LIFE & DEATH OF FRED HAMPTON: Chicago Hero, American Revolutionary

  • Fri
    Dec 18
    2:00 pm -
    4:00 pm
  • Sun
    Dec 20
    11:00 pm -
    1:00 am

Fred Hampton 

“White Power to white people, Brown Power to brown people, Yellow Power to yellow people, Black Power to black people, X power to those we left out and Panther Power to the Vanguard Party."

--Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton was murdered in his sleep with the help of an FBI informant December 4, 1969 during a raid on his apartment by a 14-member tactical unit of the Cook County, Illinois State's Attorney's Office (SAO), in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The pre-dawn raid was organized by Cook County State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan to serve an illegal weapons charge.

The 21-year old was Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party (BPP), where he had organized weekly rallies, worked closely with the BPP's local People's Clinic, taught political education classes every morning at 6am, launched a project for community supervision of the police, and was also instrumental in the BPP's Free Breakfast Program for area children.

In August 1969 Hampton spoke to a packed house at the People’s Church in the heart of Chicago’s Black West Side. [Excerpt from Jeffrey Haas' book.]

"You have to understand that people have to pay a price for peace. If you dare to struggle, you dare to win. If you dare not struggle then damn it, you don’t deserve to win. Let me say peace to you if you're willing to fight for it."

Fred asked the audience to stand up. We did. He then told everyone to raise his right hand and repeat “I am” and we responded, “I am.” He then said “a revolutionary” and some in the audience repeated “a revolutionary.” I considered myself a lawyer for the movement, but not necessarily of the movement. The word “revolutionary” stuck in my throat.

Again Fred repeated “I am” and the audience responded in kind. This time when he said “a revolutionary,” the response was louder. By the third or fourth time I hesitantly joined in and by the seventh or eighth time I was shouting as loudly and enthusiastically as everyone else, “I am…a revolutionary!” It was a threshold to which Fred took me and countless others. I felt mysteriously but palpably my level of commitment rising.

Then he said in a quieter voice: "I believe I was born not to die in a car wreck or slipping on a piece of ice, or of a bad heart, but I’m going to be able to die doing the things I was born for. I believe I’m going to die high off the people. I believe that I’m going to be able to die as a revolutionary in the international proletarian struggle. And I hope that each of you will be able to die in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle or you’ll be able to live in it. And I think that struggle’s going to come. Why don’t you live for the people? Why don’t you struggle for the people? Why don’t you die for the people?"

[Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in April 1968.]

* * *

FLASH FORWARD TO DECEMBER 4, 1969

In a cold tiny, windowless interview room at the Wood Street Police Station, Jeffrey Haas looked across the wooden table at the large-boned woman with a short Afro who was shaking and sobbing. Deborah Johnson’s patterned nightgown protruded from her belly revealing her pregnancy.

“Fred never really woke up,” she said. “He was lying there when they pulled me out of the bedroom.” She paused.

“And then?” I asked.

“Two pigs went back into the bedroom. One of them said, ‘He’s barely alive, he’ll barely make it.’ I heard two shots. Then I heard, ‘He’s good and dead now!’”

Fred’s fiancé looked at me with sad, swollen eyes. “What can you do?” I couldn’t think of any reply. I couldn’t bring Fred back to life.

* * *

"We expected about twenty Panthers to be in the apartment when the police raided the place. Only two of those black niggers were killed, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark."
— FBI Special Agent Gregg York

* * *

A federal grand jury did not return any indictment against anyone involved with the planning or execution of the raid. The officers involved in the raid were cleared by a grand jury of any crimes.

In 1982, the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government agreed to a settlement, including the mothers of Hampton and Clark. The $1.85 million settlement was believed to be the largest ever in a civil rights case

The FBI informant, William O'Neal, committed suicide in 1990 after admitting his involvement in setting up the raid.

In 1990, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed a resolution commemorating Dec. 4, 2004, as "Fred Hampton Day in Chicago".

"Without a young leader, I think the West Side of Chicago degenerated a lot into drugs. And without leaders like Fred Hampton, I think the gangs and the drugs became much more prevalent on the West Side. He was an alternative to that. He talked about serving the community, talked about breakfast programs, educating the people, community control of police. So I think that that's unfortunately another legacy of Fred's murder." --Jeffrey Haas

* * *

COINTELPRO

"Purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt the Black Panther Party and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge."

--FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (who publicly dubbed Martin Luther King the nation's most notorious "liar")

Started in 1956 as a way to counter and disrupt domestic Communist groups, COINTELPRO (acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert, at times illegal, projects conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. Hoover issued directives governing and ordering FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate" the activities of these movements and their leaders.

1967 FBI memo, stating goals to "neutralize" organizations the Bureau characterized as "Black Nationalist Hate Groups":

-Prevent a coalition of militant black nationalist groups...

-Prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant nationalist movement... (MLK was mentioned here)

-Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability by discrediting them...

-Prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations, especially among youth.

[Hampton, like Tupac Shakur almost 30 years later, were mobilizing and bringing disparate gangs and groups together]

ABOUT FRED HAMPTON, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER

A gifted student and athlete in high school, Hampton enrolled at Triton Junior College in nearby River Grove, Illinois, where he majored in pre-law. He planned to become more familiar with the legal system, to use it as a defense against police. He and fellow Black Panthers would follow police, watching out for police brutality, and used this knowledge of law as a defense.

He became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and assumed leadership of the Youth Council of the organization's West Suburban Branch. In his capacity as an NAACP youth organizer, Hampton began to demonstrate his natural leadership abilities.

From a community of 27,000, he was able to muster a youth group 500-members strong. He worked to get more and better recreational facilities established in the neighborhoods, and to improve educational resources for Maywood's impoverished black community. Through his involvement with the NAACP, Hampton hoped to achieve social change through nonviolent activism and community organizing.

About the same time that Hampton was successfully organizing young African-Americans for the NAACP, the Black Panther Party (BPP) started rising to national prominence. Hampton was quickly attracted to the Black Panthers' approach, which was based on a ten-point program that integrated black self-determination and certain elements of Maoism.

Hampton joined the Party and relocated to downtown Chicago, and in November 1968 he joined the Party's nascent Illinois chapter — founded by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer Bob Brown in late 1967.

Over the next year, Hampton and his associates made a number of significant achievements in Chicago. Perhaps his most important accomplishment was his brokering of a nonaggression pact between Chicago's most powerful street gangs.

Emphasizing that racial and ethnic conflict between gangs would only keep its members entrenched in poverty, Hampton strove to forge a class-conscious, multi-racial alliance between the BPP, the Young Patriots Organization, and the Young Lords under the leadership of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez.

Hampton met Cha Cha Jimenez and the Young Lords in Lincoln Park, the day after the Young Lords were in the news when they had occupied a police community workshop meeting ,on a second floor hall of the Chicago 18th District Police Station.

Later, the Rainbow Coalition was joined nationwide by the Students for a Democratic Society ("SDS"), the Brown Berets, and the Red Guard Party. In May 1969, Hampton called a press conference to announce that this "rainbow coalition" had formed. It was a phrase coined by Hampton. --wiki