Boethius, De Sade, Black Panthers, New Haven Trials

A friend was writing to me about the “Boethius” poem. He didn’t get the reference to “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” in the title “The Insufferable Lucidity of Boethius” (see my previous posting) and like most people was unfamiliar with Boethius’s Consolations of Philosophy, a book he wrote while imprisoned awaiting trial. Boethius was one of the last generations of classically educated intellectuals as the Roman Empire collapsed in Italy. He served the Gothic King Theodoric. Theodoric wanted to maintain the Roman culture and traditions and encouraged the Roman elites to stay in governmental service. Boethius was one of the classical writers whose writings remained available in Europe in the so called Dark Ages, and was read by scholars and clergy all through the Medieval period. I pun on the title throughout the poem, throwing in the imagery of Justine, the innocent heroine of the De Sade novel of the same name who was defamed and deflowered constantly in De Sade’s condemnation of false virtue in a world of corruption, advocating libertine free love and women’s emancipation as the only appropriate response to the overturning of traditional values in the revolutionary Eighteenth Century. His La Philosophie dans le boudoir, thus becomes the new consolation for a new age. And thus his advocacy of the libertine life also represented by his character Juliette, is the response that will turn a ravaged innocent into a competent sexual navigator of the modern era. I have compressed this into a few stanzas in my rhyming romp, with a tip of the hat to Plato’s bat cave, Homer’s Odysseus and the Cyclops, turned into a phallic image in good De Sade tradition.

My friend was also curious about the term “traducer” which I told him was a word for a liar and deceiver, another name for the devil, which I had picked up from reading the Black Panther Newspaper as a youth when I distributed it in high school. My friend associated it with snitches. I hadn’t specifically been thinking of ‘traducer” as snitch, but when I was a kid involved with the Panthers in Connecticut, one of them was on trial in New Haven for killing a guy and the inside dope we were told* was that the guy the Panthers had killed, Alex Rackley was a snitch or a police agent/informer (see New Haven Independent link to tape recording of confession by Rackley to New Haven Panthers). We were supposed to basically just push the Panther line that the whole thing was a police frame up. It would be the best way to mount an effective defense for defendants Lonnie McLucas, Bobby Seal and Ericka Huggins, and to maintain support among white liberals who at that point did not understand the open war between the Panthers and the government. This was before the CONTEPRO files had been discovered by a radical group breaking into an FBI office in Pennsylvania (Panther Trials New Haven, Wikipedia).

Tom Wolfe wrote a book Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flack Catchers that describes some of this, but he was an outsider looking in, specifically critical of white liberal faddism, writing about a party at Leonard Bernstein’s place in Manhattan. The Panthers didn’t appreciate Wolfe’ s original article from which part of the book was based, and this is quoted from a Time magazine article in a Wikipedia entry “a minister of the Black Panthers…said of Wolfe: ‘You mean that dirty, blatant, lying, racist dog who wrote that fascist disgusting thing in New York magazine?” (qtd. in Radical Chic, Wikipedia).

Interesting reading these links. because they all have slightly different takes on what happened. Epstein’s original article is the closest to the actual cases, with the other two being written much later. There are obvious errors and I wonder which version is closest to the facts. I was there, but as a kid and part of a group, A.I.M. (American Independent Movement based in New Haven and Bridgeport, CT) that was supportive of the Panthers. I had copies of the Panther’s version in their paper which I sold in my high school. I was in and out of the day to day activities of AIM and the trials. Since I was ostensibly still just a high school student and lived in Monroe, CT, which was an hour away hitching from New Haven where the trials took place, less time if you had your own car, which I didn’t, but I organized car pools to go to the trials and often would have a couple of car loads of kids. We would demonstrate outside the courtroom and attend the trials and help organize fundraisers etc.

Another interesting aspect is the involvement of a young Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was a law student at Yale and organized a group to monitor the trials for the ACLU. I might have actually met her because we would sit in the courtroom and monitor the proceedings of the trials at the same time (Black Panthers and Hillary, Snopes.com).

