This Side of Glory

Thrusting the Black Panther party into the vanguard of the black liberation movement were a series of “colossal events,” starting with the shooting and incarceration of Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton. Appropriately, THIS SIDE OF GLORY begins and ends with the 1989 death and funeral of the party’s brilliant, masochistic “Supreme Servant,” who had such a hypnotic hold on the Alabama-born Hilliard and other “young men and women who demanded too much of themselves,” to quote Murray Kempton. The most heroic recruits all seemed to die young, among them Little Bobby Hutton (the youngest party member), George Jackson (the “Soledad Brother”), and Fred Hampton (murdered by the Chicago authorities). Those who survived the firepower of their adversaries generally succumbed to destructive “jackanapes” tendencies and became more like the Mafia than Mao’s Red Guard.

Relentlessly honest and more self-effacing than self-aggrandizing, Hilliard and his well-chosen collaborator make good use of oral histories, provide a useful index, and acknowledge the book’s shortcomings, for example, the paucity of material on such satellite chapters as New Haven, Connecticut, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As debilitating as were Chief of Staff Hilliard’s battles with local police, California Governor Ronald Reagan, and the F.B.I., they were nowhere near as harrowing as his struggle, ultimately successful, against alcohol and drug addiction. Hilliard describes with poignancy cocaine’s destructive effect on his family and his movement, and he laments the drug’s impact on an entire new generation of black youth, whose “catastrophic trashing” was tacitly encouraged by the political environment of the Reagan years, according to Hilliard. Highly recommended.