Courtroom sketches of the dramatic Black Panthers murder trial 35 years ago are coming home to New Haven.
About 20 drawings by Robert Templeton have been acquired by Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Templeton, whose work includes landscapes, illustrations and portraits of prominent Americans, died in 1991. His widow, Leonore Templeton, says Yale wanted the drawings.
“It’s an important part of history and also because the trial was based in New Haven, it’s really part of New Haven history,” she says.
Members of the Black Panther Party, including founder Bobby Seale, were tried in 1971 for the murder of a suspected police informant.
“Certainly, we’re interested in this as the only visual representation of this historic trial,” says Nancy Kuhl, assistant curator of the American Literature Collection at the Beinecke library.
The collection adds to the library’s growing African-American arts and letters collection.
Kuhl says the collection, which is being catalogued, was purchased from Leonore Templeton. The curator would not disclose the price.
The sketches are available for research by scholars and students. A first-ever exhibition of the sketches is scheduled for February, Kuhl says.
The New Haven trial stemmed from the killing of Alex Rackley, a member of a civil-rights group who was suspected by Black Panthers of being a police informant.
Bobby Seale, Warren Kimbro, George Sams and Ericka Huggins were charged with torturing and fatally shooting Rackley before dumping his body in a river about 25 miles north of New Haven.
The case ultimately resulted in a hung jury and the charges were dismissed against the four primary defendants.
Even before the trial, Seale and the Black Panthers gained national attention when eight members of the group were charged with plotting to violently disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Templeton says her husband, who painted portraits of civil rights leaders such as Rosa Parks and Atlanta Journal Constitution publisher Ralph McGill, remained neutral during the trial.
“He was really there to witness, not to have opinions,” she says.
— Associated Press
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