Black Panther Protest

In 1969, due to two end-of-decade events, the nation’s spotlight was aimed on the New Haven, Connecticut, singeing a hole in the Black Panther Party headquarters.

On April 2, 1969, 21 Panther members were arrested and charged with conspiracy to blow up the New York Botanical Gardens and several department stores, and to assassinate police officers. The following month on May 21, the slain body of Alex Rackley, Black Panther Party member, was discovered in a swamp in Middlefield, Connecticut. FBI agents and New Haven Police officials wasted no time and raided the Panther's headquarters, searching for evidence. That same day, eight of the local chapter's members and the party's notorious national chairman, Bobby Seale, were arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy.

A group of Northeastern University students sympathized with the plight of the Black Panthers and wanted to demonstrate their support to the Boston community. In April 1970, the Black Panther Support Group formed on Northeastern’s campus. The organization's mission was to educate students, increasing their understanding of the trials of Bobby Seale, the New York 21, and the Black Panther Party. One of their first actions was to name April 14th Bobby Seale Day. The group also strived to tie Northeastern to its surrounding community by initiating a campaign to provide funds and supplies for a medical center in Roxbury and by proposing to Northeastern’s Student Council to start a hot breakfast program for children in Roxbury and Cambridge.

On the afternoon of April 7, the Black Panther Support Group’s agenda became evident. Carrying “Free the Panthers” signs and chanting revolutionary slogans, 70 Northeastern students marched from Krentzman Quad through downtown Boston to Post Office Square, the city-wide protest’s first meeting point. There, the students were joined by 1,930 other protesters who also wished to demonstrate support for the Black Panthers during the New Haven murder trials.

The crowd of 2,000 stood in Post Office Square listening attentively to Doug Miranda, former chairman of the Boston Black Panther Party, and Artie Seale, wife of Bobby Seale, urging them to take action. Demonstrators then marched to Boston Police Headquarters on Berkeley Street. Boston’s Tactical Police force surrounded the area, and plainclothes officers were in evidence in the midst of the crowd. As the rally culminated at Boston University’s Sherman Union, marchers pledged to continue the struggle.