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Fred Hampton was born in Chicago on 30th August 1948 and grew up in Maywood, a suburb of the city. A bright student, Hampton graduated from Proviso East High School in 1966 before enrolling at Triton Junior College where he studied law.
While a student Hampton became active in the civil rights movement. He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and was appointed leader of the Youth Council of the organization's West Suburban branch.
In October 1966 Bobby Seale and Huey Newton formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. Initially formed to protect local communities from police brutality and racism, the Black Panthers eventually developed into a Marxist revolutionary group. The group also ran medical clinics and provided free food to school children. Other important members included Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Bobby Hutton and Eldridge Cleaver.
Hampton founded the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party in November 1968. He immediately established a community service program. This included the provision of free breakfasts for schoolchildren and a medical clinic that did not charge patients for treatment. Hampton also taught political education classes and instigated a community control of police project.
One of Hampton's greatest achievements was to persuade Chicago's most powerful street gangs to stop fighting against each other. In May 1969 Hampton held a press conference where he announced a nonaggression pact between the gangs and the formation of what he called a "rainbow coalition" (a multiracial alliance of black, Puerto Rican, and poor youths).
Later that year Hampton was arrested and charged with stealing $71 worth of sweets, which he then allegedly gave away to local children. Hampton was initially convicted of the crime but the decision was eventually overturned.
The activities of the Black Panthers in Chicago came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Hoover described the Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and urged the Chicago police to launch an all-out assault on the organization. In 1969 the Panther party headquarters on West Monroe Street was raided three times and over 100 members were arrested.
In the early hours of the 4th December, 1969, the Panther headquarters was raided by the police for the fourth time. The police later claimed that the Panthers opened fire and a shoot-out took place. During the next ten minutes Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed. Witnesses claimed that Hampton was wounded in the shoulder and then executed by a shot to the head.
The panthers left alive, including Deborah Johnson, Hampton's girlfriend, who was eight months pregnant at the time, were arrested and charged with attempting to murder the police. Afterwards, ballistic evidence revealed that only one bullet had been fired by the Panthers whereas nearly a hundred came from police guns.
After the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a wide-ranging investigation of America's intelligence services. Frank Church of Idaho, the chairman of the committee, revealed in April, 1976 that William O'Neal, Hampton's bodyguard, was a FBI agent-provocateur who, days before the raid, had delivered an apartment floor-plan to the Bureau with an "X" marking Hampton's bed. Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton's bedroom.
A lot of people get the word revolution mixed up and they think revolutions a bad word. Revolution is nothing but like having a sore on your body and then you put something on that sore to cure that infection. I'm telling you that we're living in a sick society. We're involved in a society that produces criminals, thieves and robbers and rapers. Whenever you are in a society like that, that is a sick society.
We're gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we're gonna fight reactionary pigs with international proletarian revolution. That's what it has to be.
We have to understand very clearly that there's a man in our community called a capitalist. Sometimes he's Black and sometimes he's white. But that man has to be driven out of our community because anybody who comes into the community to make profit off of people by exploiting them can be defined as a capitalist.
Any program that's brought into our community should be analyzed by the people of that community. It should be analyzed to see that it meets the relevant needs of that community.
That's what the Breakfast for Children Program is. A lot of people think it's charity. But what does it do? It takes people from a stage to a stage to another stage. Any program that's revolutionary is an advancing program. Revolution is change.
We say that the Breakfast for Children Program is a socialistic program. It teaches the people basically that - by practice. We thought up and let them practice that theory and inspect that theory. What's more important?
And a woman said, "I don't know if I like communism, and I don't know if I like socialism. But I know that the Breakfast for Children Program feeds my kids. And if you put your hands on that Breakfast for Children Program . ."
You know, a lot of people have hang-ups with the Party because the Party talks about a class struggle. We say primarily that the priority of this struggle is class. That Marx and Lenin and Che Guevara and Mao Tse-tung and anybody else that has ever said or knew or practiced anything about revolution always said that a revolution is a class struggle. It was one class - the oppressed, and that other class - the oppressor. And it's got to be a universal fact. Those that don't admit to that are those that don't want to get involved in a revolution, because they know as long as they're dealing with a race thing, they'll never be involved in a revolution.
We never negated the fact that there was racism in America, but we said that the by-product, what comes off of capitalism, that happens to be racism. That capitalism comes first and next is racism. That when they brought slaves over here, it was to make money. So first the idea came that we want to make money, then the slaves came in order to make that money. That means, through historical fact, that racism had to come from capitalism. It had to be capitalism first and racism was a byproduct of that.
I saw Fred Hampton on TV. It was a Ronnie Barrett talk show. Fred Hampton and some other Panthers were on the television show and Fred Hampton had taken it over. He decided what questions he would answer, how the interview would go, everything.
I sat there watching this brother. I sat on the edge of my seat because he went straight through the Party's 10 point program and platform, saying what our needs are and what our demands were. The thing that really impressed me about him was his sincerity, his dedication to his beliefs. In that interview I believed what the brother was saying, his honesty.
I knew that this was not a person who had read a lot of books, who had been involved in just developing a lot of theory. He was a brother who was involved in social practice. He stood on what his beliefs were and he would live, fight and die for those beliefs.
It was like Fred Hampton was sitting in my living room talking to me. I talked to some other people and they got the same feeling. It was that kind of charisma that came across. You didn't have to be face to face.
Fred Hampton and a number of Panthers came over to speak at the college that I was attending. I tried to get some people to go with me, but they wouldn't. I was late getting there and the room was packed. So I got up to the front, right in Fred's face and he was talking. I was sitting there on the edge of my seat.
He did a long discussion about how people are being brutalized in the community, how African people are starving, our children are going to school hungry and are expected to learn, and we needed medical attention, and the government was murdering us at every turn.
Everything he said was true and he wasn't just talking, he was documenting, he was bringing us to the realization that everything he said was true.
Fred Hampton knew that he could organize anybody. He talked to the brothers and sisters on the street. He talked to those in the classroom. He talked to those in the factories. He talked to those who were in business. He went to the churches. He organized and attempted to work with every element of our communities.
This report pursues the truth of an episode that occurred early on December 4, 1969, at 2337 West Monroe Street in Chicago, Illinois. It was a time of darkness, cold, rage, fear, and violence. Facts are not easily found in such company.
The early dawn stillness had been broken at about 4:45 a.m. by heavy gunfire, eighty rounds or more, which lasted over a period of ten minutes. When it stopped, two young men, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were dead. Four other occupants of the premises, the Illinois Black Panther Party headquarters, were seriously wounded. Two police officers were injured, one by glass, the other by a bullet in the leg.
Approximately six shots were apparently fired as the police entered the living room through the front door - two by Sergeant Groth, three by Officer Davis, and one by Mark Clark. The FBI's ballistics analysis shows that during the remainder of the raid between seventy-seven and ninety-four shots were fired by the police - and none by the apartment's occupants. Accordingly, with the exception of one shot, the police testimony of gunfire directed at them from the occupants must be rejected.
The death of Fred Hampton appears to the Commission to have been isolated from the killing of Mark Clark and the wounding of Brenda Harris on the one hand, and from the wounding of Ronald Satchel, Verlina Brewer, and Blair Anderson on the other. The Commission has concluded that there is probable cause to believe that Fred Hampton was murdered - that he was shot by an officer or officers who could see his prostrate body lying on the bed. Unfortunately, the inadequate investigation by the police and the other officials and their inadequate examination of the available evidence make it impossible to know which officer or officers actually fired the fatal bullets.
