Fred Hampton was an engaging young man whose charisma and intensity took him quickly into the leadership ranks of the Black Panther Party in Illinois. The Black Panthers were one of several groups agitating for change in America that had attracted the scrutiny of the FBI investigation and its COINTELPRO operation.
Hampton, who was born on Aug. 30, 1948, grew up in the predominantly African-American suburb of Maywood, Ill., outside of Chicago, where his parents worked for a local manufacturing company. Hampton became active in the NAACP while attending Triton Junior College. He had a natural ability to engage and became the leader of the group’s Youth Council in western Chicago when he was 18.
As leader of the Youth Council, Hampton got neighborhood improvements, mostly recreational facilities and improved funding for after-school programs, but he wanted to accomplish more change.
He was attracted to the Black Panther Party, which was started in Oakland, Calif., in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in response to police brutality. The Black Panther anti-white rhetoric, particularly from Newton, H. Rap Brown and Eldridge Cleaver led to several confrontations with Oakland police.
After the violence, the Panthers adjusted their strategy. In late 1969, they introduced a Ten-Point Program that expanded the goals and ethnicity of the party to emphasize revolutionary change in America. Their plan called for “Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace.”
Hampton brokered a peace between the street gangs in Chicago and was bringing the gangs into Panther membership; and he spoke about how America should change.
Hampton and the other Panther leadership were targeted by COINTELPRO, and the goal was to bring down the Black Panthers.
At 4:45 a.m. on Dec. 4, 1969, Edward Hanrahan, the Cook County state’s attorney, ordered his tactical unit to raid Hampton’s apartment. Supported by Chicago police and FBI agents, they fired between 77 and 100 rounds, including two rounds point-blank into Hampton’s body. Mike Clark was also killed, and Hampton’s eight-months-pregnant girlfriend, Deborah Johnson, was severely wounded.
Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson gave the eulogies. Jackson said, “when Fred was shot in Chicago, black people in particular, and decent people in general, bled everywhere.”
Frank Daniels III: email@example.com, or 615-881-7039.