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Yale, New Haven, and the Panthers

I was fascinated by “The Panther and the Bulldog” (July/August), the cover story by Paul Bass and Doug Rae about May Day 1970. As a graduate student in chemistry in the spring of 1970, I was assigned to “protect” the newly inaugurated freshman women’s housing in Vanderbilt Hall, in anticipation of the mob’s using Chapel as their primary route. Horace Wilkins '72 and Earle Matory '72, two of the largest, yet gentlest, football players I have ever encountered, were assigned to help me. We had been told that President Brewster had ordered the campus opened to all, and that we were to treat the newly arrived as guests.

It was a brilliant strategy! The “guests” treated the campus respectfully, and we encountered none of the vitriol, threats of violence, or destructive anger reported by Bass and Rae. Over the years, I have looked back on President Brewster’s approach and incorporated it into my own decision-making process. I have never been disappointed with the results of being inclusive, considering a potential opponent’s point of view, or attempting, at least at first, to be conciliatory.

By the way, when Yale offered to feed the masses, there was no granola (my memory), as reported in the article. There was half-cooked brown rice and not-very-fresh lettuce. I can still remember the taste!

As a January 1970 graduate of Yale Law School and an aide to New Haven Police Chief James F. Ahern at the time, I have found most accounts of May Day 1970 to be disappointing. I was delighted to find that Paul Bass and Doug Rae pretty much got it right. I was impressed, for example, by the nuanced and careful way the writers capture the tensions that emerged among the many groups.

They recognized the critical role that Ahern played in reining in the hawks, including some in high places, and refusing to respond to provocation. It was not by accident that there were only 21 arrests in all of New Haven that day. And while many others deserve credit as well, it was primarily Ahern’s repeated emphatic orders to police supervisors to minimize arrests and the use of force that averted confrontation and escalation that yielded that result.

However, if there were “tanks” on New Haven streets, I never heard of them—and I was in the police command post all day. The heaviest armament actually deployed to my knowledge were vaguely military-looking State Police armored cars. What the federal authorities had in reserve may have been another story.

You give the impression that the New Haven Panthers enjoyed marginal community support. My experience is quite different. In fact, the core of the Black Panther Party’s program was community service.

In October 1969, I was an architecture student sharing a house in the Hill district. My housemate, David Lippman '67, '71MD, and I were concerned with the rough treatment the Panthers were getting, and I was wondering what we could do to help. “Well,” he suggested, “the Panthers are right down the block. Why don’t you knock on the door and ask?”

I got up off the couch and did so, offering my van and the early morning hours before classes. The Panthers eyed me with suspicion, and then accepted my help. I picked up a van full of kids from the neighborhood, took them to a church basement for breakfast, and dropped them off at school. My van was always crowded, and we served breakfast to a church basement full of kids every school day.

One morning, a Panther handed me a 16mm Bolex camera, and asked me to film the breakfast program. “You are the media minister,” he said. I made several short films for the Panthers, screening them at Linsly-Chittenden before Yale Film Society movies. “Big Man” and other Panthers passed the hat, and Yale students gave generously. This was not “Panthermania.”

The Panther and the Bulldog” was utterly fascinating for myriad reasons, not the least of which was that I read it the day the news broke about the averted terrorist attacks that were to have destroyed as many as ten airplanes (to say nothing of thousands of lives) en route from London to New York. While I imagine that I am not alone in my by now subconsciously constant assumption that the world has never been a more frightening place, what ultimately stayed with me after reading the article was how many of my assumptions about change and difference need to be continually reconsidered and challenged.

The old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” kept recurring to me as I learned that even Yale and Harvard were not immune to the enormous societal upheavals taking place in the United States during the Vietnam era. Prior to reading this story I had assumed that such messy situations occurred only at places like Kent State and Berkeley. But the biggest shift that seems to have taken place in this country since those more innocent days (and who would have thought then that such an epoch would ever be called “innocent"?) is the presently intractable and downright mean “hard line” that currently exists between those on the right and left of any given issue. The image of Jerry Rubin benignly socializing with Kingman Brewster at the Yale president’s home, and then leading riled-up crowds in shouting “F--k Kingman Brewster!” only hours later, was stunning. The episode as recounted in the article made me proud of Yale’s history, even as it cautioned me to remember that virtually every situation is rarely what it appears to be at first glance.

Perhaps reencountering such a piece of history can remind us, as members of a nation, a religious body, or even a family, that working in concert with those we have profound differences with is not only possible but really quite effective.

On the night of May 1, 1970, the West Haven Veterans Administration Hospital was prepared to treat mass casualties as a result of expected rioting during the protests surrounding the Black Panther murder trial. As a junior assistant resident in internal medicine at Yale, I was on duty as the officer of the day at the hospital. The staff had been told to use the stairs during the night in order to leave the elevators ready for transporting the wounded. It was a great relief to receive only one patient that night—a lady who had been bitten by her neighbor’s dog.


Restore the Hillman award

The news story “Not So Fast, Professor (Light and Verity, July/August) describes the decision by the Sidney Hillman Foundation to rescind an award it was about to present last May to professors Ian Shapiro '83PhD, '87JD, and Michael Graetz for their book, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth. Sidney Hillman, the great union organizer, would not have approved of the foundation’s action—and neither do I.

I have been a strong supporter of labor unions since my early teens, when, in my home town of Skagway, Alaska, I began working during my summers as a longshoreman on the docks and then as a section hand on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. When I had an opportunity to serve during my second year in graduate school as an intern in Washington, D.C., I chose to do so for the embattled National Labor Relations Board. My late wife, Mary, followed her year as an intern for the NLRB to serve as the social director of Local 91 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

I cite this background because I believe I am highly qualified to speak about Shapiro’s beliefs about trade unions. I have known Ian ever since he was a graduate student at Yale and later as a colleague and friend. I can say with 100 percent confidence that the charge that he is or was at any time hostile to unions, the American trade union movement, or to the efforts of Yale graduate students in the 1990s to form a union is utterly false.

When Shapiro was director of graduate studies in the political science department during that period, he made clear that graduate students had the right to form a union if, on careful reflection, they indicated that this was their choice and gained student support through a properly conducted election. As it turned out, a majority of graduate students in the department voted against unionization.

The one-time graduate students who favored unionization and who now wish to place blame on Shapiro for their failure should perhaps look back to their own serious misreading of the attitude of their fellow students. These individuals have misled the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which should restore the award it made to Ian Shapiro and Michael J. Graetz.

You refer to Sidney Hillman as having been a union organizer. He was indeed, but it would have been more helpful to your readers to have identified him as the long-time (1914-1946) president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers union and one of the most politically influential labor leaders in the New Deal period. That’s why a foundation is named for him. The story goes that when Roosevelt was considering dumping Henry Wallace as vice president in 1944, he was presented with Truman’s name as an alternative. Roosevelt’s response: “Clear it with Sidney.”


Why not Peru?

While we could invoke the international precedent of the British Museum’s refusal to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece, the controversy with Peru over the return of Hiram Bingham’s finding unexpectedly opens up a new way for Yale to serve mankind by setting off a chain of rectifications (Light and Verity, January/February).

Simply agree to give Peru what it wants if it, in advance, will return to Spain the land they stole from it, and have Spain return to the Incas the land, the gold, and the artifacts Pizarro stole from them, and get the Incas to return the land they stole from their predecessors, ad infinitum. As a bargaining point we could suggest that Peru pay Yale a royalty on the tourist income they derived from showing off Machu Picchu since Bingham unveiled it.

Yale need not be totally unselfish in this negotiation, since it could add “et Aequitas” to its “Lux et Veritas.” Think of the research grants possible for the new field.