The Commission has been unable to determine whether the purpose, or a purpose, of the raid was specifically to kill Hampton. There is some evidence that Hampton was shot after the other occupants of the rear bedroom were removed. If that was not the sequence of events, it seems likely that he was the sole target of the police shooting from the doorway of the bedroom. Neither of those consequences, however, would establish that Hampton's death was an object of the raid.
Perhaps the most shocking story concerns the assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by Chicago police directed by the state's attorney's office in December 1969, in a pre-dawn raid on a Chicago apartment. Hampton, one of the most promising leaders of the Black Panther Party - particularly dangerous because of his opposition to violent acts or rhetoric and his success in community organizing - was killed in bed, perhaps drugged. Depositions in a civil suit in Chicago reveal that the chief of Panther security and Hampton's personal bodyguard, William O'Neal, was an FBI infiltrator. O’Neal gave his FBI "contracting agent," Roy Mitchell, a detailed floorplan of the apartment, which Mitchell turned over to the state's attorney's office shortly before the attack, along with "information" - of dubious veracity - that there were two illegal shotguns in the apartment. The availability of the floorplan presumably explains why "all the police gunfire went to the inside corners of the apartment, rather than toward the entrances. Agent Mitchell was named by the Chicago Tribune as head of the Chicago's COINTELPRO directed against the Blank Panthers and other Black groups. For his services, O'Neal was paid over $10,000.
According to an FBI memorandum, this sharing of informant information was crucial to police during their raid on the apartment occupied by several Black Panther members which resulted in the death of the local Chairman, Fred Hampton, and another Panther: " (Prior to the raid), a detailed inventory of the weapons and also a detailed floor plan of the apartment were furnished to local authorities. In addition, the identities of BPP members utilizing the apartment at the above address were furnished. This information was not available from any other source and subsequently proved to be of tremendous value in that it subsequently saved injury and possible death to police officers participating in a raid on the morning of 12/4/69. The raid was based on the information furnished by the informant."
FBI dirty tricks, the Senate Intelligence Committee later discovered, provoked "shootings, beatings and a high degree of unrest" in the Black Panther movement. For two Panthers in Chicago, the FBI tactics brought sudden death. Fred Hampton and Mark dark died in a hail of gunfire, and three others were wounded, when police burst into their apartment at 4:00 a.m. on December 3, 1969. It later emerged that the police had fired ninety-eight rounds, the Panthers - maybe - one.
In 1982, after persistent litigation, the survivors were awarded $1.85 million in damages against the police, in a case that revealed the killings had been the direct result of action by the FBI. The Bureau had provided the police with detailed information on Hampton's movements, along with a floor plan of the apartment. Veteran agent Wesley Swearingen quoted a Chicago colleague as telling him: "We told the cops how bad these guys were, that the cops had better look out or their wives were going to be widows. We set up the police to go in there and kill the whole lot."
In the 1960s, the lines between illegal intelligence, law enforcement and military practices became blurred as Americans wanting to make America a better place for all were targeted and attacked for political beliefs and political behavior. Under the cloak of the Cold War, military intelligence was used for domestic purposes to conduct surveillance on civil rights, social equity, antiwar, and other activists.
In the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Operation Lantern Spike involved military intelligence covertly operating a surveillance operation of the civil rights leader up to the time of his assassination. In a period of two months, recently declassified documents on Operation Lantern Spike indicate that 240 military personnel were assigned in the two months of March and April to conduct surveillance on Dr. King. The documents further reveal that 16,900 man-hours were spent on this assignment.
Dr. King had done nothing more than call for black suffrage, an end to black poverty, and an end to the Vietnam War. Dr. King was the lantern of justice for America: spreading light on issues the Administration should have been addressing. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King's valuable point of light was snuffed out.
The documents I have submitted for the record outline the illegal activities of the FBI and its COINTELPRO program. A 1967 memo from J. Edgar Hoover to 22 FBI field offices outlined the COINTELPRO program well: "The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize" black activist leaders and organizations.
As a result of the Church Committee hearings, we later learned that the FBI and other government authorities were conducting black bag operations that included illegally breaking and entering private homes to collect information on individuals. FBI activities included "bad jacketing," or falsely accusing individuals of collaboration with the authorities. It included the use of paid informants to set up on false charges targeted individuals. And it resulted in the murder of some individuals. Geronimo Pratt Ji Jaga spent 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. And in COINTELPRO documents subsequently released, we learn that Fred Hampton was murdered in his bed while his pregnant wife slept next to him after a paid informant slipped drugs in his drink.
Needless to say, such operations were well outside the bounds of what normal citizens would believe to be the role of the military, and the Senate investigations conducted by Senator Frank Church found that to be true. Though the United States was fighting the spread of communism in the face of the Cold War, the domestic use of intelligence and military assets against its own civilians was unfortunately reminiscent of the police state built up by the Communists we were fighting.
Little Known Black History Fact: Fred Hampton
Fred Hampton was an activist and deputy chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party in the 1960’s. His death was a major crime investigation, with charges of conspiracy from the FBI. Hampton studied law and used his knowledge to watch for police brutality cases with the NAACP and the Black Panther Party. After joining the Panthers in 1968, he rose through the ranks quickly after organizing peace among Chicago’s most notorious street gangs. Hampton worked to form a “Rainbow Coalition” on the streets by appealing to the gangs’ desire to get out of poverty.
In less than a year, Fred Hampton had risen to the levels of Stokely Carmichael in the Black Panther organization. The FBI had opened a 4,000-page file on Hampton, who was next in line as the Black Panther’s Chief of Staff.
The 21-year-old would never see the appointment, as he was set up and assassinated in an FBI raid on December 4, 1969. An FBI informant named William O’Neal setup a raid against the Black Panther Party at Hampton’s Chicago apartment. Hampton lived there with his pregnant girlfriend, who gave birth four weeks after he was shot and killed by Chicago police.
After a political education class, Hampton and the other party members, including Mark Clark, went back to his apartment where O’Neal had made a late meal for them. O’Neal apparently spiked Hampton’s food with drugs that would make him sleep through the raid. The drugs were later found to be introduced in his system by the coroner.
When the FBI raided Hampton’s apartment, he was under the influence and unable to quickly react. Hampton was shot three times, the last two in the head after the police relocated his body to a doorway and shot him in cold blood. Black Panther Mark Clark was also shot and killed by the police officers. Others were severely injured and arrested.
After the incident, the survivors of the raid were charged with attempted murder of police officers and all criminal charges were dropped against the officers that shot Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
The Chicago police department were given praise for their actions, stating that the apartment was full of aggressive, armed and violent Black Panthers, even though only one bullet (out of nearly 100) that had been fired on the scene belonged to a Black Panther. The rest were from the police. Although forensics proved that Hampton was shot at close range, the judge on the case ruled that the prosecution had provided “insufficient evidence” of a conspiracy. Ironically, William O’Neal, the FBI Informant, committed suicide some time after the raid.
Some ten years after the first trial, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the decision of the first court and the case could be retried. In the new ruling, the family of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were awarded $1.85 million for their loss and suffering.
In 2007, a DVD was released entitled “Death of a Black Panther: The Fred Hampton Story.” December 4th has been declared Fred Hampton Day by the Chicago City Council. A bust in Hampton’s likeness sits outside the Fred Hampton Family Aquatic Center in Maywood, Illinois.
Jeffrey Haas, the attorney involved in the case between Hampton’s estate and the judge on the case released “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” in 2011.
The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther
Book – Non-fiction. By Jeffrey Haas. 2019. 400 pages.
The life and murder of Fred Hampton as told by Jeffrey Haas, co-founder of the People’s Law Office and attorney for the plaintiffs in the federal suit Hampton v. Hanrahan.
On the morning of December 4, 1969, lawyer Jeffrey Haas received a call from his partner at the People’s Law Office, informing him that early that morning Chicago police had raided the apartment of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton at 2337 West Monroe Street in Chicago.
Tragically, Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark had both been shot dead, and four other Panthers in the apartment had critical gunshot wounds. Police were uninjured and had fired their guns 90-99 times. In sharp contrast, the Panthers had shot once, from the shotgun held by Mark Clark, which had most likely been fired after Clark had been fatally shot in the heart and was falling to the ground.
Haas went straight to the police station to speak with Hampton’s fiancée, Deborah Johnson, who was then eight months pregnant with Hampton’s son. She had been sleeping in bed next to Hampton when the police attacked and began shooting into the apartment and towards the bedroom where they were sleeping. Miraculously, Johnson had not been shot, but her account given to Haas was chilling. Throughout the assault Hampton had remained unconscious (strong evidence emerged later that a paid FBI informant had given Hampton a sedative that prevented him from waking up) and after police forced Johnson out of the bedroom, two officers entered the room where Hampton still lay unconscious. Johnson heard one officer ask, “Is he still alive?” After two gunshots were fired inside the room, the other officer said, “He’s good and dead now.”
Jeffrey Haas’ account of this conversation with Johnson jumps right out from the inside cover of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. In this excellent book, Haas gives his personal account of defending the Panther survivors of the December 4 police assault against the criminal charges that were later dropped, and of filing a civil rights lawsuit, Hampton v. Hanrahan, on behalf of the survivors and the families of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton.
Teach about COINTELPRO. Click the image for a free lesson using primary documents. Art by Stacey Uy
. . . When the COINTELPRO files became public, Haas, PLO, and his Panther clients immediately suspected that the Dec. 4 police raid had been part of this program, and that the FBI had viewed Hampton as a potential “messiah,” who needed to be “neutralized.” As part of their civil rights lawsuit, they filed numerous motions requesting all FBI files relating to the Illinois Panthers and COINTELPRO. After repeated attempts by the defendants and Judge Parry to cover up the FBI role, eventually a few explosive documents were made available.
One document showed a drawing made by the FBI’s paid informant, William O’Neal, which provided the floor plan of Hampton’s apartment. The FBI had supplied this diagram to prosecutor Edward Hanrahan before he led the raid several days later. Following the raid, the FBI paid O’Neal a special bonus to thank him for providing the diagram.
Another document surfaced showing that the FBI had made a deal with deputy attorney general Jerris Leonard, who led the 1970 federal grand jury investigation. In an effort to conceal the FBI’s role and the still-secret COINTELPRO, they decided that the criminal charges would be dropped against the seven Panther survivors, and in exchange the federal grand jury would rule in favor of Hanrahan and the police raiders. . .
[Description from full review by Hans Bennett on TowardsFreedom.com.]
This book of the assassination of a sleeping Fred Hampton by Chicago police working for a mad state’s attorney is more important NOW than it was THEN. It is a revelation of how the powerful of our city use power to keep truth distant. The hard truth is that this is a remarkable work. — Studs Terkel
A Short History Of Fred Hampton’s Life
December 4th, 2020 marked the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Fred Hampton, a Black Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who was the Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, by the Chicago Police Department in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Hampton was born on Aug. 30, 1948, and grew up in Maywood, a suburb of Chicago. During his early childhood, he helped control traffic in his elementary school to make sure students crossed the street safely. In high school, he joined his school’s Inter-racial Cross Section Committee and fought against the racist practices conducted by the school. In 1967, Hampton and many others tried to have an integrated pool built in Maywood, Illinois. During demonstrations, Hampton and 17 other young people were beaten by police officers and charged. The event led him to enroll in Triton Junior College in River Grove, Illinois, majoring in pre-law to study law to use it as a defense against police.
Around this time, Hampton became interested in the emerging Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary organization founded by college students Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, Calif. in 1966 to protect against and end systemic racism and violence against Black people. The Party also aimed to establish revolutionary socialism through mass community organization. In their Ten-Point Program , written that same year, some of the things they called for were the ending of police brutality and housing discrimination along with equal distribution of land, food, housing and clothing toward Black communities.
The Black Panther Party’s ideology was Marxist-Leninist and influenced by the self-determination ideology of previous Black liberation activists like Malcolm X. They also were influenced by ideologies intertwined such as anti-fascism and anti-imperialism. They embraced these ideologies by incorporating ideas calling for positive social services and self-defense for Black people into practice. They also called for international working-class unity as well.
They launched a free food distribution program for schoolchildren, known as the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast For School Children, which from 1969 to the early 1970s ended up feeding tens of thousands of hungry kids. The Sun-Reporter wrote at the time that many children fed by the program had never eaten breakfast before. Many mutual aid organizations today have programs modeled after it . The Black Panther Party also opened free medical clinics and created the first nationwide testing and screening program for sickle cell anemia. They trained volunteers to go door-to-door and give free fingerstick tests.
They would self-defend from police brutality by copwatching. Members would arm themselves and follow the police, observing stoppings of Black drivers to prevent acts of harassment and brutality committed by police officers. In Newton’s 1973 autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, he wrote that “We were no longer their subjects but their equals” when the Party did this. Hampton acknowledged and applied the influence of this, saying in a speech that “ We’re gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we’re gonna fight reactionary pigs with international proletarian revolution . That’s what it has to be. The people have to have the power—it belongs to the people . ” Though the police would crack down forcefully on this practice as the years went by, this practice influenced copwatching in different forms by people through many eras, making light of the racist nature of policing in America in future generations.
In November 1968, Hampton, Bobby Rush and ten others formed the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Immediately, they created a free breakfast program for children and free medical and rehabilitation clinics. They formed a “rainbow coalition” with other groups such as the Young Lords Organization, a Puerto Rican revolutionary group, and the Young Patriots Organization, an organization founded by white Southerners to solidify a class-conscious, multiracial alliance under the chapter’s direction. The coalition raised community issues such as police brutality and poverty while coming out and supporting each other during demonstrations.
Hampton was also able to broker a non-aggression pact among the city of Chicago’s most powerful street gangs, encouraging them to stop fighting each other. According to Michaela Warnsley , he urged them to “turn their anger and guns on their oppressors, not one another.” She also wrote about how he encouraged former alcoholics to seek help. There was also a schedule that included him teaching daily morning political classes. He also launched a project for community supervision of the police, with weekly rallies and participation in strikes.
Hampton was a Marxist-Leninist, and alongside the ideology’s namesakes, he was influenced by other revolutionaries such as Mao Zedong and Che Guevara . This shaped many initiatives started under him, such as the free breakfast programs. The program was a success, as he pointed out in a speech that “ Our Breakfast for Children program is feeding a lot of children and the people understand our Breakfast for Children program. ” He also encouraged the engagement of the masses in the revolutionary struggle, knowing that revolution could not occur without involving them.
His speeches talked about the intersectionality between racism and capitalism while emphasizing the need for Black liberation and proletarian revolution. In a speech given to Northern Illinois University in November 1969 , he spoke on how the trans-Atlantic slave trade paved the way for capitalism to expand the way it has. He said that “When they brought slaves over here, it was to make money. Then the slaves came over to make that money.” In another , he spoke about how white capitalists used racism to divide working-class white and colonized people, saying that “they want to keep you to believing that I’m your enemy.”
Hampton rose quickly in the Black Panther Party due to his organizing skills and speeches, which were popular among many attendees. He would end up taking a larger role in the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program as well. Soon, Hampton became the Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, which automatically made him a national Black Panther Party deputy chairman. At the time of his death, he was on his way to becoming a part of the Party’s Central Committee Chief of Staff.
Hampton was assassinated in his apartment on Dec. 4, 1969 by the Chicago Police Department in collaboration with the FBI . The FBI had decided to set up an armed raid on his apartment after years of illegal surveillance of him. After returning home from teaching a political education course, one of his bodyguards, William O’ Neal, who had been arrested by the FBI a few years earlier at the age of 17 and became an informant in exchange for charges being dropped, drugged him. At 4:45 in the morning, a heavily armed police team stormed the apartment and executed him in his sleep, along with Mark Clark , another activist in the Party. Under a barrage of 99 bullets, Hampton’s wife, who was then pregnant and sleeping beside him, barely escaped unharmed.
Hampton was not the only one. The U.S. Government knew the Panthers threatened their oppressive hold, and would take drastic measures to stop it. Under the FBI’s COINTELPRO program ( which violently targeted other civil rights and left organizations during this period ) they used surveillance and infiltration to weaken the Party. As a result, the program and the police officers working as a part of it killed 28 Black Panther Party members and imprisoned another 750. Even today, there are still Black Panther Party members in prison who were persecuted for being a part of the organization . This was a main reason that led to the Party’s decline in membership over the 1970s, and by the early 1980s the Party dissolved.
Although the FBI’s COINTELPRO program and its actions toward Fred Hampton and the Party have been known for years, released documents in early February revealed there was a plan by the FBI to cover up what they did. According to author Jeff Haas, “Because the Black community was so outraged and there was a lot of pressure, they called a special grand jury, where they allowed the FBI agent who talked about who fired the guns, but they didn’t allow anybody to talk about the floor plan or the role of the informant, William O’ Neal, in setting up the raid and getting a bonus for it. So, that was kept quiet.” The documents also revealed that the then-head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, with other officers involved in the raid celebrated what happened.
Despite the U.S. government’s actions, however, Hampton and the Black Panthers continue to have an important legacy. Many of the things Hampton fought against, such as the violence of the racist police state and capitalist economy, are things that still and always have defined the United States. As the years have gone by, his message that proletarian revolution is necessary, along with the ending of racism and capitalism need to be heard, perhaps more than ever. As said in the December 13th, 1969 issue of the Party’s newspaper that commemorated Hampton’s life , “He saw and experienced the hunger, the pain, the agony and the death that is part and parcel of the Amerikkkan way of life. Deputy Chairman Fred checked out history and learned the very nature of this decadent fascist society.”
I started writing this article back in December to commemorate the 51st anniversary of Fred Hampton’s death. Many have assumed Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party to be “controversial” going back to when the party was at its peak of influence in the late-1960s. This can lead to misrepresentation, especially when people don’t know the full scope of the things the Party fought against. It’s necessary to be honest about the United States’ wide history of atrocities. I also think people who read this article should think about these things and how they relate to modern-day circumstances. This article is the product of long study to commemorate Hampton’s death and paint the most accurate representation of Hampton possible. Admittedly, as someone who is still learning and developing my position/beliefs every day, there are things I don’t know that I’ll regret putting later on. Some may read this article and disagree with the line the Black Panther Party had, but all writings, as I see them, are educational in a way, and if you want to educate people, you have to be honest.
The Assassination of Fred Hampton: A Short People’s History
Fifty-one years ago today, Illinois Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were slain by the Chicago police in a murderous pre-dawn raid. Over the next five decades the Hampton and Clark families, their lawyers, the Black Panther Party, movement activists, honest reporters and documentary filmmakers, and peoples’ historians have waged a continuous battle to uncover and speak the truth about Fred Hampton, the BPP, and the December 4 th raid. These intergenerational and interracial efforts have lead to a changing of the historical narrative from a shoot-out between the Panthers and the police, to a “shoot in” where the police fired more than 90 shots to one by the Panthers, then to a murder of Fred Hampton while he slept, drugged, in his bed, and now, to a political assassination orchestrated by the FBI under its notorious COINTEPRO program.
All of this work has led Hollywood to depict Fred Hampton in at least two major films made by megastar producers. In Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Conspiracy 7,” Hampton the character is fictionalized, a device to a worthy end – – – showing his murder as a significant event that occurred while the trial was happening.
Due out next year is Ryan Coogler’s “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which features a star-studded cast and focuses on, and contrasts, Fred with FBI informant William O’Neal, who set up Fred’s murder. The trailer warns that the movie is “inspired by true events.”
While an historical analysis of these movies must await another day, we must remember that to learn about the real Chairman Fred Hampton, his assassination, and the struggles that were waged to establish the narrative that these movies seek to depict, we must return to the sources that have painstakingly told, documented, recorded, and written about those events.
With that in mind, BAR Reprints an edited version of an article by the author that first appeared in Truthout on December 4, 2017.
In August 1967, notorious FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent out an urgent directive to all of his field offices under the file name “COINTELPRO-Black Nationalist Hate Groups.” It instructed “Racial Matters”(RM) agents to take aggressive — and highly illegal — actions to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black-nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters.” On March 4, 1968, exactly one month before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, another urgent Bureau-wide COINTELPRO directive from Hoover’s desk instructed RM Agents to devise COINTELPRO actions designed to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement.”
On December 4, 1969 RM agents in the Bureau’s Chicago office secretly congratulated themselves and hailed their “success” to Hoover for masterminding the bloody pre-dawn police raid that left Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) — and most certainly a rising “messiah” — and Peoria Panther leader Mark Clark dead, and several other young Panthers seriously wounded.
From an early age, Hampton was a charismatic speaker and natural leader. At the age of 14, he had organized a student chapter of the NAACP in Maywood, Illinois, and the chapter soon grew to 700 members. He led a march on the Maywood Town Hall and organized to build an integrated swimming pool there. After he graduated from Proviso East High School, the administration asked him to come back to mediate a confrontation between Black and white students, then had him arrested when he did so. Influenced by Malcolm X, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the realities that he observed and experienced in the movement, Hampton consistently spoke out strongly against police brutality. His politics became increasingly more militant.
In the fall of 1967, Hampton enrolled in Crane Junior College, later renamed Malcolm X College, which was a center of radical Black activity in Chicago. He continued his dynamic organizing there, and injected a new militancy into the student body. During 1968, Hampton, Bobby Rush and several others organized the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and opened their offices at 2350 West Madison Street on the West Side of Chicago.
By this time, Hampton had been expressly targeted by the Chicago FBI office, which was already quite experienced in disruption tactics and techniques, having taken several sophisticated actions in the mid-60s that were designed to exploit and exacerbate the political division between Nation of Islam leaders Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammed. Within days of the opening of the Panther office, Chicago’s Racial Matters Squad directed one of its operatives, William O’Neal, to join the Party. O’Neal soon maneuvered himself into a leadership position as chief of security, and served as Hampton’s bodyguard during the early days of the Illinois chapter.
Under the leadership of Chairman Fred Hampton and Minister of Defense Bobby Rush, the Chicago BPP grew into a strong organization. Hampton began to negotiate with Chicago street organizations, attempting to convince them to give up their violent activities and embrace the Panther philosophy. Under his leadership, the Party built the original Rainbow Coalition that united the Panthers, the Puerto Rican Young Lords Organization, the Young Patriots (a group of radical Appalachian whites) and the Students for a Democratic Society.
The BPP opened a Breakfast for Children program at several locations in the city, and fed hundreds of hungry young children before they went to school. Hampton frequently spoke at colleges and high schools and met with a wide range of leaders and organizations. He led by example, starting his day at six in the morning at the Breakfast program, and would never ask someone to do something he would not do, from selling the Panther newspaper to defending the Panther office from police attack.
At the same time, the FBI, both nationally and locally, was increasing its efforts to “neutralize the Panther Party and destroy what it stands for.” Not only had the Bureau targeted the leadership, including Hampton, whom it registered on its Rabble Rouser, Agitator and Security Indexes, but it also specifically set out to destroy the BPP newspaper and the Breakfast program, as well as the Panthers’ liberation schools and health clinics. Under the COINTELPRO banner, utilizing “ghetto informants” who often acted as provocateurs, Racial Matters operatives sought to exploit ideological differences and resultant tensions between the Panthers, street organizations and Black nationalist organizations. In Chicago, RM agents attempted to provoke the Blackstone Rangers to attack Hampton and the Panthers by sending a forged letter to Ranger leader Jeff Fort, that purported to warn him of a “hit” the Panthers had ordered against him — with the stated goal of provoking Fort to physically attack Hampton. Continuing his work as a COINTELPRO operative, FBI informant O’Neal, who later played a key role in setting up the murderous December 4 raid by supplying the floor plan of Hampton’s apartment, blossomed as a provocateur who repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — encouraged the commission of illegal acts.
The local police and prosecutors also sought to destroy the BPP with a vengeance. Panthers were constantly harassed and arrested, often for selling the Panther paper. Hampton had been arrested in Maywood for allegedly taking $71 of ice cream and distributing it to neighborhood children. The politically aggressive Cook County state’s attorney, Edward V. Hanrahan, put Hampton on trial for robbery. In May 1969 he was convicted and sentenced to two to five years in prison. In August, the Illinois Supreme Court granted Hampton appeal bond, and he returned to Chicago to a joyous welcome at People’s Church on South Ashland Avenue. In an inspiring and memorable speech, he told of how he heard the “beat of the people,” and was “high off the people” while he was locked up in a downstate maximum-security prison. Upon his release, Hampton immediately resumed his speaking and organizing at a breakneck pace. His unique leadership skills had been duly noted, not only by the FBI, but also by the national leadership of the BPP, and he was being groomed to be an important national spokesperson.
Three months later, Hampton lay dead on his bed in a pool of blood, assassinated by a Chicago police raider who shot him twice in the head at close range. Hampton was a victim of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program.
As evidence emerged over time, it was established that the 14-man, pre-dawn police raiding party, operating under the direct supervision of State’s Attorney Hanrahan, was armed with O’Neal’s floorplan that marked the bed on which Hampton would be sleeping. They carried a submachine gun, semiautomatic rifles, shotguns and handguns. The raiders were led by Chicago police Sgt. Daniel Groth, a shadowy figure with suspected connections to the CIA, and included James “Gloves” Davis, so nicknamed because he donned gloves before he beat people up.
The raiders burst in the front and back doors of the tiny apartment, and Davis killed Mark Clark, who was just inside the front door, with a shot through the heart. They then charged into the front room, shooting Brenda Harris, a 17-year-old Panther who was lying on a bed next to the wall, and “stitched” that wall with machine gun and semiautomatic fire. These bullets tore through the wall and into the middle bedroom, where three Panthers were huddling on the floor, and many of those high-powered bullets continued through another wall into the bedroom where Hampton and his fiancé, Deborah Johnson, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, were asleep. The trajectories of many of these bullets were toward the head of Hampton’s bed.
In the back bedroom, the mattress was vibrating from the gunfire as Panther occupants Louis Trueluck and Harold Bell were unsuccessfully trying to wake Hampton. The raiders burst through the back door, firing at the bedrooms. They then took Bell, Trueluck and Johnson out of the back bedroom into the kitchen, leaving Hampton alive but unconscious on the bed. In the front, the officer with the machine gun had moved to the doorway of the middle bedroom and fired several machine gun blasts at the defenseless occupants. Ronald “Doc” Satchel was hit five times, while Blair Anderson and another terrified teenager, Verlina Brewer, were also shot.
In the kitchen, Johnson and Bell heard two shots ring out from Hampton’s bedroom, and heard a raider say, “He’s good and dead now.” The toxicological evidence strongly suggested that O’Neal had put secobarbital in Hampton’s Kool-Aid hours earlier so that he would not wake up.
Hampton’s body was dragged from the bloodstained bed to the hallway floor, to be displayed as the raiders’ trophy, while the seven survivors were physically abused, subjected to threats and racial epithets, and then jailed on charges of attempted murder. The raiders then rushed from the apartment to the state’s attorney’s office where they appeared with Hanrahan at a press conference. There, Hanrahan described a fierce gun battle initiated by the “vicious” and “criminal” Black Panthers, during which his raiders acted “reasonably” and with “restraint.”
As we now know, the official version was a false narrative, a lie. Over the next decade the full truth was brought to light, thanks to Chicago’s Black and progressive communities, the families of Hampton and Clark, and the survivors of the raid, their lawyers, and their Panther comrades. With the awful truth on the public record, it is important to consider the present moment with that history in mind.
Flint Taylor is a founding member of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, and one of the lawyers for the Hampton and Clark families. He is the author of “The Torture Machine,” which documents the Hampton assassination in its first chapter. He also recommends “The Assassination of Fred Hampton,” by his longtime law partner and fellow Hampton lawyer Jeffrey Haas, the Mike Gray documentary film entitled “The Murder of Fred Hampton,” and the PBS Documentary “Eyes on the Prize Two, A Nation of Laws?”
Fred Hampton: Vanguard Revolutionary
Fred Hampton was born on August 30, 1948 in Maywood, Illinois. He was gifted in academics and athletics. As a child, he wanted to play for the New York Yankees when he finished school, but ended up studying pre-law at Triton Junior College. Hampton was inspired to study law to use it as a defense against police and their brutality. Around this time, he became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), leading their Youth Council of the organization’s West Suburban Branch. He increased the Council’s membership to over 500 members.
While Hampton was organizing youth on behalf of the NAACP, the Black Panther Party (BPP) was gaining national popularity. The Party’s Ten-Point Program that integrated black self-determination and elements of Maoism motivated Hampton to join and relocate to Chicago. Hampton’s leadership abilities were apparent. He brokered a nonaggression pact between Chicago’s most powerful and dangerous street gangs. His personal charisma combined with his organizing skills and gift of speech allowed him to be noticed and quickly rise within the Black Panthers. Hampton became the leader of the Chicago chapter. His duties included organizing rallies, working with the People’s Clinic, and the Free Breakfast Program. The success Hampton had with the BPP, captured the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
During the early morning hours of December 4, 1969, Chicago police raided Hampton’s Monroe Street apartment. Using the information gathered from FBI informant William O’Neal, local officials stormed the apartment and opened fire. Fred Hampton and fellow panther Mark Clark were killed. The remaining seven Panthers that were present in the apartment were arrested and indicted by a grand jury on charges of attempted murder, armed violence, and a variety of weapons charges. These charges were eventually dropped after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation discovered that Chicago Police fired ninety-nine shots, while the Panthers only shot twice. The complete FBI headquarters file on the investigation into the raid on the Black Panthers is available at the FBI Records Vault.
Records at the National Archives relating to Fred Hampton include the FBI and Department of Justice case files investigating his death, and US District Court files relating to the subsequent civil suit. These records can be found on the Black Power Portal/ Fred Hampton page. The National Archives has also welcomed filmmaker Stanley Nelson to discuss his documentary films, including The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.
5. Hampton helped form the Chicago/Illinois BPP chapter
In November 1968, Hampton joined the newly formed Illinois chapter of the BPP. He was an extremely effective leader, brokering a non-aggression pact between Chicago’s gangs, culminating in an alliance known as the Rainbow Coalition. Hampton encouraged the gangs to think about the bigger picture, saying that conflict would only serve to harm their prospects whilst the real enemy – the white racist government – would continue to grow stronger.
The groups within the coalition would support and defend one another, showing up at protests and finding unity through common action.
Fifty Years of Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition
C hicago-style coalition-building helped to produce the first Black mayor of Chicago and put its first Latinx representatives in office. Some even believe its legacy led to the election of the city’s first Black woman mayor. But unbeknownst to many, this form of organizing started in the streets fifty years ago with what was called the “Rainbow Coalition”: a progressive, fundamentally socialist movement that set the foundation for radical ideals and civil disobedience in Chicago.
O n a February afternoon in 1969, Chairman Fred Hampton and his contingent of Illinois Black Panthers went looking for a Puerto Rican kid by the name of Cha-Cha in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Hampton had just read in the paper that the Young Lords street organization had shut themselves in the 18th District police station—along with the police commander and the media—to protest the ongoing police harassment of Latinx residents.
The Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers established themselves on the West Side of Chicago in 1968 and functioned under a ten-point program of self-empowerment and service. Their Oakland, CA founding members were already involved in multiracial movement building through the left-wing and anti-war Peace and Freedom Party.
The Young Lords formed on the streets of Chicago in 1960 as a gang, but in 1968 they declared themselves a civil rights organization. In trips to the West Coast, they were exposed to the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement, who were mobilizing together for racial justice there.
Shortly after meeting, the two youths would found the original Rainbow Coalition: a “poor people’s army,” as José “Cha-Cha” Jimenez refers to it, that joined forces with working-class whites from the city’s North Side. As men were landing on the moon for the first time in a global display of American exceptionalism, the Rainbow Coalition was drawing citywide and nationwide attention to police brutality, premeditated gentrification, and institutional racism in Chicago.
“Fred took the Young Lords under his wing. He gave us the skills that we needed to come right out of the gang and start organizing the community,” said Cha-Cha, now seventy-one, leader of the gang-turned-political organization, in an interview. “We were already fighting for our rights in our neighborhoods, and we needed to form a united front. Our mission was self-determination for our barrios and all oppressed nations.”
In Chicago, the Black and Latinx activists became natural allies. Both communities had been battling Italian, German, Irish, and other white street gangs that were enforcing redlining at the street level. Black and Latinx Chicagoans lived together in the Cabrini-Green projects, attended overcrowded schools, and were denied entrance to certain beaches, restaurants, and public spaces their parents had practically no access to city jobs or home ownership.
The youth, who rocked black and purple berets as their respective colors, began to identify the “pigs” at the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Richard J. Daley as their common adversaries.
At the time, Chicago was a deeply segregated city, recovering from the violence of the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—who, years earlier, led the Chicago Freedom Movement , a campaign against racist housing practices that cemented segregation. Widespread public discontent—and the possibility that the neighborhoods could erupt again—could be felt.
Those who remember Hampton say he had the leadership skills to arrange gang truces and bring together unlikely groups. Billy “Che” Brooks, Deputy Minister of Education for the Illinois Black Panther Party, credits him with reaching out to William “Preacherman” Fesperman and the Young Patriots, a street organization of white youths whose parents and grandparents had migrated from Appalachia seeking jobs, but now resided in slum-like conditions in and around the Uptown neighborhood.
The newly formed Rainbow Coalition embraced the historic momentum of 1969 to organize an unprecedented partnership between blue-collar workers from the countryside and a variety of poor urban dwellers. Hampton understood that creating these alliances was necessary to engage in a “protracted class struggle,” according to Che, who today mentors youth at Chicago Public Libraries.
“Our thing was that Black people organize in the Black community, Puerto Ricans organize in the Puerto Rican community, ‘mexicanos’ organize in the Mexican community, and poor white people organize in their community”— and then they come together, he explained in an interview.
“Today, we call it coalition politics,” Che said.
Listen to Weekly contributor Jacqueline Serrato discuss this story on the October 11 episode of Lumpen Radio show Hitting Left:
But at the time, the Rainbow Coalition’s ideology dismissed electoral politics, according to Che, and did not aspire to mere representation politics or a colorblind society, either. Rather, they sought to empower “all peoples of the world” to determine their own destiny —beginning with their own neighborhoods—“by any means necessary.”
The Panthers were aware of the social uprisings taking place in Haiti and African countries to overthrow colonial-era dictators, while the Young Lords were just gaining consciousness of their status as second-class citizens from Puerto Rico—a “modern-day colony” of the United States, they said. This internationalist ideology and model of solidarity distinguished the Black Panther Party from separatist militant Black groups, and the Young Lords from other nationalist Latin American groups.
Hampton would often ask white liberals: “How can you go all the way to Vietnam without first going through the West Side of Chicago?”
Despite the gestures of solidarity, it was challenging for the youth of color to completely trust their hillbilly counterparts in the Young Patriots Organization who, in Southern tradition, wore the Confederate flag as their emblem. Che “was not ready for all that,” he said, and many Black Panthers and Young Lords were not enthused to break bread with the Young Patriots.
Enter Bobby Lee, a college-educated Texan and cousin of Black Panther Oakland chapter co-founder Bobby Seale, who had demonstrated great ability and patience when communicating with the white community. In the documentary American Revolution II, Lee speaks with a sixteen-year-old white boy in a straw hat who wants to take up arms to defend himself from detectives who slapped him around. Lee deescalates the crowded room in the film, speaking eloquently, and convinces them to go protest the police station instead. Noting Lee’s restraint, Hampton assigned him to help the Young Patriots launch their Survival Programs in Chicago.
Youth from the Young Lords and other community groups occupied the 18th District police station to protest the harassment of the Young Lords and its leader, José “Cha-Cha” Jimenez. Published in Y.L.O., a publication of the Young Lords’s Ministry of Information. (Young Lords Newspaper Collection Y.L.O. Vol. 1, No. 1, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois.)
The Survival Programs of the Black Panthers were meant to fill a void left by the municipal government and institutions that were not fulfilling the basic needs of all segments of society, in particular the Black community, they said. In response to the lack of healthcare for poor people in Chicago, the Panthers opened a network of clinics in North Lawndale and other Black neighborhoods with the aid of Quentin Young, MD, and other volunteer medical students. The Lords and the Patriots followed the Panthers’ model in their own communities.
The Rainbow Coalition youth—made up of Panthers, Young Lords, and Young Patriots—also launched free breakfast programs that were supported by donations from community businesses and ran free daycare centers for neighborhood children. Several operations were upheld by the women of the Black Panthers and women’s focus groups like the Young Lordettes and Mothers and Others (MAO). The federal government institutionalized the School Breakfast Program in 1975.
“We’re gonna fight fire with water. We’re gonna fight racism not with racism, but with solidarity. We’re not gonna fight capitalism with Black capitalism, but with socialism… We’re gonna fight with all of us people getting together and having an international proletariat revolution,” Hampton was recorded saying.
The overarching grievances of the Black-brown-and-white alliance revolved around the impact that both urban neglect and urban renewal, as gentrification was then called, were having on the slums and ghettos where they lived. The city wanted to “rehabilitate” some of those areas in their efforts to erect a twenty-first century world-class city, according to Mayor Daley’s proposed fifty-year development plan he called Chicago 21 .
Across racial lines, poor and disenfranchised youth were routinely harassed, beaten, and incarcerated by the Chicago Police Department. In May 1969, Mayor Daley and State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan declared a “war on gangs” in Chicago, deploying 1,000 additional police to the streets. Twice, Hampton and Cha-Cha, along with Obed Lopez, a Mexican from the Latin American Defense Organization (LADO), were rounded up by 13th District police and charged with mob action for picketing a Wicker Park welfare office.
Hampton and Cha-Cha were sent to solitary confinement at Cook County Jail multiple times as a direct consequence of their street organizing. “This was an effort to criminalize us, to bankrupt our finances, to cause fear and put us away for life,” Cha-Cha said.
Che, seventy-one, remembered Hampton was sentenced after taking ice cream pops from the ice cream truck to pass out to neighborhood kids. Cha-Cha was jailed for stealing lumber to repair the Young Lords daycare center in order to meet city inspection, he said. Both served their time for those crimes. At one point Cha-Cha had accumulated eighteen cases and Hampton and Lopez each had nine cases.
As a high school dropout and former gang leader, Cha-Cha was a man of few words. Old press photos tended to depict him balancing a cigarette in his mouth. But his confrontational tactics were in line with Hampton’s and remain a hallmark of direct action.
In Lincoln Park, which has since become a playground for the rich, the first recorded acts of collective resistance to gentrification took place under Cha-Cha’s command. At the time, several institutions—among them the Children’s Memorial Hospital, and the McCormick Theological Seminary that was later absorbed by the DePaul University campus —were collaborating with the city to expand high-end housing near the lakefront: prime Chicago real estate. The developments were designed to exclude the Puerto Rican working class, the Young Lords found after studying the city blueprints.
The Young Lords became emboldened after one of their members, Manuel Ramos, was killed by an off-duty cop, and another, Pancho Lind, was beaten to death by a white gang. The Lords notoriously occupied the institutions that were taking over their neighborhood and presented landlords with a list of demands for institutional access. But first, they trashed the Urban Renewal office in Lincoln Park, shutting it down for months and sending a clear message of resistance to the city.
The occupations didn’t just put the Young Lords on the map: a $25,000 payout obtained from the occupation of the university building helped to found the People’s Law Office, a social justice firm that represented the Rainbow Coalition against legal pressure from the police and the city.
In public appearances, the Rainbow Coalition was backed by community residents and Black and brown street gangs—but they also had the support of unions, Independent Precinct Organizations, college students and activists who supported the movement through Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Rising Up Angry, and countless other organizations. Their allies included Concerned Citizens of Lincoln Park, the West Town Concerned Citizens Coalition, the Northside Cooperative Ministry, Neighborhood Commons Organization, and Voice of the People.
“It was really based on common action,” said Mike Klonsky, a former Chicago leader of SDS (who, like Hampton and Cha-Cha, had a reward out for his arrest). “If there was a protest or a demonstration, the word would get out and we would all come to it and support each other. If somebody was arrested, we would all raise bail. If somebody was killed or shot by the police, we would all respond together.”
Klonsky, now seventy-six, appeared with Cha-Cha, Hampton, and Yoruba, a Young Lord-in-training from New York, in newspaper photos of a press conference held by the Rainbow Coalition. The former leader of SDS, which by 1969 was splintering due to ideological differences, said they were publicly distancing themselves from the Weathermen, a militant faction of SDS who organized a three-day series of violent protests in October called the Days of Rage during which the Weathermen rampaged through the Gold Coast and blew up a statue to police who died during the 1886 Haymarket Riot.
The Coalition knew that Black and brown activists would face the brunt of police retaliation for the Days of Rage—which Hampton denounced as “adventuristic, masochistic, and Custeristic”—and proposed a march from People’s Park (a vacant lot on Halsted and Armitage they had also occupied) to Humboldt Park as an alternative.
“We believed in self-defense, but not provocation,” Klonsky said.
Still, high-profile activists and associates like Klonsly endured government surveillance under COINTELPRO—an infamous program of the Justice Department which sent undercover agents to disrupt radical movements from the inside—and the Red Squad, a CPD intelligence unit dating back to the Haymarket Riot that kept track of their every move.
“Their specific job and duty was to harass us,” Che said. “We had informants within the infrastructure of our organization who we referred to as provocateurs, who caused dissention and were created to destroy and basically annihilate us.”
The Coalition youth protested the torture of Seale, who was chained and gagged while in court for his participation in the Democratic National Convention protests, and the federal charges placed on the Chicago Seven activists for alleged conspiracy and rioting. Around the same time, the Rev. Bruce Johnson of the People’s Church—a United Methodist Church the Young Lords took over and turned into their headquarters—was brutally stabbed, along with his wife Eugenia, in their parsonage in a case that remains unsolved.
The confrontations between CPD and the Panthers were becoming increasingly intense. They engaged in a shootout over the summer that killed Black Panther Larry Roberson. Then in November, police alleged they were responding to a domestic dispute in the South Side when a shootout broke out that claimed the lives of Black Panther Spurgeon “Jake” Winters and police officers Frank Rappaport and John Gilhooly.
In December of 1969, the FBI conducted an overnight raid on Hampton’s apartment with intelligence provided by an infiltrator. He had just been named spokesperson of the national Black Panther Party. A barrage of police bullets struck him in his sleep as he lay beside his pregnant fiance, Akua Njeri, who survived. Another occupant, Black Panther security chief Mark Clark, was also killed.
Distraught members of the Coalition unofficially disbanded, and a handful of the leadership went underground after Hampton’s assassination, fearing for their own safety. Thousands of people lined up to witness the open crime scene, while lawyers from the People’s Law Office disputed the later-disproved official police account, which had falsely claimed a heavy firefight on both sides. Having assassinated its most vocal leader, the Feds had effectively crushed the 1960s’ most promising push for united, cohesive social resistance in Chicago.
The Black Panthers, Young Patriots and SDS join the Young Lords in a march from “People’s Park” to Humboldt Park. Published in Y.L.O., a publication of the Young Lords’s Ministry of Information. (Young Lords Newspaper Collection, Y.L.O. Vol. 1 No. 5. Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois.)
B lack Panther Party Deputy Minister of Defense Bobby Rush and the Rev. Jesse Jackson , the Chicago leader of Martin Luther King’s Operation Breadbasket, spoke at Hampton’s funeral. In time, both demonstrated political aspirations. The notion of voting for politicians from the community began to sound more palatable in the absence of revolutionary spokespeople.
Although he was not considered a “viable” candidate by the establishment, Cha-Cha became the first Latinx candidate to announce a run for office in the city of Chicago, a decision he says he made in 1973 while sitting in Cook County Jail. When he was released, Cha-Cha traded his purple beret for a suit and tie, and with North Side organizers Walter “Slim” Coleman and Jim Chapman launched his campaign for alderman in the 46th Ward.
Cha-Cha ran on a pro-low income housing and anti-displacement platform, and lost, but garnered an unexpected thirty-nine percent of the vote and grew in name recognition. His campaign built a base of newly registered voters—Puerto Ricans could vote, as opposed to Mexican immigrants and many other Latinx Chicagoans at the time—and that carried over to Mayor Harold Washington’s campaign in 1983.
Washington, who ran on a Neighborhoods First agenda, did not count on the support of most of the Black aldermen in the Council whose wards were beholden to the mayor’s patronage jobs. Up until that point, only one former alderman, Leon Despres, had dared to speak up against Daley . So members of the original Rainbow Coalition network re-emerged to get out the minority and progressive white vote for Washington and other candidates who openly challenged the Daley machine, including Helen Shiller’s 46th Ward aldermanic run.
Rush would later comment that Washington’s election was “directly linked” to the assasination of Fred Hampton and the values he pioneered in Chicago.
Klonsky said he “can trace a straight line between 1969 and […] the election of Mayor Harold Washington, the first Black mayor.”
As the North Side Hispanic Precinct Coordinator, Cha-Cha put together a rally for Washington in Humboldt Park that, according to the Sun-Times, attracted 100,000 Latino residents. “As some of the audience waved Puerto Rican flags, Washington welcomed them in Spanish with a greeting of ‘unity and strength’,” the paper read.
However, Cha-Cha did not get a job with the Washington administration due to his criminal record and past drug use. He found refuge from law enforcement in Michigan, where he currently resides, goes to university, and maintains a Young Lords committee remotely.
From Washington’s supporters and the organizing network of the Rainbow Coalition emerged a wave of progressive leaders that sought political power in the late ‘80s and the ‘90s. Some recognizable names include former Cook County Clerk David Orr, former 15th Ward Alderman Marlene Carter, former City Clerk and current chair of the Board of Education Miguel del Valle, former MWRD Commissioner Joseph Gardner, former 25th Ward Alderman Juan Soliz, former 44th Ward Alderman Dick Simpson, former U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez, and his replacement in Congress and former mayoral candidate, Jesús “Chuy” García , and aldermanic candidates like Paul Siegel and Rudy Lozano.
In 1984, before President Barack Obama entered the picture as a state senator, Jackson would run for president unsuccessfully, delivering a speech titled “Rainbow Coalition” at the Democratic National Convention. He subsequently adopted the name for the non-profit he founded, and then merged with his Operation PUSH to form the Rainbow/PUSH civil rights organization. Jackson did not respond to requests for comment.
But the electoral power built by the Rainbow Coalition faced pushback from traditional voting blocs. Washington faced legislative blockades from the regular Democrats during the racist Council Wars, in which white alderman (and one Latinx) banded together to systematically vote against the mayor’s proposals throughout his first term.
The mayor’s death from a heart attack in 1987 caused divisions among Black voters who were split on a Black successor. The tragic loss of Washington allowed for the status quo to fall back into place under Mayor Richard M. Daley, who—among other self-serving maneuvers—enabled the corrupt Hispanic Democratic Organization that recruited city workers to manipulate the Latinx vote in his favor.
Since the ‘70s, more than thirty white, Black, and Latinx aldermen have been indicted or accused of serious corruption charges, ranging from bribery to extortion to embezzlement. Most recently, veteran aldermen Ed Burke, Danny Solis, and Carrie Austin have made headlines for being of interest to federal investigators.
A nd from [Washington], I can draw a straight line to what’s going on today with Black Lives Matter—and even the election of Lori, a gay Black woman,” said Klonsky, who today co-hosts Hitting Left , a political radio show on Bridgeport’s Lumpen Radio . “Her election stands on the shoulders of Harold.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot succeeded two-term Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose legacy of police cover-ups led to his decision not to run for a third term, with an anti-corruption platform that sought to eliminate the remnants of the old patronage machine at City Hall. Early in her campaign, Lightfoot promised to reform the culture at the Chicago Police Department and address affordable housing. Her campaign swept all wards—though at thirty-five percent, voter turnout in the 2019 election was significantly short of the eighty-two percent turnout when Washington won in 1983.
The issues that Lightfoot and her opponent—another Black woman, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle—championed were brought to the surface by the organizing work of people at the grassroots level. Throughout Emanuel’s term in office, activists protested the police killings of Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd, the mass closure of public schools and mental health clinics, and the ongoing exodus of families from traditionally Black and brown neighborhoods.
The organizing by youth groups like Black Youth Project 100, and labor groups like the Chicago Teachers Union—along with tenants groups, independent political organizations, and cross-neighborhood coalitions like the Grassroots Collaborative—all helped to set the agenda for the mayoral race.
Both activists and reformers have criticized the mayor during her first hundred days in office, arguing that she has not made enough progress on the talking points of her platform. And these groups are keeping the pressure on: they are fighting for a fifteen-dollar living wage, an elected school board, eliminating cash bail, nixing a $95 million police training academy, and improving sanctuary city protections for immigrants under President Donald Trump.
These are values that have been embraced by a new crop of young, multicultural Democratic Socialists and progressives in City Council. Their agendas claim to prioritize a people-powered way of doing government—“for the many, not the few” (as Hampton would say)—that removes big money from politics and ensures community benefits agreements for residents as their neighborhoods develop.
The freshmen aldermen are not only backing, but spearheading measures like a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) and lifting the statewide ban on rent control. Aldermen from across the city have advocated for the Homes for All, Bring Chicago Home, and the Development for All ordinances that aim to regulate real estate developers and secure affordable living for working families, the homeless, and people with disabilities.
The ideological shift in City Council can be credited to socialist ideas gaining ground in recent years, but also to years of good old-fashioned door knocking and coalition building across neighborhoods. The Black Caucus, the Latino Caucus, and the Progressive Caucus are expected to intersect with one another to a degree that we have never seen before.
Politics in Chicago have come a long way since Hampton met with Cha-Cha fifty years ago. The trajectory of fearless grassroots, youth-driven, intersectional organizing that was set in motion by the 1969 Rainbow Coalition still resonates today.
There will be an event to commemorate fallen Young Lords and the unsolved deaths of Young Lords allies the Rev. Bruce and Eugenia Johnson at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church, 925 W. Diversey Pkwy., on September 29 at 10:30am, followed by a “justice march” to the site of old People’s Church, 834 W. Armitage, in Lincoln Park. bit.ly/YoungLordsMarch
“All Power to the People,” an exhibit celebrating the legacy of the Illinois Black Panther Party, is open for viewing at the Woodson Regional Library’s Harsh Research Collection, 9525 S. Halsted St., through December 31. chipublib.org
Documentary The First Rainbow Coalition , chronicling much of the history in this article, will premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival on October 24 and 25 at the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St. José “Cha-Cha” Jimenez of the Young Lords, Hy Thurman of the Young Patriots, and Henry “Poison” Gaddis of the Black Panthers, with director Ray Santisteban, will attend both screenings. $18. chicagofilmfestival.com
Jacqueline Serrato is an independent journalist born and raised in the Little Village neighborhood. Follow her on Twitter @HechaEnChicago.
4. ‘Power Anywhere Where There’s People,’ as recited by Michael B. Jordan
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Monthly Review Essays
Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. His dream of an Indigenous confederacy largely died with him. Yet his appreciation of the moment and the possibilities for transformation lived on and should give us all pause.
COVID-19 and other zoonotic outbreaks such as Ebola are illustrative of the complex interactions between deforestation, biodiversity loss, ecosystem destruction, and human health and safety.
Lost & Found
If “the revolutionary spirit of the last centuries, that is, the eagerness to liberate and to build a new house where freedom can dwell, [which] is unprecedented and unequaled in all prior history” properly begins with the bourgeois revolutions of the late eighteenth century, few would dispute that this eagerness for fundamental social transformation was [&hellip]
Still More to Uncover
The Fred Hampton story has been told and retold such that it is frozen in amber, as if all the facts are known. Yet our obtaining of previously secret documents shows there is still more to be learned — not only from the corpus of files held by the FBI, but from the files of Chicago’s SAC Marlin Johnson, the informant William O’Neal’s file, any liaison notes between the CPD and the FBI that may exist, to say nothing of information that may lie in the records, not destroyed, of the Chicago Police and their red squad. (The CPD admitted in 1974 that it destroyed 105,000 files on individuals and 1,300 on organizations.) That all this time later we are still learning new information about Hampton’s killing is testament to the sheer volume of the effort aimed at this young revolutionary — and hopefully a spur to finally get all the secrets out.