This week kicks off the MCM series, which seeks to educate yall on overlooked black men in history. First up this week is Fred Hampton, an activist and black leader who was vilified as a terrorist by the American government and murdered at the age of 21.
“We’re not a racist organization, because we understand that racism is an excuse used for capitalism, and we know that racism is just – it’s a byproduct of capitalism.” – Fred Hampton
Fred Hampton was born in 1948 in Summit, Illinois. As a child and teen he was great at baseball, and once even held a dream to go to the majors. He graduated from high school with honors in 1966 and went to study law at a junior college. He saw the police brutality that he and other black people faced, and wished to use law to fight it. During his freshman year he joined the NAACP, and quickly rose to a leadership position in the youth group, eventually recruiting over 500 new members.
In 1968 he joined the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in Chicago. When he joined the nubile branch, Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member Bob Brown was in charge. Hampton’s leadership skills quickly brought the group to new heights. In less than a year, the Chicago chapter was providing free breakfast and community classes, plus organizing rallies. Fred pushed for a “rainbow coalition”, or multi-racial alliance among the Black Panthers and other groups. Hampton is quoted as saying, “Black people need some peace. White people need some peace. And we are going to have to fight. We’re going to have to struggle. We’re going to have to struggle relentlessly to bring about some peace, because the people that we’re asking for peace, they are a bunch of megalomaniac warmongers, and they don’t even understand what peace means.” He managed to produce a pact of non-violence between the Illinois Panthers and their non-black rivals. It is also notable that Fred is the reason why the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers Party was a relatively comfortable environment for black members. As former member Yvonne King put it,
“We were fortunate that many of the brothers who were in leadership in the central staff, particularly Fred, . . . really encouraged the sisters. Michael [McCarty] mentioned . . . how Fred could make you believe you could walk through a wall and get to the other side. That’s how he made us feel, and it helped us to develop not only as women, but as people within the chapter, but he particularly encouraged women to speak, to represent, to take on responsibility, and we were held accountable.”
Around the same time Fred began rising to prominence, the FBI started a folder on the young charismatic leader. When the SNCC and the Black Panther Party began beefing thanks to the FBI, Bob Brown (along with Stokely Carmichael) left for greener pastures. Hampton took over. This led to his demise. The following excerpt from my book, The A-Z Guide to Black Oppression, explains how.
In November 1969, Fred Hampton was in California when two Chicago police officers were killed by Black Panthers after a gunfight. The FBI, hungry to crush out Hampton’s growing influence, set up a raid for him and enlisted their informant, William O’Neal, to drug his drink on the same night. The crushed sleeping pill would ensure Fred stayed knocked out for the entirety of the raid. On the night of December 3rd, police fired 99 shots after busting through the door. They murdered the Panther on security duty, Mark Clark. Fred Hampton was shot twice in the head next to his eight month pregnant fiance. When recounting the story to the press the next day, police didn’t mention any of this. They instead claimed the “extremely vicious” Panthers had attacked them. This worsened the already bad reputation of the Panthers, whose positive community programs were overshadowed by negative reputations in the news.
“I believe I’m going to die doing the things I was born to do. I believe I’m going to die high off the people. I believe I’m going to die a revolutionary in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle.”– Fred Hampton
Fred Hampton was truly down for the black community and had a very clear and logical mind. He understood classism and knew that rejecting non-black allies and avoiding legislative reform would not yield powerful results or change. He was level headed and non-violent compared to Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. He was a shining light, one snuffed out because the government saw his potential to spark change. I never learned about Fred Hampton in school, nor did I learn about how he (and other Panthers) were picked off like flies by the government. That’s a damned shame. I often think about how much good Hampton would have done for the community had he not been murdered. Shortly before his murder, he had been appointed to the central decision making committee of the Panthers. He was also made chief of staff and national spokesman because his oratorical skills were that fire. I wonder if he had still been alive in 1974 if Huey would have considered turning the group reins to him over Elaine Brown. I agonize over what kind of leadership he would have provided. I agonize because I’ll never know. We will never know. All we can do is ponder on who Fred Hampton could have grown to be, and thank him for who he was.
“We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat; I am the people.” – Fred Hampton
NOBODY KNOWS MY NAME: THE MARGINALIZATION OF MARK CLARK IN AMERICA’S COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS (JUDSON L. JEFFRIES and OMARI L. DYSON)
“Don’t no woman have to do nothing she don’t want to do”: Gender, Activism, and the Illinois Black Panther Party (Jakobi Williams)