In 1970, a polarising trial in New Haven captured the attention of the nation, including the Yale president, Kingman Brewster, who said at the time: “I am appalled and ashamed that things should have come to such a pass in this country that I am skeptical of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States.”
The New Haven Nine, as they were known, were Black Panthers accused of murdering another member, Alex Rackley, a suspected FBI informant. The group – which included co-founder Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins – was on trial for over a year, which exacerbated racial tensions in the US leading to protests.
Seale and Huggins were acquitted, along with four others and 50 years on, Artspace New Haven has been inspired to create a new group exhibition exploring a difficult time.
“The prompt was, ‘How have the events of 50 years ago inspired you today, and what does it look like today to be a part of a liberation movement?’” says Artspace New Haven’s executive director, Lisa Dent, of Revolution On Trial: May Day and The People’s Art, New Haven’s Black Panthers @ 50. “There’s also talk about the need for artists and the idea to reveal the joy in liberation, and what that looks like.”
Co-curated by La Tanya S Autry and Sarah Fritchey, the exhibition traces the fight for racial justice over the past half-century, leading us to now, as Black Lives Matter protests have stormed the country, fighting back against police brutality since the killing of George Floyd in May. “A lot of black curators are thinking about other moments of liberation, action and protest,” says Dent. “It made us understand how timely it could be.”