FRED HAMPTON: AMERICAN ACTIVIST
Fred Hampton was born on August 30, 1948, and raised in a suburb of Chicago now known as Maywood (Mack, 2015). When he was in high school, Hampton was incredibly gifted both academically and athletically. He had hopes to one day play center field for the New York Yankees (Fred, 2017). In 1966, he graduated high school with honors and enrolled at Triton Junior College -also in Chicago, in the pre-law program (Fred, 2017).
Upon going to Triton Junior College, he became involved with his local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), taking on leadership roles within the Youth Council, especially in the organization’s West Suburban branch. Hampton was particularly gifted as both an orator and leader and soon amassed 500 members in his branch, out of a community of 27,000 people (Fred, 2017). His group was able to lobby for better academic and recreational facilities for African-American children in Chicago (Mack, 2015).
After the success of his first project, Hampton joined the Black Panther Party (BPP), which was headquartered in Oakland, California, a traditionally poor black city just south of San Francisco (Mack, 2015). Because of his enthusiasm and experience with the NAACP, Hampton was soon the head of the Chicago branch of the BPP (Mack, 2015).
In his year as the head of the Chicago branch, Hampton among other things, was able to broker a non-aggression pact between Chicago’s most significant and violent street gangs (Mack, 2015). By stressing that conflict between gangs, especially the youth in gangs, would keep those youth in poverty, Hampton was able to raise awareness of class consciousness, then creating an alliance between the multiple gangs and the BPP called the Rainbow Coalition, which was incredibly successful in keeping the violence and conflict between the groups lower than had ever been seen (Mack, 2015).
Though he was very well liked by a large number of people, the same talent for organizing and orating put him in the eyesight of the FBI, who deemed Hampton a threat (Mack, 2015). J. Edgar Hoover wanted to prevent a cohesive coalition of Black movement in the United States, and so opened an investigation on Hampton, which included tapping Hampton’s mother’s phone, and placing Hampton on the “Agitator Index,” a database used to track people who were leaders of civil rights movements (Fred, 2017). The FBI also sent anonymous letters to the BPP and Rangers (one of the gangs which was part of the Rainbow Coalition), instigating a split, which was shown later in a Senate investigation to be an active encouragement of violence between the BPP and other radical groups, which triggered many ethnic and racially motivated murders across the country (Mack, 2015).
The FBI was finally able to arrest Hampton on May 26, 1969, for a case related to a theft in 1967 of $71 worth of Good Humor Bars in Maywood. He was sentenced to two to five years but managed to obtain an appeal bond, and was released in August (Fred, 2017). Now that he had an arrest record, it was easier for the FBI to justify keeping an eye on Hampton.
On December 4, 1969, at 4:00am, 14 heavily armed policemen split into 2 teams, stormed into Fred Hampton’s apartment shooting wildly (Taylor, 2016). Along with other casualties, Fred Hampton was murdered that night. There was evidence of only one shot being fired back, against the police, with all other bullets being traced to police guns (Taylor, 2016).
After the raid, the relatives of Hampton sued 28 defendants including the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government, saying that the civil rights of the Black Panther members had been violated (Gregory, 2008). In what would be the largest settlement ever in a civil rights case, the plaintiffs were awarded $1.85 million (Fred, 2017).
The murder of Fred Hampton and the winning of his civil case turned Hampton into a martyr, giving many Americans in favor of equality hope that the government would eventually do the right thing. Along with his legacy, sound bites of his speeches are still passed around and still incite the same spirit of fighting for equality. You can here one of his most famous sound bites here:
The memory of Fred Hampton is a very usable one, especially for today’s Black Lives Matter movement, in that it is easy to cite him as a martyr for the cause of freedom and equality for all black people, especially with the material memory of clips of him speaking still in existence. It is fairly predictable that his memory will stay on in this same manner, as a memory of fighting for what’s right.
Gregory, T. (2008, September 03). The Black Panther Raid and the death of Fred Hampton. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-pantherraid-story-story.html
Fred Hampton. (2017, April 12). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Hampton
Mack, D. (April, 2015). Hampton, Fred . Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.blackpast.org/aah/hampton-fred-1948-1969
Taylor, F. (2016, December 4). The Assassination of Fred Hampton: 47 Years Later. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/38611-the-assassination-of-fred-hampton-47-years-later