Lee Berry, Black Panther in a ‘Radical Chic’ Time, Dies at 78

Lee Berry, a member of the Black Panther Party who was indicted in the largest case brought against that militant group, and whose personal plight helped inspire one of the most infamous New York social gatherings, a fund-raising party for the Panthers at the home of Leonard Bernstein that was mercilessly satirized by the writer Tom Wolf, died on March 7 in a hospital near his home in Laurel, Md. He was 78.

The cause was anoxic brain injury, his daughter Afeni Berry said.

Mr. Berry was one of the Panther 21 — 19 men and two women who were charged in April 1969 with plotting to blow up Midtown Manhattan department stores, police stations and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

The case collapsed spectacularly two years later with the acquittal on all charges of the 13 defendants who were brought to trial. The District Attorney’s office had based its case on the testimony of undercover police informants, including a detective who had opened the Harlem branch of the Black Panthers in 1968.

A demonstration on behalf of a group of indicted members of the Black Panther Party outside a Manhattan courthouse in December 1969. A trial began that February, but the case against them collapsed, and charges against Mr. Berry, one of the group, were dropped. Credit…Librado Romero/The New York Times

Mr. Berry’s case was severed from that of the other defendants because he was in Bellevue Hospital when the trial began in February 1970.

It was his personal travail that prompted Felicia Bernstein, the wife of the New York Philharmonic maestro, to invite 90 guests to the couple’s Park Avenue apartment on Jan. 14, 1970, to raise money for the Panther 21 legal defense fund. Mr. Wolf, a luminary of what was being called the New Journalism, wrote his takedown of the high-low soiree in New York magazine under the headline “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s.”

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