the Panther movement in Southern California; Bunchy the Number One man and John the best-liked militant on campus.

“There’s a real bad blood between the Panthers and US,” Bunchy Carter warned the director of the High Potential program. It was the fall of ‘69 and John and Bunchy, nearly bounced the previous year, were beginning to see certain advantages to getting an education while they were politicizing UCLA. The director was afraid of a war between the rival groups over selection of a director for the new Black Studies program.

“If I have anything to do with it,” Bunchy assured her, “there won’t be any fighting at UCLA.”

But the Simba Wachuka (Young Lions), Karenga’s goon squad of eighteen-year-olds trained in soul sessions to fight Swahili-style, kept elbowing into meetings of the Black Student Union.

“We got a man to head your Black Studies program,” ran the Karenga line. “You’re politically naïve. Let us run the show and everything’s gonna be cool.”

The students balked. Finally the Panthers found their political legs in the power vacuum and formed a resistance movement. John Huggins was named chairman of the criteria committee to select a Black Studies program director. But the word was out. “The Simbas are tough. Karenga speaks and they jump to say ‘Right On.’ “

In January of 1969 Karenga made a personal appearance at a UCLA meeting, accompanied by the full complement of his goons.

“Oppressors come in all colors!” the riled students shouted at him. Elaine Brown and Bunchy Carter were particularly vocal. Seething in his shameful retreat, Karenga made a point of stopping Bunchy Carter. “What do you and the Panthers have to say about all this?” he demanded. Bunchy threw down the gauntlet.

“Power to the students!”

The goons came back with guns a week later. Donald Hawkins, a Karenga lieutenant from US, collared an unaffiliated black girl on her way out of the final meeting of John Huggins’ committee.

“Get to a pay phone, sister. Upstairs by the cafeteria. You put in a call to Jimeni Jomo every fifteen minutes. Tell him Stoddy told you to call. Every fifteen minutes if things are cool, you say into the phone, ‘Everything okay,’ see? If and when something comes down, you yell ‘Vita’!”

The girl did as she was told because she knew the name Jimeni Jomo belonged to a minor warlord in US.

A getaway car was already backing into a restricted parking lot, two hundred yards from the student center. Harry Carey, a UCLA black, spotted them first: Chockezi (Claude Herbert) and Watani (Larry Stiner) and Tuwala (Harold Jones). Three sets of mountainous shoulders draped in zonko-print dashikis, bulking out of the car doors. The first two walked nice and loose from the Humanities Building toward the student center, caressing the guns in their belts. Tuwala went straight for the infamously loud Panther sister, Elaine Brown. She happened to be passing alone through the basement of the student center. Unaware, in a black leather coat.

Tuwala hoisted her up by the coat buttons. One ripped off. She gave no scream. This Elaine Brown—who today commands the whole Southern California Panther district—was no hysterical car-hop cutie. Her specialty at political meetings was the Pussy Power speech. With it Elaine Brown originated the concept that a woman’s function is to use her body to entice men into the Panther Party. (A lesson Ericka Huggins absorbed.) With the threats of Tuwala, therefore, Elaine Brown dealt one to one.

“Get your m-f-ing hands off me, nigger!”

Bunchy Carter passed the door just as Tuwala was dropping his hands. Outraged that he had not been summoned, using the white Southern vernacular reserved for insults among rival black militants, Bunchy hollered at Elaine:

“If a nigger ever grabs you like that again, I want you to hit that nigger!”

John Huggins, ignorant of the developing showdown, was upstairs waiting outside the cafeteria to begin a meeting with black faculty. Bunchy Carter rushed up to report to John. But even as the two Panthers stepped into the cafeteria, Tuwala was already planted on a chair. Sitting up front and center, a perfect bullseye, Tuwala was ready and facing the door.

“… John’s bravura death sent shock waves across three thousand miles, to other young blacks with a lust for the apocalypse …”

Just before noon the tipoff girl put in her last call to say “Everything okay.” Then gunfire began to howl and screech in the air, ricocheting off walls and thundering out the cafeteria door in volleys of incessant satanic fury. The tipoff girl split. “Vita,” she remembered, in Swahili means “war.”

John Huggins caught the first dumdum bullet in a vital blood vessel, one-eighth of an inch from his heart. It severed his aorta. John went down for dead. Terrified students pasted themselves on the floor. Now shots began flying from all sides and US goons were coming off the wall, but Bunchy Carter spotted the triumphant way Chockezi held his .38. Limp for an instant. And then tip-tick—Chockezi slipped into his weapon a new lump of dumdum lead.

