The Black Panthers, Yale and the Redemption of a Killer
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A thoughtful work of true crime, recounting a “political execution” and its unanticipated results.

Warren Kimbro wasn’t the likeliest candidate for the job of shooting Alex Rackley in the head back in 1969. Write political scientist Rae (Yale School of Management) and journalist Bass, Kimbro was well known for his work as a counselor to the disaffected young and addicted of New Haven, appreciated by civic leaders and cops as well as community activists. But Kimbro took up the Black Panthers’ revolutionary cause, in part, it seems, to win the heart of a beautiful comrade. Ordered by a dimwitted operative to slay a still more simple-minded wannabe who was suspected of being a police informant—the real informant being elsewhere in the cell—Kimbro complied. It took only a short time to find and arrest him; he confessed quickly and was dispatched to a long term in prison. Meanwhile, the FBI and other federal and state agencies expanded the charges to embrace Panther leader Bobby Seale as the hub around which the conspiracy to murder Rackley turned. Brought to New Haven, lauded as a “model city” for its spending on urban renewal, to stand trial, Seale held every promise of inspiring revolution on the Yale campus and elsewhere. Enter a who’s who of ’60s figures, from a young, conservative Hillary Rodham to lapsed Republican Yale president Kingman Brewster to Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin—to say nothing of the nameless National Guard troops who were promised, “You will not be successfully prosecuted if you shoot someone while performing a duty for the State of Connecticut.” Kimbro testified and Seale fulminated, but New Haven did not burn. The verdict defied expectations then and remains surprising today; so did Kimbro’s fate. Bass and Rae skillfully relate these events, and a narrative interesting from the first paragraph steadily gathers storm force, as befits its era.

A fine study in modern—but largely forgotten—history.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 2006
ISBN: 0-465-06902-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2006