‘Bulldog and Panther’ exhibition explores legacy of May Day rally

Photos: 'Bulldog and Panther: The 1970 May Day Rally and Yale"

A New Haven Black Panther Party member among a crowd of approximately 1,500 attendees at a rally in Woolsey Hall. (Photo by John T. Hill)
Two young men wearing "Human Rights Not Violence" tags at a May Day rally on the New Haven Green. (Photo by John T. Hill)
Social activist and Chicago Seven defendant Jerry Rubin speaking at the May Day rally on the New Haven Green.
Burned and water-drenched books from the Law School library spread out on a High Street sidewalk following a suspicious fire. (Photo by Alan Waggoner)
“Free Bobby” tear-out poster from the Plain Dealer, a Philadelphia underground newspaper, advertising bus transportation to the New Haven May Day rally.
The front cover of State of Connecticut vs. New Haven 9 newspaper.
The front cover of a May Day New Haven newspaper.
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A new exhibition at the Yale University Library highlights the impact of the Black Panther Party (BPP) on Yale and New Haven.

Titled “Bulldog and Panther: The 1970 May Day Rally and Yale,” the exhibition is on view through May 16, in the Memorabilia Room of Sterling Memorial Library, 120 High St.

On May 19, 1969, Black Panther Party member Alex Rackley was kidnapped and killed in New Haven by other BPP members who suspected that he was an FBI informant. The defendants — dubbed the “New Haven Nine” — included Bobby Seale, chair of the national BPP, who had delivered a speech at Yale on the day of the murder.

The May Day Rally protesting the murder trial of the “New Haven Nine” took place the weekend of May 1-3, 1970 on the New Haven Green.

Normal academic activities were suspended so that Yale students, faculty, and staff could assist in preparing the campus for the rally. Throughout the weekend, the university offered shelter, food, day care, and first aid to demonstrators. Approximately 15,000 people attended the first day of the rallies without significant disruption or disorder. Fewer demonstrators participated during the subsequent rallies, and academic activities resumed by Monday, May 4.

The “Bulldog and Panther” exhibition was curated by Sarah Schmidt, head of printed acquisitions at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and Bill Landis, head of public services for Manuscripts and Archives. 

In conjunction with the exhibition, Pierson College will host a master’s tea on Wednesday, Feb. 26, featuring Kathleen Cleaver ’84 B.A., ’89 J.D., a senior lecturer in the African American Studies Department at Yale. Cleaver served as the communications secretary for the Black Panther Party. The discussion will take place 4-5:30 p.m. at the Pierson College master’s house, 231 Park St.

Also on Feb. 26, Yale historian Beverly Gage ’94 B.A. will moderate “A Conversation on the Black Panthers and the FBI” with Cleaver and panelists Ann Froines and John Williams. The event will take place 7:30-9:30 p.m. in the Sterling Memorial Library lecture hall, 120 High St. 

Froines is a retired professor of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She was the founding member of the United Front for Panther Defense, and an organizer of the New Haven May Day Rally.

John R. Williams is a New Haven attorney and legal activist who represented several “New Haven Nine” defendants. He also successfully prosecuted the New Haven Wiretap Litigation class action suit against local police and the FBI for illegally wiretapping nearly 1,000 people for over a decade during the late 1960s and 1970s.

The events, co-sponsored by Yale University Library and Pierson College, are free and open to the public.