Bunchy leaped over Tuwala’s chair with his arms out for the assassin of John Huggins. Chockezi, with a purer aim this time, drove his second bullet into Bunchy Carter’s heart. Tuwala split. Stiner was bailing out the second-floor window. But it was not over. With one deafening blast after another, something like cannon fire was bombarding the exit.

John Huggins! His finger was pulling in spasms on the trigger of a 357 Magnum. A weapon powerful enough to make paper clips of a car engine, so deadly that law enforcement officers are forbidden to use it—the Magnum seemed to have control of a dead man’s hand. John Huggins, sprawled in a lake of backed-up aortic blood with zero elevation, kept hugging the trigger of his Magnum until the goons reached their getaway car and roared out of UCLA like a scalded dog. Then the spasms stopped. John Huggins joined Bunchy Carter on the floor and was quiet.

Reverberations from that brutal shootout have not yet stopped. In the first wave, all Panther students left UCLA. Bright young black men like John Huggins’ best friend, Albert Armor, the son of a Los Angeles doctor, turned bitter (a year later Armor had two felony charges pending). Elaine Brown devoted her life to the Panthers. But the first order of business was revenge on US. Four Panthers including Elaine Brown turned up to testify at the trial of Karenga’s black nationalists.

“I couldn’t have prosecuted that case without the Panthers’ help,” admits the Assistant District Attorney of Los Angeles, Steve Trott. “The real tragedy of the whole thing was John and Bunchy. They and the Panthers were just becoming part of the educational scene at UCLA. They didn’t get much of a chance.”

As things stand today, according to Steve Trott, “The name US and Karenga are mud at UCLA. People trying to leave the organization get their apartments firebombed. Jimeni Jomo was recently shot after quitting US. Karenga, when he’s been seen, looks like he’s going crazy or spacing out on dope. The Panthers in Southern California are a pretty small group of leftovers now. Mostly misfits—angry, unhappy, low-IQ kids. It’s sad.”

John Huggins became a revolutionary martyr. His bravura death sent shock waves across three thousand miles into the torpid cellars of obediently middle-class young black men with a lust for the apocalypse, young men like Junius Jones.

Right now, his father says, Junius is probably downstairs running a picture through his mind of Huggins and his Magnum on the floor of UCLA . . .

… John with a ragged dumdum hole through his chest, drowning in the blood swamp coming up his mouth, still able to lift a gun out of his belt by sheer force of training in self-defense. Able to squeeze that trigger again and again in post-mortem spasms. This was no whimper-tongued white-shoe Yalie copout. This was really it! A half-dead black man and his weapon united in a choreography so exquisite, so instinctual, that the two blasted on beyond death.

“…’I’m glad to be back at school for one reason,’ Junius said, staring ferociously. ‘To blow up the place.’…”

The revolutionary funeral is a prime recruiting event. When John Huggins came home from college in a pine box, accompanied by his vengeful wife Ericka and their daughter, a whisper of a thing less than a month old, the spark of Panthermania was set off in New Haven. His body arrived by train on January 23, 1969.

“John Huggins? Killed in a militant-type action in California?” whistled his childhood friend, picking up the newspaper outside Yale Medical School. “I knew John was naïve, but I would have pictured him as last in line to fight with militant tactics.”

A genteel white doyen got on the phone to explain John’s death to her out-of-town friends. “The shocking thing is that the Huggins family is so clearly social class Number One black. They won’t talk to anyone about it. The whole thing, from John’s marriage to Ericka to John’s death, they see as an unmitigated disaster.”

The Hugginses, despite their private bitterness toward Panther ideology, did not have John’s hair cut or put him in a gray Congregational suit. They bought him a black leather jacket and a beret. Bridgeport had the only Panther chapter in Connecticut at the time. Black-booted girls and men in leather body jackets began to turn up at the funeral parlor, and by the time big-shot Panthers came from Oakland and L. A., John Huggins was laid out for a full-dress Panther burial.

Two hundred people attended his wake, only a third of them white. Warren Kimbro, soon to become captain of New Haven’s first Panther chapter, read excerpts from Eldridge Cleaver—the oddly comforting description of a clash in 1967 between Panthers and Oakland police. At the end of the service, as is the custom in military funerals, the pallbearers snapped the Panther flag into a three-cornered pillow and presented it to John’s parents in place of their son.

