AGONY IN NEW HAVEN: The Trial of Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins and the Black Panther Party by Donald Freed

AGONY IN NEW HAVEN: The Trial of Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins and the Black Panther Party

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A balanced account of the New Haven trial of Black Panthers Bobby Scale and Ericka Huggins remains to be written. First we had Gall Sheehy (Panthermania, 1971) debunking the revolutionary pretensions of the chief actors, depoliticizing the trial, and turning the killing of Alex Rackley into a bungling ""Amateur Night in New Haven."" Now along comes Freed who does just the opposite, inflating the proceedings to the status of Greek tragedy, bringing the whole epic burden of racism in America to bear on the fate of Bobby and Ericka, the revolutionary prince and princess. As told by Freed it's a melodrama in three acts (The Jury, The Trial, The Verdict) casting Scale and Huggins as Greek daemons locked in the tragic agon. As if that weren't bad enough the trial is also the American counterpart to the Dreyfus Affair, the defense attorney is Clarence Darrow and we are subjected to page after page of Ericka's dreadful poetry. Fully a third of the book is devoted to the selection of the jurors -- an interminable business involving over 1400 persons -- and every one of them who fumbles under cross-examination is nailed by Freed as another white devil eager to lynch the defendants. Everyone connected with the prosecution from DA to judge to J. Edgar Hoover is corrupt; the courtroom seems to have very little to do with the murder of Rackley. Instead, the trial represents ""the revenge of an old order dying,"" the leviathan of racist America bent on destroying its children -- ""the official chambers reek with blood. . . out of the entrails, haft digested crawls the hated future."" Amid all the trumped-up passion it's hard to remember that the trial ended inconclusively -- the charges against the defendants dropped. Indeed, despite Freed's efforts to whip up the Furies, compared to other recent American court room spectaculars -- Lt. Calley, The Chicago 7, the Berrigans -- the New Haven business was both anticlimactic and somewhat pointless.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Simon & Schuster