Who was Fred Hampton?
Fred Hampton was an American civil-rights activist, best remembered for his association with the Chicago chapter of the 'National Association for the Advancement of Colored People' (NAACP) and the 'Black Panther Party' (as its deputy chair). With the ‘NAACP,’ he organized numerous rallies for the rights of the people of color. Hampton had gained prominence as an activist at a tender age, which subsequently secured his position in the ‘BPP.’ His most notable work with the ‘BPP’ was the 'Rainbow Coalition,' which ensured the end of gang wars in Chicago. However, his accomplishments caught the attention of the ‘FBI,’ which considered such activism a threat to the government and society. Hence, the bureau hired an informant to infiltrate the ‘BPP’ and accuse its members of serious crimes. Following this, the appointed officials killed 21-year-old Hampton and his guard. The law enforcement raid was heavily condemned by multiracial communities. They regarded the killing as an illegal assassination. Hampton is now globally remembered as a martyr for the cause of black liberation.
Childhood & Early Life
Fred Hampton was born Fredrick Allen Hampton, on August 30, 1948, in present-day Summit, Illinois, U.S., to Louisiana natives Francis Allen Hampton and Iberia Hampton. He had two elder siblings: Bill Hampton and Delores "Dee Dee" Hampton.
In 1958, the family moved to the Chicago suburb of Maywood, Illinois, where Hampton attended the 'Irving Elementary School.' He was the captain of the patrol boys' unit in his school. The unit was created to control traffic and help students cross the streets.
Growing up, Hampton excelled in academics and sports and aspired to play baseball for the 'New York Yankees.'
From 1962 to 1966, Hampton attended the 'Proviso East High School' in Maywood, where he was an elected member of the 'Interracial Cross Section Committee.' Hampton was also elected as the president of 'Junior Achievement,' a body responsible for organizing class picnics and campaigns against racism in the high school.
After graduating from 'Proviso East,' Hampton joined a pre-law program at the 'Triton Junior College' in River Grove, Illinois.
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As a teenager, Hampton emerged as a prominent civil-rights activist in the campaigns led by the local 'National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council.’ His effective leadership, organizational skills, brilliant oratory, and valuable contribution earned the council over 500 members.
Hampton eventually became the ‘NAACP Youth Council’ president. In that capacity, he led a racially integrated group to urge the city officials to provide the African–American children better academic and recreational facilities.
In June 1967, Hampton participated in a demonstration in Maywood to demand the construction of a swimming pool, an independent park, and a community recreation center only for blacks. They were not allowed to use such facilities earlier, because they were restricted to whites. Following this, Hampton and 17 other young people were arrested for mob action and unruly conduct.
In September 1967, Hampton was arrested again for provoking a riot and launching an assault on a police officer. In his defense, he claimed that he was not involved in the violence but was trying to control the crowd.
Black Panther Party Activism
Hampton joined the 'Black Panther Party' (BPP) in 1968.
On June 10, 1968, Hampton and 16 other ‘BPP’ members were indicted for kidnapping and torturing a Summit man and woman. The case was not closed until Hampton's death.
The following month, he was arrested for robbing and beating an ice-cream truck driver in the 'Irving Elementary School' playground. Hampton denied the accusation and claimed that he was not present when the truck was looted and had arrived only after the crime had been committed. He was later released on a bond.
Hampton's experience with the ‘NAACP’ and his enthusiastic activism made him the head of the Chicago branch of the ‘BPP.’ In that capacity, he established a non-aggression pact between Chicago's most significant and violent black gangs and Puerto Rican street gangs. He believed that gang wars impacted the youth negatively, resulting in poverty.
The pact was termed as the 'Rainbow Coalition' and included collaborations of multiracial groups such as the 'Students for a Democratic Society,' the 'Weather Underground,' the ‘Blackstone Rangers,' the 'National Young Lords,' and a Puerto Rican organization. The coalition was successful in achieving its motive.
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Hampton finally became the deputy chair of the national ‘BPP.’ As a ‘BPP’ member, he participated in the party's free breakfast program and people's medical clinic, launched a community supervision program, organized rallies, conducted political education classes, advocated self-defense, and took the Maoism-inspired black freedom struggle to the global platform.
Hampton's rising prominence as a ‘BPP’ member became a threat to the ‘FBI.’ The ‘FBI’ considered the ‘BPP’ and other such activist organizations (such as the 'American Indian Movement' and the 'Young Lords') as a bad influence on society. Hence, the bureau created a secret and highly illegal counterintelligence program called ‘COINTELPRO’ to infiltrate, neutralize, undermine, and defame these political and activist groups.
The ‘COINTELPRO’ specifically targeted the ‘BPP’ and its most prominent member back then, Hampton. Along with the ‘Chicago Police Department,’ the ‘FBI’ began a strict surveillance on the ‘BPP’ members. They later conducted several harassment campaigns against them.