Link to Epstein article on Panther trials

http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/archived/panthers2.htm

Wikipedia article on Panther Trials

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Haven_Black_Panther_trials

Yale teachers curriculum article about Panther Trials

http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1978/2/78.02.09.x.html

See volume #7 pdf articles on Connecticut Arrests in link below

http://www.itsabouttimebpp.com/BPP_Newspapers/bpp_newspapers_index.html

Summary of an article about AIM in the context of Feminism in Connecticut.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/radical_history_review/v081/81.1kesselman.pdf

Wikipedia article on Tom Wolfe’s book

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_Chic_%26_Mau-Mauing_the_Flak_Catchers

Original article by Wolfe in New York Magazine

http://nymag.com/news/features/46170/

Supposed confession of the police informer recorded by New Haven Black Panthers

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/rackley_trial_tape_surfaces/

Summary of Hillary Rodham Clinton involvement.

http://www.snopes.com/politics/clintons/panthers.asp

*’Told’ is a strong word, the rumor was around through the grapevine and at that point the Panthers were considered to be the leaders, they were taking the brunt of the heat from the cops. They were getting killed. Nobody knew who did what, we had no access to police records, the Black Panthers themselves certainly didn’t tell us. There was no official meeting in a secret hideaway. Somebody must have talked to somebody, or more likely since our group ran a print shop and we printed most of the alternative press in the region, someone had access to the police and got tipped off. We, at least those of us who were younger, teenagers, wanted to see things in black and white. Panthers good, cops bad. Anti-war movement good, Nixon and his minions bad. Mao good, Stalin bad, pot and acid good, heroin and speed bad and so forth.

What I knew about from real research when I was fifteen, well, not much, I listened to a lot of rock, got my hands on drugs when I could, read scifi, drug literature like Leary, a rather academic tome The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience, written by Robert Masters and Jean Houston, Huxley’s Doors of Perception, his fiction, Orwell, Catcher in the Rye, the beat poets, the underground press, and lots of underground comics, I loved R. Crumb. I had an interest in education theory so I read books like A.S. Neil’s Summerhill, and George Leonard’s Education and Ecstacy, as well as the popular psychology of the day. I read some spiritual literature like The Tibetan Book of the Dead and I had from fifth grade until seventh grade kept a very full scrapbook of all the articles I could get my hands on about the war in Vietnam. It started as a school project and I just kept at it. It was how I started reading the New York Times.

I had a copy of Chairman Mao’s Quotations from Chairman Mao, popularly called “The Little Red Book,” but I mostly skimmed through it. I had carried a copy of Plato’s Republic around all year in eight grade but never finished it. Mostly we got our information through the grapevine, personal communication with the older members of the group who had been to college, they led classes on feminism, Marxism, as well as partying with us where we would get stoned and rap. They also made sure those of us who were younger could not get our hands on the ‘good acid.’ It was a constant source of irritation, I in particular would nag them and they would give me some weaker drug like THC, which really was probably just ground up tranquilizers. But we could smoke all the pot and drink wine as long as we didn’t get to drunk. My high school buddies always wanted to tag along just for the free drugs, but I screened most of them out. Only potential recruits could enter the hallowed halls.

Teachers in school for the most part were divided into two camps, the pro-war and the anti-war, just like the rest of society circa 1970. Sometimes I wonder why we accepted the idea of killing an informer so complacently. But we felt we were in a war. Kent State simply confirmed our expectations, the system was brutal and would grind up any resistance. I experienced almost daily police harassment so it just seemed like the order of things. You took a side and hoped your side would prevail.

Once the war ended, the whole movement collapsed, we no longer had a concrete visible enemy, the threat of the draft and a miserable death in Vietnam had vanished and so did the movement. What was left was a scraggly counter-culture that quickly lost its idealism and became the druggie scene. The remnants of the left fragmented, a lot of people like myself moved to the country, in my case to live on a spiritual commune and finish school. Something I never did because of the newest wave of counter-culture punk…for that I was something of a trend setter, I was an elder of the movement by then, in my mid twenties, and did my best to steer it in a radical political direction, by then an Anarchist one. Still a dreamer. It wasn’t until the second Reagan administration, that I gave up and got a steady job at age thirty, I guess there is an irony in there somewhere.

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