Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happy Birthday to Fred Hampton, Sr.

Sixty years ago today, a baby boy was born in Chicago, Illinois, to a young couple from Louisiana who had migrated north to work in the factories there and raise a family. They called their son "Fred" -- Fred Hampton. Fred grew up in the suburbs, graduated with honors from high school and started attending the local community college on his way to becoming a lawyer. When he joined the N.A.A.C.P. as an organizer, he was so charismatic, he rapidly managed to recruit 500 other young people as new members in a community of only 27,000 residents. Then, he started hearing about the Black Panther Party's ten-point plan of self-determination. And that was all she wrote.

Joining first the national organization and then the newly formed Illinois chapter of the BPP, Hampton shortly drew the attention of the Powers-That-Be all the way to Washington. The FBI's file on the young leader amassed more than 4000 pages over the remaining two years of his life. And they illegally tapped his mother's telephone, too. But that didn't stop Hampton from making his commitment or doing his work.

The first order of business was to successfully broker a non-aggression pact between the most powerful street gangs in Chicago, a notorious seat of such activity. In fact, one of those gangs, the Young Lords, formed an alliance with Hampton's group and a group of anti-racist Appalachian kids -- White no less -- now living in the city, too. The three organizations (pre-dating Jesse's use of the term by decades) called themselves the "Rainbow Coalition." No wonder the FBI was so nerved out!

Late in 1968, the FBI got an agent provocateur named William O'Neal to worm his way into the Chicago-based BPP Chapter, ultimately becoming Hampton's bodyguard and official Judas. He not only passed information, but worked diligently to foment divisions, instigate violence where nobody wanted or needed it, and eventually set up his supposed leader to be murdered by officers of the Chicago Police Department.

After Hampton was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced in the spring of 1969 to two to five years for commandeering a bunch of ice cream bars for the kids in a poor neighborhood, the local gendarmes moved quickly to attack his underlings. They raided the office, destroying as much as they could and beating up any BPP members they could capture. Then Hampton was unexpectedly released on appeal in August, complicating the plan already in motion to decimate his organization while he was incarcerated. It was only a matter of weeks before Hampton had been officially promoted to the Black Panther Party Central Committee and named Chief of Staff as a major spokesperson.

When two police officers were ambushed and murdered in November, only a couple of weeks after another illegal and brutal raid on the BPP, the authorities decided -- without bothering to use a court of law -- that it was the Panthers who were responsible. Two weeks after that, in the pre-dawn hours of December 4th, while Hampton lay in bed with his pregnant girlfriend, sleeping off the secobarbitol slipped into his drink by William O'Neal, Chicago Police Officers stormed their way into the apartment, shooting Fred Hampton to death along with another Panther, Mark Clark. Witnesses -- and there were a goodly number of them -- heard one officer say Hampton was still alive, though barely. Two subsequent shots were fired and the voice was heard to say, "He's good and dead now."

There was, needless to say, never an indictment of any kind related to these crimes, despite the fact that an independent Commission found that the officers murdered the two men without justification or provocation and despite the fact that the City of Chicago did have to pay the families of Hampton and Clark nearly two million dollars a decade later.

This is a horrible story, of course. But you can't really get the full flavor of it all unless you watch "The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther," the Democracy Now video I'm embedding in this post. Hampton was far more than an effective organizer or firebrand charismatic speaker. He was a full tilt boogie revolutionary who believed in and worked to form a class conscious, multi-racial alliance in the interest of the workers of the United States of America.

This film will answer lots of questions you may have had from time to time and a few you might not have considered yet. It reminded me of things I thought I had forgotten and after I watched it a couple of months ago, I did some homework toward this day, so I could celebrate Fred Hampton's birth and life, work and example.


It's interesting to note that Fred Hampton, Jr., now in his late thirties, who was still inside his mother when she watched the police shoot his 21-year-old father to death before her very eyes, has, it would appear, carried on his father's legacy. Why am I not surprised?



"The Murder of Fred Hampton" - Part 1


"The Murder of Fred Hampton" - Part 2


"The Murder of Fred Hampton" - Part 3

4 comments:

ohnezu said...

Stay out of Gustav's way! I'll keep you ad the rest of LA in my prayers!

Professor Zero said...

Also posting re Gustav. Call me if you get cabin fever, flooded, etc., I'm staying home.

Changeseeker said...

Thanks for thinking of me, Ohnezu and PZ. I'm as ready as I can be, under the circumstances. Stocked up and hunkered down and with Plans A, B and C in case one of the super-tall and bug-infested trees around my place decides to make a visit (one went down last year, another in May). Today, I think I'll write and schedule some posts for the next couple of weeks. And I've brought home stuff to do without a computer. Of course, without lights or a/c, I might not feel like reading social science research articles. But Plan A has a generator. :^)

Anonymous said...

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