The Chairman

Fred Hampton touched the lives of many people, white and black, both those with whom he agreed and those with whom he disagreed throughout his time as an organizer and “the Chairman” of fighting what he believed to be a just cause. There is no doubt that Fred Hampton had a considerable amount of seemingly anti-white frustrations, but the overall goal remained unity of black and white where solidarity is the way to a brighter future for all.

In November 1968, Fred Hampton, Bobby Rush, and about ten others formed the Illinois Chapter of the rapidly expanding Black Panther Party. Under Hampton’s leadership, they immediately raised the free breakfast program for children and fought for unity between black and white youth organizations. Hampton personally went out to build relations with the “gangs” that had grown in the community which was a key piece of organization that was so threatening to the opposition of the movement.

These relationships forged an understanding from within the city that the enemy was the system, not each other. It is with this sincere belief that if the movement were not halted through violence, the landscape of Chicago would be distinctly different than it exists today. This is further illustrated by his ability to negotiate a truce between the Blackstone Rangers and Black Disciple street gangs in May of 1968.Enter COINTELPRO, the FBI led covert operations used to subvert domestic political groups and figures between 1956 and 1971. The intended effect of the FBI’s COINTELPRO was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize” groups that the FBI officials believed were “subversive.”

By July 1969, leaders of the Black Panther Party became the primary focus for COINTELPRO and their immediate desire was to end the movement by assassination, imprisonment, publicly humiliation or false accusations of crimes. Black Panthers affected included Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Zayd Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Marshall Conway. FBI Director Hoover wanted to prevent the rise of a messiah that would unify and electrify a militant nationalist movement and COINTELPRO was tasked with executing that directive.

Where the youth in the westside of Chicago drew inspiration, Hoover saw the “greatest threat to internal security of the country.” The police of Cook County took the life of 21-year-old Fred Hampton and 20-year-old Mark Clark in one of the most sadistic of all the genocidal attacks on the Black Panther Party. That was Dec. 4, 1969. Clark was killed in early gunfire, but survivors Harold Bell and Hampton’s fiancée,  Debra Johnson, testified at the 1972 criminal trial against the state’s attorney and officers in the raid that Hampton was pulled alive from his bed and shot dead after the group had surrendered. 

The assassination of Fred Hampton was pre-meditated murder. He was not to walk out alive deemed to be one of the most dangerous of threats given his desire to use rule of law, solidarity and assault of class systems to bring about change to the status quo. Taylor, the families civil attorney rejected any suggestion that the Chicago police were in no way “duped into this raid.” It was not just a botched or poorly executed raid. It was a political assassination that came from Washington DC and the COINTELPRO program under J. Edgar Hoover.

William ‘Judas’ O’Neal, onetime car thief turned paid FBI informant was a key in this assassination. As a Black Panther security guard, he provided his FBI handlers with floor plans of Hampton’s apartment in addition to detailed inner workings of the organization prior to the raid.

Later, an FBI whistleblower M. Wesley Swearigan said the agency described the actions of local law enforcement across the country, including Chicago police, into deadly clashes with heavily armed Black Panthers. In 1983, a federal judge approved a settlement that awarded $1.85 million to survivors of the raid and families of the two men who were killed, to be paid by the federal government, the city of Chicago and Cook County.

So much of this sounds eerily familiar even in 2021. What if so many key figures in the movement were not assassinated, leaving a decentralized and organized fight against oppression. Who among us is willing to live for the people and die for the people the same way that Fred Hampton did?

In the words of Fred Hampton, you can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.