‘FBI’ chief J. Edgar Hoover was assigned the task. He thus opened an investigation file of a theft accusation on Hampton in 1967. They tapped his mother's phone, and placed him on the "Agitator Index," to track his movements.
The ‘FBI’ finally arrested Hampton on May 26, 1969, for his 1967 theft case, in which he was accused of robbing ‘Good Humor’ ice-cream bars worth $17 in Maywood. He was given a long prison sentence but was released on an appeal bond in August.
The arrest made it easier for the ‘FBI’ to justify their surveillance on Hampton.
The ‘FBI’ appointed a man named William O'Neal to infiltrate and undermine the ‘BPP.’ O'Neal soon got access to Hampton by becoming his bodyguard and a ‘BPP’ chapter security director.
According to the ‘FBI's instructions, O'Neal did a lot of damage to Hampton's efforts as a ‘BPP’ member. This triggered distrust regarding the party among leading community members.
In October, Hampton and his girlfriend, Deborah Johnson (also known as Akua Njeri), shifted to a rented apartment at 2337 West Monroe Street, thus moving closer to the ‘BPP’ headquarters. Back then, she was heavily pregnant with Hampton's child.
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O'Neal provided details of the spot where the ‘BPP’ stocked arms and a map of the apartment to the ‘FBI.’ Following this, the bureau planned an armed raid on Hampton's apartment.
In November 1969, Hampton was in California to attend a national ‘BPP’ leadership meeting at the ‘UCLA.’ The party had offered him the positions of the chief of staff of the ‘Central Committee’ and the national spokesman of the ‘BPP.’
On the evening of December 3, after Hampton finished a lecture on political education at a local church, he and several other ‘BPP’ members went to his apartment to spend the night.
O'Neal had prepared dinner for them that night and had mixed a strong sedative in Hampton's drink to keep him unconscious during the upcoming raid.
After O'Neal left, Hampton and Deborah fell asleep at around 1:30 a.m. (on December 4). They were still asleep in their bedroom when the law-enforcement agents initiated the raid organized by the Cook County state attorney, Edward Hanrahan.
They entered the apartment and began firing. Hampton's guard, Mark Clark, was severely injured. Deborah was coercively removed from the room while Hampton lay unconscious in bed.
Deborah, too, was heavily wounded but managed to survive the ordeal. An officer realized that Hampton was still alive. Hence, he shot him twice in his head. The officers then dragged his body to the entrance of the bedroom and left him there.
Other ‘BPP’ members in the apartment were charged with various serious crimes, but the charges were dropped later.
Hampton's killing triggered a rage amongst activists and his supporters. They regarded the killing as an assassination. The broke into the ‘FBI's Pennsylvania field office, where they found the floor plan of Hampton's apartment that O'Neal had revealed. The activists also found that the bureau had documents to cover their involvement in the raid.
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Hampton's apartment, which was left unguarded, was also searched by the ‘BPP’ members. They documented the scene, and the footage was later used in the 1971 documentary 'The Murder of Fred Hampton.'
The families of Hampton and Mark Clark filed a lawsuit against the ‘Chicago Police Department,’ Cook County, and the ‘FBI’ for their wrongful killings, claiming compensation. The case was initially shut but was then reopened in 1979 after the illegal involvement of the law-enforcement agencies was revealed.
Three years later, in 1982, the agencies responsible for the raid paid a settlement worth $1.85 million to the families of Hampton and Clark. The amount was much less then what they had claimed.
Even though Hampton's killing was heavily condemned by several civil-rights leaders (around 5,000 people attended his funeral), none of the officers involved in the raid were convicted.
In May 1973, the 'Commission of Inquiry into the Black Panthers and Police' produced a report declaring the raid a criminal and unconstitutional mission and stating that Hampton had been drugged before the invasion and later killed. The report also suggested that the raid involved an ‘FBI’ informant.
Four weeks after the raid, Deborah gave birth to Hampton’s son, Fred Hampton Jr.
In December 1968, filmmaker Mike Gray and members of the 'Film Group' had met Hampton to make a documentary on him. The film was eventually titled 'The Murder of Fred Hampton.'
In May 1970, the Maywood village board named their newly constructed swimming pool after Hampton.
The band 'Rage Against the Machine' mentioned Fred Hampton in its 1996 hit song 'Down Rodeo.'
On December 4 every year, Chicago celebrates "Fred Hampton Day." Hampton's bust was installed outside the 'Fred Hampton Family Aquatic Center.'
The 2002 documentary 'The Weather Underground' chronicled the aftermath of Hampton's killing and its impact on his supporters.
The book titled 'The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther,' authored by Jeffrey Hass, was released in 2009.