The Huggins funeral caught the imagination of young black New Haven like nothing before or since. Black militants who had presided over the local civil-rights scene felt suddenly old there. They could see their leadership—indeed their whole era of non-violent protest—passing overnight into ridicule.

Now in William’s house I ask if Junius has his notebook downstairs with him.

“Junius always has his notebook with him. He says it’s his only key to reality.”

What strikes home is that today it is natural to think about a very bright and bothered adolescent boy in terms of shooting. The words that pertain are homicide, suicide, genocide. At one time these words had hightly specific meanings. They have been beaten up in courtrooms and whipped around in the over-and underground press until even these words have become murky, homogenized. We find ourselves in a country which can no longer accurately distinguish between who is doing the killing, and who is being killed, or killing himself.

And so we sit inside William’s red shingle house, careful to speak in the conditional, and we pretend not to wonder what Junius is clicking downstairs. His father listens. The worry he does not display.

“How would you feel if one of your friends, say, had a son who was in the Panther Party? Say he was given the order to assassinate someone?”

William pushes back from the dinner table. “Well, I don’t believe in murder under any circumstances. But I know—I can’t say I know, but I can see—that the feeling of the average member of the Black Panther Party is that they’re at war. And they’re executin’ themselves in the same way as if they were in battle in Vietnam. Some of the fellas are veterans of the Vietnam war. They been taught to kill. They came back, conditions weren’t what they expected and they feel that they’re at war. Right here.”

Out of habit, William goes to the window to check the street. He turns with a protective afterthought.

“This is their thinkin’. I’m not saying it’s absolutely my thinkin’. But I can kinda pass on their feelin’.”

Middle-class black parents are in the same spot as the white liberal parent who wakes up to find a probable bomber in his child’s bed. It is the reactions that are different. The fears and agonies of the black parent must be kept private, because the fear of white retaliation is greater. Sometimes mixed with vague hopes, but more often with convictions born of experience that the price is too high, the torn loyalties of sisters, brothers and friends of black revolutionaries are not made public. They are no less vehement. It’s just that the white majority, hearing little about them, generally assumes these feelings don’t exist.

William, who would not think of invading his son’s sanctuary, excuses himself to get something upstairs. “Don’t want you to think I’m passive,” he says. With good humor William has shown us his home and tulips and his dead wife’s oil paintings, but now he returns with a resolute bearing. Laid flat in his palm is a .38 caliber pistol.

“Do you have that on you all the time?”

“Yes. I wouldn’t provoke anything. I’d never use it with troopers around. But if I felt I’d been taken advantage of—” William hesitates—”you can’t feel safe here these days. If I had to use it, I would.”

“… Junius thinks Abbie Hoffman is a bourgeois basket case, a paper Yippie …”

Tip-tick, tip-tick. It is a rather wimpy sound after all, coming from Junius. This is no giant phallic blast of gunfire. It is beyond the crazed-ego, low-IQ homicide, beyond even the higher-status self-inflicted violence of shooting oneself with a needleful of smack. These are small, steady cerebral shots, marking time to the knots Junius is untying in his mind. But one is easily fooled by Junius, as he has been fooled all his life.

They told me I was stupid in first grade. OK, I’m stupid, so I won’t do anything. I didn’t know about race and racism. Most of the kids at grammar school were white. One day in front of the class my first grade teacher said, “I don’t like your tie because it’s black.” I said, “I don’t like you.” He said, “I don’t like you or the color of your tie.” Then all the kids repeated after the teacher, “We don’t like black.” So I came to believe when I was six years old that black was an ugly color.

They put me into the stupid class to learn reading. Then I began to see the racial discrimination in school, the caste system of tracking and channeling. The way I knew was that the smartest kid in the class was white and had blue eyes and blond hair. I think she was stupid. But the ones put into the stupid groups were black children and white working-class students. Automatically assumed to be stupid. If one of the other kind was put in a remedial group, the mother would be down at school the next day yelling, “Why is my kid in a stupid class?”

I knew I had some high potential. Based on my first Otis test in grade school, they gave me an IQ of 96.

I was re-tested later and came out with an IQ of 110.

Now at prep school they tell me I’m exceptional.

Junius is taking care these days to use his bright smile as little as possible. He prefers to look down and then abruptly up with burning eyes—which takes his listener through The Shift. This is the point known to youngsters when one shifts from being Negro to being black. The Shift is a gear-grinder. Every day the gears slip a little and while Junius is fighting to regain control, he hides behind a crazy act.

