Fred Hampton was quite the remarkable human being. He was a gifted orator, community leader, life-long activist, uniter of warring gangs, and chairman of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). So many achievements, so many lives affected—both in his time and into the future. All this, only to be drugged and assassinated in his own bed at age of 21 by those meant to protect and serve. Thinking of the lost potential for humanity nearly brings me to tears.
Now, the assassination of Fred Hampton is quite the involved story; one that I will not recount here—many others have done amazing work on the subject. * What this essay will do though, is recount what the life and death of Fred Hampton meant to both myself and the contemporary struggle for justice and equality.
Early in life, Hampton was already an extremely prolific activist. He worked to settle disputes between racialized groups of students, and he advocated for the student concerns to teacher administrations. He even went so far as recognizing that white teachers were biased towards Black students and advocated for more Black teachers. All this before he was even 15 years of age.
While he would become both chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the BPP as well as the deputy chairman of the national BPP, I feel his most important achievement was his ability to unite people. As socialist revolutionary, developing a class-consciousness against the oppressor was of utmost importance. This saw the creation of initiatives to feed the children of poor communities, brokering non-aggression pacts between racialized street gangs, and creating the Rainbow Coalition—a multi-racial front of marginalized Black, Hispanic, and white people against state oppression. This saw multiple chapters to follow Hampton’s lead in creating broad coalitions of resistance. It was these actions that really caught the eyes of those in power.
The system lashed out against those
who wanted to change it.
And believe me, systems are reluctant to change. These efforts to unite the oppressed against the oppressor led to the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, to label the BPP as representing the “greatest threat to internal security of the country” in June of 1969. Six months later, numerous BPP party leaders were dead or imprisoned, and Hampton himself was assassinated.
The story of Hampton’s life and activism is also the story of Civil Right and Black Power movements writ large. Hampton began as a grassroots organizer and supporter of non-violent resistance. He marched with MLK. In doing so, he was met with the violent hostility of white people who felt threatened by what Black liberation would mean for their own lives. So as non-violence failed to achieve results, increasingly militant attitudes were considered.
This struggle mirrors modern day equality movements. For instance, BLM arose out of extreme dissatisfaction with the criminal “justice system” in the US and Canada. Years and years of injustice—often public displays of it—wreaked havoc on BIPOC communities until it exploded. And yet, BLM organizers attempted, and still attempt peaceful action and resolution. But as we see police brutality protests met with police brutality, I fear escalation as people are pushed into the corner.
What I learned from Hampton is the need for class solidarity.
There is power in unity.
It is the only real power we truly have when faced against huge systems of control and exploitation. Modern day equality movements would do well to follow Hampton’s lead. Building coalitions, seeing beyond petty differences, seeking common ground in the struggle. This is effective. However, as the case of Fred Hampton proves, the system is willing and able to exert its power to stop it.
Though, not through actual assassination—no, not you cops, y’all still old school—rather, it’s through character assassinations. In the media, on twitter, sometimes even in the streets. And I think this is how I want to conclude this discussion. Hampton’s mother, Iberia never liked the way her son was portrayed. Both then and now, he is often seen fist in the air, always yelling pig, or calling for violent uprisings. While this was true, it wasn’t the whole image of Fred Hampton. He was a man of the people, community organizer, brilliant orator, and would-be lawyer. A UNITER. I grieve for a great man, stolen too soon. And celebrate the life of a revolutionary who died and lived for the people.
* Jeffrey Haas, The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panthers; Jay Feldman, Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America.
Documentaries and Film:
- The Murder of Fred Hampton, 1971. Documentary. Available on YouTube
- I am a Revolutionary, 2020. Available on YouTube.
- Judas and the Black Messiah, 2021. A feature film discussing how the FBI conspired to assassinate Fred Hampton.
- “Judas and the Black Messiah” Director Shaka King on Fred Hampton, the Black Panthers & COINTELPRO. From Democracy Now! Available on YouTube.
- The Assassination of Fred Hampton: New Documents Reveal Involvement of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. From Democracy Now! Available on YouTube.
Charles joined Rabbit Hole in the Fall of 2020 as a creative consultant. He has been both a professional photographer, videographer, and writer. After completing his MA on the History of Racism, he strives to be socially engaged in all aspects of his personal and professional life. When writing, he follows the mantra of Dr. Cornell West: “bear witness and speak truth to power.”