Another story in the stones

The interesting article about the Grove Street Cemetery,Stories in the Stones,” in the May/June issue, reminded me of my own experience in 1954. Three of us, all graduate students in geology, noticed that some of the thinner marble headstones were bent, and while deeply engrossed in measuring the angles of bending late one warm spring evening, we lost track of the lateness of the hour and found ourselves locked in the cemetery. We were forced to climb over the back wall in order to get back to the Hall of Graduate Studies in time for a late supper. For anyone interested, the results of our measurements, “The Unusual Bending of Some Marble Headstones,” appeared in the American Journal of Science in February 1956.


More memories of Coffin

Mention of Chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. and the first recipient of the scholarship named for him (Milestones, May/June) brought to mind a memorable night I spent in the D.C. jail with Coffin and 134 others in May 1972. We were a contingent of the group Clergy and Laity Concerned who were arrested for sitting in the Capitol rotunda past closing hours during an edgy period when President Nixon was in China. We were fingerprinted and handcuffed, jailed four to a cell, and held until next morning when we pled nolo contendere, paid our $25 fine, and were released.

What made the night memorable was Bill Coffin leading the whole prison from his own cell, in singing hymns like “A Mighty Fortress”—hymns meant to be sung in jail, I think. His death on April 12 brought grief but pride in him as I thought of his leadership all these years.

Edwin Rockefeller’s letter (July/August) attacking William Sloane Coffin was unfair. Rockefeller charged Coffin with twice sending Russians to their death in the Soviet Union. The incidents occurred during Coffin’s service in the military and CIA. Then in his twenties, Coffin was hardly the architect of these flawed government initiatives. Coffin himself regretted his involvement, but at least he drew the proper conclusions and made personal moral action in the face of government and societal opposition his life’s work.


Shakespeare’s second-best bed

I enjoyed your article on Shakespeare’s will in the July/August issue. When I was studying law at Oxford in the mid-1970s, a lecturer gave the following real-estate perspective on the second-best bed. Real property (land and the house) passed to the heir and could not be given away or sold. Some personal property such as the deed to the real estate fell into the same category (as you would not want the land without the deed). In Warwickshire, the custom was that the best bed “ran with” the land and so there was no more point in leaving the best bed to someone in your will than in leaving the land. The law took care of that for you.

Shakespeare’s famous bequest of his second-best bed is indeed curious. More curious, however, is what’s not in his will. There’s no mention of a book, a letter, or a manuscript. Surely the Bard of Avon must have owned many books; libraries didn’t exist. There’s also no bequest to the Stratford Grammar School, where most biographers assert Shakespeare received a fine education. In fact, there’s no evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford ever attended any school. And though the scholar Stephen Greenblatt has noted the playwright’s frequent depiction of educated women reading books, it’s curious that Shakespeare of Stratford didn’t bother to see to it that his two daughters learn to read and write.



I was appalled by the excuses that “Whose Skull and Bones?” (Notebook, May/June) made for the members of the Skull and Bones society who allegedly stole the bones of Chiricahua Apache hero Geronimo. The article implied that the men’s actions were acceptable given the morals of the day and forgivable given their later service to the United States military.

If the legend is true, the men are graverobbers. They desecrated the burial place of a warrior who fought valiantly for his people.

If they had raped a woman, would they be forgiven based on their high standing in society and the morals of the day? If they murdered someone, would military service atone for their crime? If they had unearthed the bones of one of the 14 former Yale presidents buried in the Grove Street Cemetery, honored in the very same issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, would their behavior be acceptable? If the Bush family had not been involved, would the article’s tone be different?

The authors could have used those paragraphs to describe the tragedy of the disinterrment of Native American graves. They could have described the laws intended to address the problem, such as the Native American Graves Protections and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). They could have mentioned any efforts Yale and its affiliated museums are making to adhere to NAGPRA. Instead, they chose to excuse the acts of prominent alumni.



In Letters (July/August), we misspelled Paul A. Rubinstein’s name. We apologize for the error.



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