Oct. 6, 2021

The Death of Fred Hampton

An explanation the life and death of Fred Hampton.

Hampton was a young, gifted leader with a talent for organizing people who would rise to become the chairman of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter before being assassinated by the federal...

An explanation the life and death of Fred Hampton.

Hampton was a young, gifted leader with a talent for organizing people who would rise to become the chairman of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter before being assassinated by the federal government.


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Black Against Empire
by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin



Fred Hampton was born August 30, 1948, the youngest of three children, Hampton grew up in Maywood, Illinois a working-class suburb of Chicago, His parents had moved north from Louisiana, as part of the Great Migration. Very early on he demonstrated natural leadership abilities In September 1967, he became the president of the youth council for the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Branch. He helped organize a student boycott of his high school, Proviso East High, when black girls were excluded from the becoming homecoming queen. When black students protested, white students responded with violence, beating black students with bats and blackjacks. Hampton organized groups of black students to fight back. IN response to the violence, Maywood police imposed martial law and set up checkpoints in the city’s black neighborhoods. Hampton brought in representatives from the national NAACP and led the boycott of Proviso East High, demanding retraction of the martial law. 

During this time, In 1968 Bobby Rush was codirecting the small Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chapter in Chicago and he had an ongoing relationship with Stokely Carmichael the chairman of the SNCC. As tensions heightened between Stokely and other SNCC leaders in the spring of 1968,and following Martin Luther King’s assassination, Stokely would encouraged Rush to start a Black Panther chapter in Chicago. According to Rush, “The problem with SNCC was that it didn’t have any specific activities.” Stokely arranged for Rush to travel to California to meet David Hilliard and Bobby Seale. The Panthers’ approach impressed Rush, and he began seeking partners to build a Panther chapter in Chicago. When Rush heard Hampton speak at a black leadership conference at the headquarters of the Chicago gang Black P. Stone Nation, Rush recruited Hampton to join the Panthers. Then Rush, Hampton, and Bob Brown — Rush’s codirector of the SNCC — organized what would soon become Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. 


In Chicago in the late 1960s, gangs were an important political force in black neighborhoods — none more important than the Blackstone Rangers. From their start in the early 1960s, the Rangers had focused on community building in addition to their illegal activities, which included drugtrafficking and extortion. As a result, they composed a sort of parallel government on Chicago's South Side, protecting members of their neighborhood from other gangs and the police and providing some community services. By the late 1960s, they had swallowed up most of the smaller gangs in the area as part of the “P. Stone Nation” and had more than 3500 members. 

In December 1968, having quickly built a powerful Panther base in Chicago, Fred Hampton entered discussions with Jeff Fort, leader of the Rangers, about merging the Panthers and the Rangers. The merger promised to boost the Panthers’ membership and street presence. Hampton suggested to Fort that by joining forces,  Fort was interested in a merger, The FBI saw the potential merger as a political threat and sought to foster conflict between the two groups. The Chicago FBI felt that spreading false rumors that the Black Panther Party leadership was disparaging Fort “might result in Fort having active steps taken to exact some form of retribution towards the leadership of the Panthers. As discussions deteriorated, and the Chicago office of the FBI suggested to headquarters that the time was right to provoke the Rangers to take violent action by sending a forged letter to Fort. The FBI field office suggested sending the letter to Fort rather than Hampton because Fort was more likely to respond with violence. The FBI’s effort may have helped prevent a merger between the Panthers and the Rangers, but it did not precipitate widespread violence between the groups. Hampton and Fort figured out that the government was attempting to create a deadly conflict between them and decided not to take the bait


In early 1969, Fred Hampton initiated the Chicago Panthers’ first free food distribution. Hampton imagined himself a modern-day Robin Hood and “appropriated” an ice cream truck in Maywood, passing out more than four hundred ice cream bars to neighborhood children. The Maywood police later arrested him on charges of robbery and assault. In the subsequent weeks , Hampton and the Chicago Panthers organized their Free Breakfast for Children Program, which opened on April 1, 1969. Within two weeks, the Panthers had fed more than eleven hundred grade-school children, drawing new community support and also making it hard to ignore the political aspect of Hampton’s case. During his trial that April, Hampton appeared on a local television show publicizing the free breakfast program, and appealing for public support for the Panthers. April 9, 1969, Hampton was convicted of robbery and assault. Maywood Police Chief Kellough attempted to prevent the court from releasing Hampton on bail pending sentencing, however, Hampton was released on $2,000 bail.

