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Superior Courthouse - Black Panther Trials

The Black Panther Party was an activist group that began in 1966 in Oakland, California. Their goal was to change how Black people were being treated in America, especially by police. There were Black Panther Party chapters throughout the country, including one in New Haven. In New Haven, some of the Black Panthers’ activities included clothing drives, breakfast programs, and protesting against the building of a highway that would cut through a low-income predominantly Black community in New Haven. The FBI, however, claimed the Black Panthers were a threat. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover said in 1968 that the Black Panther Party was “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” The FBI was known to have informants within the Black Panther Party to disrupt their work.

Alex Rackley, a 19-year old member of the Black Panthers was a suspected informant. In 1969, he was interrogated and tortured in New Haven, in the basement of the Ethan Gardens co-op apartment complex on Orchard Street in New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood. Eventually, he was killed by some of the Black Panther Party members. Warren Kimbro, Lonnie McLucas, and George Sams pleaded guilty and served time for this murder. 

One of the leaders of the Black Panthers, Bobby Seale, was visiting New Haven at the time, speaking to the Yale Black Ensemble Theater Company. Despite not being present for the murder of Rackley, he was charged for the crime. Ericka Huggins, leader of the New Haven chapter, was also put on trial as her voice was on the interrogation tape of Alex Rackley, though she was not present at the murder. 

Bobby and Ericka’s trial had many complications, and throughout it all they were locked up. It took four months to put together a jury, and after a long trial the jury was deadlocked, unable to reach a consensus. During the course of the trial, there were massive protests in New Haven. Tens of thousands of Panthers-supporters showed up to New Haven, and New Haven residents took to the streets. On May 1, 1970 -- May Day -- there was a historic rally in New Haven standing with the Black Panthers and standing up against racism. Make sure you check out the amazing photos from this day, which can be found online.

Instead of a retrial, the judge dismissed charges on Erika and Bobby. In his decision not to retry the case, Judge Harold Mulvey stated: “With the massive publicity attendant upon the trial just completed, I find it impossible to believe that an unbiased jury could be selected without superhuman efforts, efforts which this court, the state and these defendants should not be called upon either to make or endure.”

A Peoples' History of the Hill
  1. The Hill Intro
  2. Long Wharf
  3. Directions to Jackson Newspaper Protest Site
  4. Jackson Newspaper Protest
  5. Directions to Trowbridge Square Park
  6. Trowbridge Square Park
  7. Directions to Evergreen Cemetery
  8. Evergreen Cemetery
  9. Directions to Lee High School
  10. Lee High School
  11. Directions to Oak Street Connector
  12. Oak Street Connector
  13. Directions to Temple Street Congregational Church
  14. Temple Street Congregational Church
  15. Directions to the Green (Columbus Day Protests)
  16. Columbus Day Protests
  17. UPDATE: Columbus Protest Victories
  18. Directions to the Green (Occupy Movement)
  19. Occupy Wall Street Movement
  20. Directions to the Green (CT Students for a Dream)
  21. C4D Dream Summit on the Green
  22. Directions to Amistad Memorial
  23. Amistad Memorial
  24. Directions to City Hall
  25. City Hall - Elm City Resident Card
  26. Directions to New Guinea
  27. New Guinea
  28. Directions to Superior Courthouse
  29. Superior Courthouse - Black Panther Trials
  30. Stay at the Courthouse
  31. Superior Courthouse - Support for Corey Menafee
  32. Directions Back to Trowbridge Square Park or Long Wharf
  33. End of the Hill Tour