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Black Panthers

Claim:   Hillary Clinton supported and helped free two Black Panthers accused of torturing and murdering Alex Rackley.

FALSE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 1999]

Scream, America, When You've Had Enough

Back in 1969 a group of Black Panthers decided that a Black man named Alex Rackley needed to die. Rackley was a fellow Panther suspected of disloyalty.

Rackley was first tied to a chair. Safely immobilized his "friends" tortured him for hours by, among other things, pouring boiling water on him.

When they got tired of torturing Rackley Black Panther member Warren Kimbro took Mr. Rackley's outside and put a bullet in his head. Rackley's body was found floating in a river about 25 miles north of New Haven, Conn.

Maybe at this point you're curious as to what happened to these Black Panthers. Well, in 1977, that's only eight years later, only one of the killers was still in jail. The shooter, Warren Kimbro, managed to get a scholarship to Harvard. He later became an assistant dean at Eastern Connecticut State College.

Isn't that something? As a 60's radical you can pump a bullet into someone's head, and years later, in the same State, you can be an assistant college dean! Only in America!

Ericka Huggins was the lady who served the Panthers by boiling the water for Mr. Rackley's torture. Some years later Ms. Huggins was elected to a California school board.

How in the world do you think that these killers got off so easy? Well, maybe it was in some part due to the efforts of two people who came to the defense of the Panthers. These two people actually went so far as to shut down Yale University with demonstrations in defense of the accused Black Panthers during their trial. One of those people was none other than Bill Lan Lee. Mr. Lee, or Mr. Lan Lee as the case may be, isn't a college dean. He isn't a member of a California school board. He is the head of the U.S. Justice Departments Civil Rights Division. Lee is serving in that capacity, illegally, by the way, but that's another story — another part of the Clinton saga of ignoring the rule of law.

O.K., so who was the other Panther defender? Is this other notable Panther defender now a school board member? Is this other Panther apologist now an assistant college dean?

Nope, neither. The other Panther defender was, like Lee, a radical law student at Yale University at that time. She is now known as The Smartest Woman in the World. She is none other than the unofficial Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from the State of New York — our lovely First Lady, the incredible Hillary Rodham Clinton.
 

Origins:   It's difficult for those who weren't around to experience the 1960s first-hand to fully understand the controversy that swirled around radical parties such as the Black Panthers. Certainly many Americans viewed them as representing the very worst of that era's political movements: a group of hate-filled militant thugs who felt their disaffection with the existing social and political systems justified anything required to achieve their aim of "revolution by any means necessary" (such as smuggling guns into a Marin County courtroom in an attempt to free Panther George Jackson, resulting in a shoot-out that killed a judge, two
inmates, and Jackson's brother). Others at the time, however, believed the Panthers were the only political group that truly represented a downtrodden and marginalized group of people who had been enslaved, discriminated against, and denied civil rights protections for hundreds of years; that sought to improve the condition of the poor by operating schools, opening medical clinics, and providing free breakfasts for ghetto children; and that had the courage to stand up to the brutality visited upon them by law enforcement acting in the service of a government and a society that sought to "keep them in their place."

In May of 1969, Black Panther founder and national chairman Bobby Seale (who had already been indicted for his alleged participation in demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968) made a trip from Oakland to New Haven, Connecticut, to speak at Yale University. The Black Panthers were by then nationally known, a focus of media attention, and under the active surveillance of the FBI. (J. Edgar Hoover had publicly declared several months earlier that he considered the Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.") Rumors of police informants and government spies having infiltrated the party were rampant, and a man named Alex Rackley, a member of the Panthers' New York chapter, fell under suspicion. Rackley was taken to the home of Warren Kimbro (described as a "community organizer and aspiring Panther") where he was held captive for 24 hours, beaten, and scalded with boiling water in an effort to force him to confess. Rackley was then taken to a marsh in Middlefield by Kimbro, George Sams (a Panther field marshal and, according to some, himself a police informant), and Lonnie McLucas (a Panther member from Bridgeport), where Sams ordered Kimbro and McLucas to kill the suspected informant. (Who did the actual killing has always been disputed: McLucas reportedly fired the first shot, but Kimbro admitted to delivering the bullet to the head that killed Rackley.) Rackley's body was discovered the next day by fishermen, and fourteen Black Panthers were arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy, and nine of them were indicted.