This year the prep school psychiatrist went into Junius’ head and came out with the neatly printed report that lies on the coffee table.

“Junius is an exceptional student, though he tested only adequately the first time. He will probably remain at average level with his peers through prep school and only emerge thereafter. Now he has developed the defense of “acting crazy.” He is not crazy at all but is down on himself and searching for figures to believe in. Junius has a history of throwing himself into things 100 per cent. Intense, able to deal with complicated abstract thoughts, he then slips into confusion. His artistic outlet is very important.

“My son and I was talking yesterday about John Huggins,” William mentions, “and why he got killed. The way Junius was runnin’ it down to me, there’s two factions. The reactionary Black Nationalists who want a separate colony and don’t believe in organizing with the white revolutionaries. And the Panthers, who do. Well now the Black Nationalists are killing all these Panthers, like John Huggins, and gettin’ away with murder—”

“Black Nationalists are nothing but mirrors of the materialist white society!”

The shouted comment came from the cellarway. So we all take the cue to go downstairs and check what Junius is doing. He is curled around the blue notebook, his only key to reality, and writing the manifesto for a new revolutionary party.

Student Organizing of Private Schools: Teams of politically literate students must be sent to organize other schools and aid on drugs, draft counseling, abortions and other relevant subjects.

(1) Hold student worshops

(2) Free the Student Union

(3) Expose teachers—but do not antagonize them

(4) Be very tacful.

Junius hesitates to show us any more until he has cleaned up the spelling. And worked out his philosophy along more tactical lines—maybe by our next visit.

“Things are moving too fast to waste time talking.” He goes back to work on the notebook, tense but absorbed. In his hand is a plastic PaperMate pen. When he pauses to think against the moving clock how to build a better revolution, he punches the pen point nervously in and out. Tip-tick. Tip-tick. Unable to sleep or be a Panther, what Junius Jones was shooting last May in New Haven was a ball point pen.

How much time would he have? Before I saw Junius again, I went back to where Panthermania started here and tried to put some pieces together.

The Panther trial opened in New Haven in June and for the first two months stumbled along like a tryout with a cast of unknowns. The stars, Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins, were yet to appear.

“… ‘What if someone finds your notebook?’ we ask. ‘I’ll kill myself,’ he says …”

Abbie Hoffman phoned Junius Jones in early August. His father answered.

“No,” William answered. “My son would definitely not be interested in going to Cuba on a Yippie action.”

When Junius had come home from a rap session at Number Nine, his father had the suitcase packed. They went for a two-week forced holiday to the Jersey shore. The boy’s corners softened. His first year as a preppie had left Junius feeling like a pound of plaster of Paris, stained Oxford brown. Disillusioned with popcorn radicals, he had given up on trying to organize his movement through Massachusetts prep schools. He came home and took the cure at Number Nine for the month of July.

All messed up. Smoking in the crash pad, surrounded again by rich white’ baby-powder baddies, Junius realized he had been taken in as the token black head. He withdrew. The vacation in Jersey actually looked good. Junius took along the great works of twentieth-century philosophy—Nkrumah’s Handbook, Rubin’s Do It, the Constitution of the Communist Party of China and Ray Brown’s Die Nigger Die.

On the Sunday father and son returned, Junius found the round black neighbor women still sitting next door on a tiny cement stoop. Sitting deep in their Sears webbed nylon chairs, still tying bows on their little girls’ pigtails, sitting all day making fun of their men on a piece of the world no bigger than a closet. Junius freaked.

“Everything is based on money. If you can get your thirty thousand a year, eff the other guy. If you can do it, he can do it. But everybody cannot do that. ‘Cause the system is not set up that way.”

The eyes of the round black women scraped up and down Junius like he was a baby carrot.

“Listen heuh, Mistuh Junius Jones,” one neighbor woman said, rocking back on her Sears chair. “There’s one way of tellin’ how much of man a man is. That’s by how much money he makes.”

Junius decided not to waste his breath on the neighbors any more. It was not quite the time. But he did make the decision to forget prep school. They needed him badly in New Haven. He knew it now! His calling was to organize local high schools into a third revolutionary force.

On the last Saturday in August the indefatigable Abbie is back again on the Yale green, playing Fuller Brush Man for the revolution. “How many people are ready to start a Yippie party in New Haven!” he demands. The jury has been out twenty-some hours deliberating the fate of Lonnie McLucas, first of the eight Panthers to be tried for the murder of Alex Rackley.

The crisis potential is high, yet … Abbie is still putting them to sleep. What is it with this town?

