Remembering Fred Hampton on the 50th Anniversary of His Assassination
December 4th, 1969 is remembered as a day of infamy for the residents of Chicago and fighters for Civil Rights worldwide
Fred Hampton's legendary presence in the politics of civil rights was abruptly cut short 50 years ago, but not without making a difference for his community. His brief life started in the Chicago suburb of Summit, with his family moving to nearby Maywood. There, Hampton Graduated from Proviso East High School in 1966 and started his path as a motivator and charismatic leader as a member of the West Suburban Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Around the same time, Hampton became intrigued by the teachings of Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense based in Oakland, CA. Hampton would leave the NAACP and became the chairman of the Illinois branch of the Panthers. Several accomplishments Hampton made as chairman was broker a truce between powerful street gangs, operating a medical center, and implementing a free breakfast program on the City's West Side.
One of the most significant moments of Hampton's life was when he reached out the Jose "Cha-Cha" Jiminez of the Young Lords and leaders of nationwide organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), American Indian Movement (AIM), Brown Berets, and the Red Guard Party to form the Rainbow Coalition of Revolutionary Solidarity. As he gained allies in the city, he was considered an even bigger threat nationally by J.Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, who called the Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country." Back in Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley — The man our library is named after — had been battling protesters with the assistance of State Attorney General Edward Hanrahan. After gun battles and raids with the revolutionary groups, a plan was hatched to take out Hampton.
December 4th, 1969
In the early morning, fourteen Chicago police officers conducted a raid on 2773 W. Monroe St., the apartment of Hampton, with multiple Black Panther Party members inside. The ambush resulted in Hampton, 21, and fellow leader Mark Clark, 22, being shot and killed with 99 bullets of police fire unleashed in the home. The act was spearheaded by Attorney General Hanrahan in cooperation with an FBI informant. Speculation around the FBI presence led many to believe in the potential involvement of the highly controversial and illegal actions of the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), whose purpose was to disrupt and provide surveillance of progressive groups like the Panthers, Young Lords, American Indian Movement, and civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Local media was politically slanted in covering the event, but the majority sided with law enforcement and saw Hampton and the Panthers as a threat to society. The Chicago Tribune piece that ran on December 11, 1969, was aided by the office of Hanrahan and concluded with the CPD that the raid on the Panthers was a “shootout”. Alternatively, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story challenging the narrative set by Hanrahan and the police, including analysis of official photos from the scene, particularly taking alarm at nail heads in the walls being counted as bullet holes. In reality, only one shot originated from a Black Panther position, in comparison to the police’s offense.
On television, WBBM-TV broadcasted a reenactment of the raid based on Hanrahan’s record, featuring the actual policemen from the incident. The Panther perspective was represented on WMAQ on the day of the raid. Party members Bobby Rush and Chaka Walls recounted that the police had an intent to murder Hampton, who they claimed was asleep on his bed with his nine months pregnant fiancee, Deborah Johnson, who survived the ordeal and gave birth weeks later. While nobody originally was charged with killing Clark and Hampton, in 1982, the families and survivors of the raid won a $1.85 million settlement.
In 2007, Hampton would be honored by his hometown of Maywood, with a statue and street named after him. Yet when supporters tried to do the same thing in Chicago, they were met with backlash from the police union, citing the anti-police rhetoric of the revolutionaries. It’s worth noting that there are no Chicago landmarks dedicated to Hardships also fall onto Hampton’s childhood home in Maywood, as the building is facing foreclosure with Fred Hampton Jr. and his mother, Akua Njeri, starting a GoFundMe to preserve the building as a museum. But what can’t be denied is the everlasting effect of Hampton’s life and death on city politics. The years after Hampton’s Assassination saw an uptick in political aspirations for Rainbow Coalition members, with the support of Dr. King’s Chicago protege Rev. Jesse Jackson.
After unsuccessful attempts by various activist to become a city alderman, like Jose “Cha-Cha” Jimenez, 1983 marked an important time for people of color: Bobby Rush was elected as alderman of the 2nd ward and Chicago elected its first Black Mayor in Harold Washington, which Rush, now a Congressman from the 1st district of Illinois for 26 years, attributes Washington winning to the murder of Hampton and activeness of new leaders of the rainbow coalition.
Rush also alludes to the momentum of social movements that catapulted Barack Obama — who lost his only election ever to Rush in 2000 — from the Illinois State Senate to Washington and eventually the Presidency. Measures like advocating for a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) and elimination of state’s ban on rent control keep parts of Hampton’s ideology alive. In modern times, the new progressives and socialists elected to the city council are still fighting for Hampton’s vision as he would often exclaim ;
“for the many, not the few.”