Updated March 6th: This morning the National Archives sent me five links to digitized case file from the FBI New Haven office on the Black Panther Party, including field reports on Hartford (and other cities in Connecticut). The file code is 157-NH-1079, and at first glance it appears to cover surveillance activities from 1969 to 1972. Under the terms of the FOIA request, some names and details are redacted, and not all of the original materials were publicly released. While I have not read through the files, a typical entry that caught my attention (which mentions Trinity College) looks like this:
Each of the five links below points to about 300+ pages of the entire set. NARA states that these links are permanent, and that the files also will become available through their regular search tool in about 15 days. Since these are large files (about 35MB each), I recommend downloading them to your computer and viewing with a PDF application (such as Acrobat Reader, or Preview for Mac) rather than attempting to read online. Please share this secret chapter of Connecticut’s history widely with others, and feel free to comment below and insert links to your own writing about these files. Many thanks to the National Archives staff for making this material freely available online. — Jack
Updated Feb 12th: Thanks to an email from Trinity College historian Luis Figueroa, which led librarian Amy Harrell to make a phone call, the National Archives kindly offered to scan all 1,582 pages — at no cost — and post them on their public website. NARA staff expect that the files should be available within two weeks, right around the time of the Feb 23rd event at Hartford Public Library. Look for the link here soon! -Jack
Four years ago on a research trip to the National Archives II in College Park, Maryland, I stumbled across a finding aid reference to the Black Panther Party of Hartford case files compiled by the New Haven field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (In case you’re wondering, this is listed as case 157-NH-1079, Boxes 31-32, Entry P-37, Record Group 65. While neither the finding aid and the case files are online, see the general description of RG 65: FBI on NARA.gov.) Since these files are restricted, the archive staff guided me through the process of submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the documents to be reviewed for public release. Also, they cautioned that the process would take a long time (which turned out to be even longer than usual because my request was misplaced for some time).
Last week the National Archives sent a letter to inform me that they screened the FBI case file and have released 1,582 pages, though withheld others under certain exemptions. The letter states that “We can make this file available to you or your representative” (or any member of the public, I presume) in the College Park research room with 72 hours notice, or I can pay them 80 cents per page ($1,265) to digitally scan the contents onto a disk for me. Since I don’t have a spare grand sitting around, this will have to wait until my next trip to the DC area, which probably won’t happen until late May 2014. I’m sharing this news in case other historically-minded folks wish to venture to DC before I return. When I last visited NARA, they had a very generous policy that allowed researchers to make their own photos/scans of unclassified public documents. While I don’t yet know the quality of the contents of this FBI case file, an ideal outcome would be to return a digital copy of this history back to Hartford.
Next month the Center for Contemporary Culture at Hartford Public Library will host an event, “A Conversation with Butch Lewis: The Black Panther Party in Connecticut,” from 1-3pm on Sunday, February 23rd, 2014. The announcement reads:
Hartford Public Library and the Hartford History Center, in partnership with the magazine Connecticut Explored, presents a Black History Month discussion recalling the Black Panther Party in Connecticut during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s featuring Butch Lewis, 1960s activist and co-founder of the Hartford Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Featured scholars will include Dr. Stacey Close, Associate Vice President for Equity and Diversity at Eastern Connecticut State University, and Dr. Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, Vice Provost for Diversity atUniversity of Connecticut. Connecticut Explored also celebrates the launch of its newest publication, African American Connecticut Explored. Books will be available for purchase.