Shouts burst forth into the familiar din. Marching down Chapel Street past the courthouse and straight up to the platform of Abbie Hoffman, belligerently, is a ragtag string of high school kids. But their leader is something formidable:

Anthracite eyes blazing out of a black face, his lips curl back to the gum in this terrifying eely smile, or is it a scowl? The kid is wearing tie-dye jeans with a prep-school blazer, so it is hard for Abbie to put it together, but what really catches his eye is the insignia on the kid’s riot helmet. Can it be—and hand-painted, too? The black flag under a red star eclipsed by a big bright green marijuana leaf, yes! The Youth International Party insignia is hand-painted on his riot helmet. This kid is all right.

“Okay, I got 250 Yippie chapters across the country but not an effing one in New Haven, and New Haven’s the hottest effing spot in the country,” Abbie picks up the pitch. “Who’ve I got out there?”

One hand rises. Junius Jones. Under his hand-painted riot helmet, Junius is putting on his crazy act.

“You’re making thousands on the books you write, Abbie. What are you doing with the money?”

“I’m writing a new book. It’s called Steal This Book. Nobody’ll publish it.”

Junius then bombards the speaker with a line of heavy political questions. With a final agitator’s flourish, he demands Abbie Hoffman’s own YIP button. “Now.”

“You want the button now?” Abbie says. He throws it to Junius, who triumphantly hangs it on his prep-school blazer. Perfect. His crazy act, in its first public test, has fooled them all.

Abbie sat down with Junius after the rally. He confided that most Black Panthers don’t like him: “They think I’m a Zionist agent.” But Junius thinks Abbie is a simple bourgeois basket case, a paper Yippie, and over 30 anyway. As a matter of fact, though he doesn’t quite dare to say it to his face, Junius thinks: “Abbie and his buddies are so far out on the left, they come back around on the right and become reactionary. Most of them are adventurists and suicidal maniacs.”

Junius only came to pick up Abbie’s style.

“… Junius is measuring the price of black manhood. He doesn’t plan to die cheaply …”


September. David Parks and I are looking for Junius in a suburban New Haven high school suffering from shell shock over the drug explosion.

“Can you lay some hash on me?” a pale kid of about fourteen asks David. It’s a funny note, because at the same moment, in this standard Greek-Revival-cum-green-lockers suburban high school, filled with yearbook-picture kids, the old school band is whupping up a sports rally in the gym.

Badoom, badoom, bababababababa-BOOM! The big tuba sound is rolling down the hall into the pit of the stomach and hundreds of bleached-jean boys are following girls in valentine-bottom pants and everybody—almost everybody—is tripping over clog sandals to get to the gym. The scene inside is pure 1950s. Bleachers stacked with white faces. Twirlers in Sunoco gold serge and sequins wink pink knees, just above their boots, at the letter sweater boys. And the cheerleaders, all blond and busty, put forth the cupped-lip ideal of Miss Rheingold contestants.

Six black students sit in the bleachers. This is despite the jump in black enrollment to about 150 students this year. Many have enrolled through the busing program. For $500 a black student can commute out of the inner city for an education in white suburban values. But where are they?

“They don’t believe in the sports program,” says one of Junius’ friends, falling into step beside us. “They don’t believe in ______ High School.”

Junius is meeting with potential revolutionaries in the cafeteria. The unaffiliated of 1970 are out front waiting for school buses: the black bus children, standing apart, and the white hippies and heads, personified by two kids sharing an inhalator. A school mother stops to ask them directions. They answer politely, but without missing a sniff of happy powder from the inhalator.

Junius comes from his meeting with an elbow folded around the precious blue notebook. A broad smile escapes him. A little showing off for his New York friends—his blazer, the YIP button, the hobo bandana tied around his denim knee—and the frivolity is over. Junius becomes again the obsessed revolutionary, moving on to the next step.

“Are you glad to be back at ______ High?”

“For one reason.” Junius works up his most ferocious stare. “To blow up the place.”

Nine strong students, that is all Junius needs to form his new party: RYM III, or Revolutionary Youth Movement to the third power (since SDS claims RYM I and II).

“It’s an underground operation,” Junius says. “I want to keep it small so we can split quickly.”

Rain is bursting like water-filled Baggies against the windshield and we are driving home with a boy as desperate to claim his manhood as was John Huggins. Junius has stopped going to the flicks. All propaganda. High school sports, he says, are for token blacks. Dope?

“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.”

Black Against Black: The Agony of Panthermania