Hampton planned to appeal his conviction on the grounds that newspaper articles about the Panthers during the trial had prejudiced the jury. Following the ice cream trial and the attention it brought, Hampton called the Chicago Panthers’ first press conference, in which he challenged the legitimacy of the state, asserted a higher morality underlying the Panthers’ revolutionary program and calling on people to mobilize to support the Panthers against state repression. Hampton argued that the Black Panther Party, not the government, acted in the interests of the people: “Our case should be taken to the people and the people will not tolerate any oppressive system or force that attempts to jail the very people who feed their hungry children.” Hampton announced that the Chicago Panthers intended to establish a community patrol of police, open liberation schools throughout the city, and set up free health clinics. The Chicago Panthers sought to mobilize a broad alliance in support of Hampton.

These fledgling Chicago Panthers seized the attention of the Panthers national leaders. When Panther chairman Bobby Seale visited Chicago, he joined Hampton and Rush in a church mobilization and spoke to an audience of blacks of various classes and activist of different races, explaining the revolutionary cross-race logic of Hampton’s ideas. On Monday May 26, with Illinois state attorney pressuring the judge, Fred Hampton was sentenced to two to five years in prison for robbery and assault.

As late as March 1969, the Chicago Panther chapter was still small and had garnered very little local influence or national attention. While Rush and Hampton teamed up in June 1968, the Black Panther national office did not officially recognize the chapter until October of 1968, and the first Chicago office was not opened until November 1, 1968 However by spring of 1969, their membership exploded grew, and they gathered increasing attention from the national office, local blacks,and progressive allies. By the end of May 69, with their community programs and alliance politics the Panthers were building a strong organization in Chicago. 

Each member was required to closely read a dozen books — six by or about Mao Zedong, three by or about Malcolm X, and one each by Huey Newton, Frantz Fanon, and Karl Marx. In turn, each member had to help other Panther members understand these texts. The reading reflected the Panthers’ increasingly explicit embrace of Marxist, and especially Maoist, theory and ideology. Also By late May, the Chicago chapter was selling about eight thousand copies of the newspaper per week On November 1 1968, The Chicago Black Panther office opened and resented a formidable presence in the community, with sign with large hand-painted black lettering on a white background read “ILL. CHAPTER BLACK PANTHER PARTY.” Beneath the sign hung seven posters of the Panthers’ most famous and powerful images: Huey Newton and Bobby Seale armed in defense of the original Panther office, Eldridge Cleaver speaking, Malcolm X, an Emory Douglas painting of Bobby Hutton, and Huey Newton on a wicker throne.

As the Chicago Panthers grew in number and political strength, state to repress them escalated. on June 4 1969, broke down the two steel doors to the Chicago panthers office and proceeded to sack the office and arrest the eight Panthers present. The FBI agents told the press they had found several guns and ammunition in the office, but the weapons did not violate any federal regulation. Bobby Rush held a press conference about “illegal” tactics of the FBI; Rush said the FBI agents left the office in complete disarray, creating more than $20,000 in property damage, and confiscating a safe containing $3,000, which the Panthers planned to use to equip a health clinic they were hoping to open. The agents also took cereal meant for the free breakfast program. Rush described the raid as partof a concerted national effort by the FBI to crush the Panthers, citing similar raids in other major cities.

On Tuesday June 10, 1969, a Cook County grand jury indicted Fred Hampton, his bodyguard William O’Neal, and fourteen other leading members of the Illinois Black Panther Party on charges that included kidnapping and unlawful use of a weapon. The state’s attorney, Edward V. Hanrahan, said that the charges stemmed from the kidnapping and torture of a woman who had stored guns for the Panthers and then hidden them. Hampton was never convicted on the charges, and William O’Neal was later exposed to be working for the FBI.

