Books: Non-Fiction

The Sky’s the Limit: People v. Newton, The REAL Trial of the 20th Century?

Book — Non-fiction. By Lise Pearlman. 2012. 800 pages.
Brings to life 20th century court cases and protests that played a major role in U.S. history.

Time Periods: 20th Century, 1961
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights

The Sky’s The Limit: People v. Newton, The REAL Trial of the 20th Century? by retired Judge Lise Pearlman offers a people’s history of the 20th century in the U.S. through major court trials.

This journey takes readers to the 1907 Idaho murder trial of 8-hour day champion Big Bill Haywood that prompted laborers to march by the tens of thousands in the streets of Boston and Manhattan; Clarence Darrow’s stirring defense in 1925 of black homeowners in Detroit besieged by the KKK bent on protecting whites-only neighborhoods; the 1969-70 Chicago Seven and Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale bound and gagged; the controversial prosecution in 1987 of subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz; and the trials of two terrorists for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Each headline trial serves as a window into its own era, but the author asserts that the 1968 murder trial of Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton should head the list. Following a shootout with two Oakland policemen, the accused revolutionary put the U.S. itself on trial for 400 years of racism and economic exploitation. That spectacularly dramatic death penalty trial featured three then rarities: a woman defense lawyer sitting second chair; a female majority on the jury and a black foreman. The trial drew an international spotlight on a superpower bitterly divided over the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement and rocked by the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy.

By the summer of 1968, the FBI called the Black Panthers the greatest internal threat to America’s security. J. Edgar Hoover particularly feared the allure of the Party’s signature breakfast program feeding inner city children, following on the heels of the late Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign. Newton had already become an icon of the Left challenging racism, capitalism and an increasingly unpopular foreign war. Many radicals saw him as the vanguard of a second American revolution. All the major power struggles based on race, class, gender and ideology played a pivotal role in one extraordinarily high stakes trial. Panther Party spokesman Eldridge Cleaver predicted warfare in city streets across America if Newton faced execution. The author contends that the surprising verdict of the diverse jury with Newton’s life in their hands still reverberates today — had it turned out otherwise Barack Obama would likely not be President. [Publisher’s description.]

ISBN: 9781587902208 | Regent Press


”Lise Pearlman’s account of the tinderbox setting enveloping the trial of Huey Newton perfectly captures how much can be at stake for an entire community — even a nation — in a single trial and the exceptional role played by twelve everyday men and women we trust to decide each case. For those, like myself, who recall this case from our youth, Lise has done a wonderful job in both capturing a movement and its historical context. But anyone interested in history, courtroom drama or criminal justice should read this gripping account of an all too often forgotten chapter of the 20th Century.” —Barry Scheck, Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Co-Director, The Innocence Project

”I was born in Oakland a generation before the mass migration of African-American families to the Bay Area from the South during World War II. I later experienced the highly polarizing 1968 prosecution of Black Panther Huey Newton. Lise Pearlman has written a powerful account of both that trial and its place in our country’s political history. I truly believe that had Newton received a death sentence, we would not have Obama in the White House today. Read this wonderful book.” —Morrie Turner, Award-winning creator of “Wee Pals,” the first integrated comic strip

”Lise Pearlman’s book about the trial of Huey Newton captures the tumultuous times, the personalities, the fighting defense lawyers, including Charles Garry, in a way that makes it eminently worth reading. Garry’s jury selection dealing with race was one of the best pieces of trial work done by anyone. Loved the book.” —James Brosnahan, Senior Partner, Morrison Foerster, recognized among the top 30 trial lawyers in the U.S.

”I began my long career as a criminal defense lawyer in the mid-60’s in Oakland, California and witnessed many of the legal events Lise Pearlman describes. I find her account of the 1968 Newton murder trial and its political context accurate and fascinating. Fans of famous trials will thoroughly enjoy this fast-paced, well-researched book. If ‘THE’ trial of the 20th century can be measured, her argument for People v. Newton heading the list is a strong one.” —Penny Cooper, Member of the State Bar of California Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame