If 1968 was the year the world changed, the following year was its even darker, more sinister sequel.
The Hippie dream was fading – and fading pretty fucking quickly. The Vietnam War was still ongoing, the Summer of Love had come and gone, and both Kennedy brothers had been shot dead. The attitude of the public was beginning to sour, as free love and peace began to sag under the weight of a changing world landscape.
Dr. Martin Luther King was also dead – gunned down on a hotel balcony in Memphis. His death sparked massive riots across the U.S. in a sight all-too-familiar to us today.
Despite what modern, revisionist history has us believe – Martin Luther King was not always a beloved, celebrated figure. In fact, he was hated by the U.S. State and was considered, at a time, to be the number one threat to the security of the United States. The emotion of the Civil Rights Movement conjured up extremely powerful emotions on both sides of the movement, and Dr. King, despite his peaceful ways, was seen as the main reason why America seemed to be falling apart at the seams.
By the time Dr. King was gunned down, the Black Panther Party was already firmly established. Formed in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newtown, the Black Panther Party rallied to combat against the systematic treatment of African-Americans and to help fight social issues facing the black community, such as food and housing, as a whole. Its members were armed in public a lot of the time, carrying out ‘cop-watching’ in order to keep an eye on police officers.
The Panthers’ ten point program, which advocates full equality for African-Americans, is listed as follows:
- We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
- We want full employment for our people.
- We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
- We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
- We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
- We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
- We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
- We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
- We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
- We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.
The young Fred Hampton, still only a teenager, joined the Chicago branch of the Panthers in 1968. His charisma and organising skills quickly propelled him to the organisation’s stratosphere – and he became head of the Chicago branch when he was only 20. He managed to secure a non-violence treaty between two of Chicago’s most powerful street gangs – stating that interacial violence between factions would only keep them submerged in poverty for even longer. His philosophy was that every under-represented person, no matter what race, needed to unite under a conscious pact and work together to dismantle the barriers that they all faced to different degrees.
Hampton taught political education classes in church every morning at 6am. He also constructed a citywide police supervision program which was designed to distinguish law abiding, honest police officers from dangerous, corrupt, and racist ones. Furthermore, he was one of the main architects of the Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program which aimed to feed every poverty-stricken child in the country.
Hampton achieved all of this by the age of 20 – which makes this even more incredible. He was quickly becoming one of the Panthers’ major players and was a beloved figure in his native Chicago. He had also caught the attention of the FBI – who had noted Hampton’s verbal skills and penchant for organising as a major threat to the security of the country.
“The whole problem is the blacks…The key is to devise a system that recognises that while not appearing to.”Richard Nixon to his chief of staff, H.R. Hadelman.
By late 1969, Hampton had become chairman of the Illinois Panthers and was skyrocketing toward becoming the head of the whole party. His activities and movement were closely monitored by the FBI – and J. Edgar Hoover was relentlessly trying to suppress Black unification as it, in his mind, would threaten the nation’s security severely. Hampton was in the process of recruiting an influential street gang to the Panthers which would double its capacity.
With the FBI on his tail, he rented a safehouse with his pregnant girlfriend to help protect his security. By this time, counterintelligence agents had already infiltrated the Panthers, and the FBI’s strategy of causing internal unrest within the party, which would later wreak havoc, was underway. One of the undercover agents submitted the location of Hampton’s safehouse, so the Chicago police department began preparing for a raid.
On the night of December 3, 1969, Hampton taught his usual political class before returning to his apartment. He was staying there with several other Panthers, including the undercover agent, William O’Neal. O’Neal prepared a dinner upon Hampton’s arrival, and had also slipped sleeping pills into his drink. Hampton quickly grew weary and retired to bed. In the early hours, armed Chicago police officers raided the apartment and fatally shot Hampton multiple times at point-blank range. Once an officer described him as ”good and dead now”, his body was dragged to the doorway of his room and dumped there. The remaining Panthers were arrested on weapons charges and held on bail. One other Panther, Mark Clark, was killed instantly by police once they entered the apartment.
“The immediate, violent, criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther party. So does their refusal to cease firing at the police officers when urged to do so several times.”State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, speaking after Hampton’s death.
Fred Hampton was murdered. A promising young man was brutally slain next to his pregnant girlfriend for no good reason. Hampton’s murder was not about protecting the nation’s security, it was about suppressing a young man’s voice in the most inhumane way possible. It was about silencing a man who challenged social convention. It was about the ‘land of the free’ killing whoever dared challenge its paradigm. J. Edgar Hoover was scared of Hampton, so ordered that he be gone from this world. I think that’s disgraceful – I think Hoover, much like Nixon, was himself a disgrace.
Hampton remains beloved within the Black community – but a large amount of people are not familiar with his name or life. I think it’s a damn shame history like this is not included within the school curriculum – as history from all walks of life should be taught to the young to help them contemplate the craziness of the world surrounding them. I never learned about Fred Hampton in school, and, chances are, neither did you. Who knows what he could have achieved had he been allowed to live. Hampton was anti-capitalist, a view you have every right to agree with or not, but, most importantly, he dedicated himself to helping society’s most vulnerable – and made people feel like they could make a difference in this world. His death is a shameful stain on a system symptomatic on silencing any voice who dares slander it.
Rest in peace, Fred Hampton.
Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.