On the morning of July 14, 1969, Rank and file members Larry Roberson and fellow Panther Grady Moore were selling the Black Panther newspaper when they saw two police officers questioning black patrons about a suspected theft of produce from a nearby market. According to the Panthers, the police had lined up more than a dozen people against the wall and were harassing them. The police maintained that they were simply investigating a report of stolen produce when Roberson and Moore approached and asked them what they were doing. The officers said that when they told Roberson and Moore to leave, they became belligerent, calling themselves “protectors of the community.” The Panther newspaper reported that Moore and Roberson were not armed, but police told the press that Roberson drew a gun and started shooting at them. Roberson was shot three times by police and Both Moore and Roberson were arrested on charges of attempted murder. 

on July 31, Chicago police raided the Black Panther office for a second time. They arrived at 1:15 a.m. following afternoon rally outside the Black Panther offices. 24 police cars shut down the front of the Panther offices, and the officers attempted to storm the building. Hampton was in jail on the robbery charges, and no other Panther leaders were in the office at the time, but three rank-and-file Panthers held off police for thirty-five minutes until they ran out of ammunition. Eventually, police shot through the steel door and made their way upstairs, beating the Panthers with rifle butts, badly injuring the group and arresting them on charges of attempted murder. Then, according to the Panthers, the police used gasoline to burn down the second floor of the Panther office. Police claimed that the Panthers fired first, sniping at passing police cars, and that the fire was caused by tear gas canisters. 

By this point, the Panthers and their allies understood they were under siege and prepared for further raids. Rank-and-file members cleaning and readying guns in the Chicago office. Recording the blood types the members, Another passing out cloths for people to use to cover their mouths and faces in the event of a tear gas attack. In the early morning hours of October 4, police raided the Chicago Panther headquarters for a 3rd time. The raid was almost a repeat of the July 31 police raid. Officers’ riddled the front door and walls of the office with bullets. The police set the office on fire , smashed equipment, and destroyed stores of food designated for the free breakfast programs. After Panther resistance subsided, police arrested six Party members on charges of attempted murder, alleging that they had tried to snipe at police from the headquarters rooftop. Again, Panther alleged that the police intentionally set the fire. National Chief of Staff David Hilliard sought to build support for the Panthers’ community policing initiative, declaring that the raid provided further proof of the need for community control of the police. He said that raids like the one on October 4 in Chicago “will continue and be escalated unless we move to circulate, as soon as possible, the petition for Community Control (decentralization) of police.” 

With the repeated raids and arrests of local the Chicago Panthers, many black organizations lined up in support of the Panthers. Many believed that such repression posed a threat to all black people and that resisting the repression of the Panthers was a matter of life and death. 

In the fall of 1968 the Chicago FBI office had first established a counterintelligence program against the Chicago Black Panther Party, The FBI believed that Fred Hampton's leadership and talent for communication made him a major threat among Black Panther leaders. It began keeping close tabs on his activities. Investigations have shown that FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover was determined to prevent the formation of a cohesive Black movement in the United States. Hoover believed the Panthers, Young Patriots, Young Lords, and similar radical coalitions that Hampton forged in Chicago were a stepping stone to the rise of a revolution that could cause a radical change in the U.S. government. Agents began closely monitoring the Panthers via a warrantless wiretap of their office and other means and placed Hampton on the bureau's "Agitator Index" as a "key militant leader" A special FBI Racial Matters Squad was organized to spearhead actions against the Chicago Panthers. Roy Mitchell, a special agent in the squad, was the person who had approached William O’Neal while he was a prisoner in the Cook County jail and recruited him to infiltrate the Panthers and provide information to the FBI. when the Chicago Black Panther office opened, O’Neal, already on the FBI payroll, went to the office and joined the Black Panther Party. As seemingly eager early recruit, O’Neal soon was appointed chief of security for the Chicago Panthers.

The Chicago FBI worked closely with local law enforcement, mostly through the offices of Edward V. Hanrahan, who was elected Cook County state’s attorney in November 1968. Hanrahan created a Special Prosecutions Unit (SPU). Starting in April 1969, FBI Special Agent Mitchell worked closely with states attorney to target the Panthers. June of 1969, as the FBI began coordinating raids on the Chicago Panther offices, a special squad of nine Chicago police officers was assigned to report directly to the Special Prosecutions Unit, which in turn was worked with the FBI Racial Matters Squad.

On the night of November 13, FBI Special Agent Mitchell met with informant William O’Neal and He helped map out the exact layout of Fred Hampton’s apartment, including the specific location of his bed and nightstand. He also asked O’Neal to keep tabs on who was coming and going from the apartment and to determine what weapons were kept there.