The subsequent murder trials of Black Panthers that took place in New Haven beginning in 1970 was a cause célèbre, the latest "trial of the century" that pitted the "establishment" against the "radicals": the former supposedly valiantly defending the values of mainstream American society, while the latter were supposedly being framed and railroaded by government powers determined to destroy them at any cost. Upwards of 12,000 Black Panther supporters made their way to New Haven, and many of them were housed and fed in and around the campus of Yale University. Classes at Yale were made optional for the last few months of the term as Panther supporters swarmed the campus in protest and the president of Yale University, Kingman Brewster Jr., announced: "I personally want to say that I'm appalled and ashamed that things should have come to such a pass that I am skeptical of the ability of Black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the U.S."

From that maelstrom came the 1999 political piece reproduced above, which claims that two 1990's political figures, Hillary Clinton (then First Lady) and Bill Lann Lee (former acting head of the Justice Department's civil rights division whose appointment by President Bill Clinton was controversial because of Lee's support for affirmative action programs), defended the Black Panthers, helped "shut down" Yale University, and aided the accused Panthers in going free or serving lenient sentences. But all of that is gross exaggeration: neither Clinton nor Lee did any of those things, and any involvement they had with the New Haven Black Panther trials was extremely minor and tangential.

We'll begin with the last part, the claim that "These two people actually went so far as to shut down Yale University with demonstrations in defense of the accused Black Panthers during their trial." This statement is ridiculously far-fetched: Yale University went to a "voluntarily optional" class schedule (it did not "shut down") for a few months at the end of the term in mid-1970 because thousands of Black Panther protesters had flooded the campus and its environs, not because of anything Hillary Clinton or Bill Lee did. And while the Panthers made have found many sympathetic supporters among the student body at Yale, neither Hillary Clinton or Bill Lee led or participated in student demonstrations in support of the Black Panthers, or spoke up in their defense.

The above-quoted article also asks "How in the world do you think that these killers got off so easy? Well, maybe it was in some part due to the efforts of two people who came to the defense of the Panthers." But neither Bill Lee nor Hillary Clinton "defended" the Panthers, either in a public or a legal sense. Bill Lee wasn't a lawyer, or even a law student; he was simply another Yale undergraduate who had no involvement in the Black Panthers' trial. Hillary Rodham (as she was known then) wasn't a lawyer then, either: She was a Yale law student, and like many of her politically-minded fellow law students who saw the latest "trial of the century" taking place just outside the main gate of their school, she took advantage of an opportunity to be involved in the case in a minor, peripheral way by organizing other students to help the American Civil Liberties Union monitor the trials for civil rights violations. Her tangential participation in the trial in no way helped "free" Black Panthers tried for the murder of Alex Rackley

In fact, the killers of Alex Rackley didn't "go free": Lonnie McLucas was was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to twelve to fifteen years in prison, and Warren Kimbro and George Sams turned state's evidence and pleaded guilty to second degree murder, serving four years in prison. Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins (who were accused not of killing Rackley, but of being present during his captivity and boiling water to torture him with) went free not due to any efforts on the part of Hillary Clinton or Bill Lee, but because the state failed to sufficiently prove its case against them: the jury deadlocked in favor of acquittal for both defendants, and the trial judge dismissed the charges against both of them. And, of course, neither Hillary Clinton nor Bill Lee had anything to do with the post-trial lives of Seale and Huggins.

Last updated:   1 January 2014

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Sources:

    Brock, David.   The Seduction of Hillary Rodham.
    New York: Free Press, 1996.   ISBN 0-684-83451-0   (pp. 30-35).

    Claiborne, William.   "Brewster: From Yale to the Court of St. James's."
    The Washington Post.   8 April 1977   (p. B1).

    Elvin, John.   "Hillary Hides Her Panther Fling."
    Insight.   31 July 2000.

    Freed, Daniel.   Agony in New Haven.
    New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.

    McCaslin, John.   "Hillary for the Defense."
    The Washington Times.   12 June 1998.

    Rierden, Andi.   "Once a Black Panther, Always a Cause."
    The New York Times.   22 November 1992   (p. CN1).

    West, Diana.   "The '60s Strike Back."
    The Washington Times.   5 February 1999.

    Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
      "Former Black Panthers Who Have Turned to Higher Education."
    31 October 1998   (p. 62).