Armed with this information, a raiding party of fourteen officers arrived outside Hampton’s apartment at 4:30 a.m. on December 4 to executed a search warrant for illegal weapons. The assault was quick and decisive. Within fifteen minutes, Fred Hampton was dead, shot twice through the head while he lay in bed. Peoria, Illinois, Panther leader Mark Clark, in Chicago attending a statewide meeting of Party leaders, was also dead. The seven other Panthers in the apartment were arrested on charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery, and unlawful use of weapons. Edward Hanrahan told the press that the Panthers fired first and continued to shoot repeatedly despite warnings from police that they were at the door: “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.” Panther survivors claimed the officers never knocked and came in shooting. The Chicago FBI viewed the raid as a success, due to the information provided by William O’Neal. 

There was an immediate outpouring of support for Hampton, Clark, and the Panthers. Many of the black community groups had called for an independent investigation of the incident and Bobby Rush, working Fred Hampton’s mother and father, arranged for an independent autopsy of Hampton. Three doctors found that Hampton had been killed by bullets shot from an angle slightly above and behind his head as he was lying down. They found no powder burns on his hands, contradicting police claims that Hampton had fired at them.

The Panthers used the public attention to organize support through popular education, offering more tours of the apartment where Fred Hampton and Mark Clark had been murdered. In the following weeks, thousands of people — and many journalists — flocked to the apartment to mourn the deaths and to consider the evidence for themselves. Panther tour guides showed visitors unscathed walls where police had entered and where they reportedly had stood during the raid, and then the clusters of bullet holes and large pools of blood where the Panthers had been shot. Tours continued until December 17, when Cook County authorities halted them by sealing off the apartment.

The National Black Panther Party understood and sought to portray the killing of Hampton and Clark as political assassination and as part of a national government conspiracy to repress the Panthers, Panther Chief of Staff David Hilliard declared, “The organized attempt to destroy the B.P.P. [has] brought to the attention of the American people the atrociousness of the American Government, in terms of its subjects. People are moving for their freedom. The very fact that they attacked us so openly shows that they’re a very brutal people — that they are barbarous, criminal elements against society.” 

Even people who didnt agreed with the Black Panthers ’revolutionary politics were concerned that the killing of Hampton and Clark was part of a pattern of government repression that posed a broader threat to life and freedom. Many mainstream political organizations — including the NAACP, CORE, the American Jewish Committee, the mayor’s office of Maywood, the Chicago ACLU, and the United Auto Workers called for an independent investigation of the killings.

The director of the Chicago Urban League stated, “What ever the Panthers believe in, they shouldn’t be shot down like dogs in the street.” 

On Tuesday December 9 1969, Fred Hampton’s parents, working with the Panthers and SCLC, held memorial services for their slain son. About 5000 people jammed into a church in Maywood and crowded around loudspeakers outside. The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, delivered the main eulogy, declaring, “If the United States is successful in crushing the Black Panthers, it won’t be too long before they will crush SCLC, the Urban League and any other organization trying to make things better.” Bobby Rush asked the mourners to channel their sorrow into active support for the struggle: “We can mourn today. But if we understood Fred . . . that his life wasn’t given in vain, then there won’t beno more mourning tomorrow. Then all our sorrow will be turned into action.”  Following the memorial for Fred Hampton, who had been born in the suburbs of Chicago, Hampton’s parents sent their son’s body “home” to be buried in Haynesville, Louisiana, where they had both been born.

On December 11, Edward Hanrahan delivered to the Chicago Tribune exclusive police photographs of Hampton’s apartment, claiming they proved that the Panthers had initiated the gun battle and that they showed bullet holes where the Panthers had fired at police. But after further investigation, the New York Times reported that many of the photos did not represent what the subtitles claimed. One depicted nail heads in the apartment kitchen doorjamb rather than bullet holes. Another photo that police claimed showed bullet marks on the outside of a bathroom door actually depicted the inside of a bedroom door. Hanrahan’s deceit further fueled community outrage even Even moderate national black and political leaders began to supported the idea of a public investigation.

In explaining the outpouring of black support for the Panthers in the wake of the Hampton and Clark killings, the New York Times explained the outpouring of black support for the Panthers in the wake of the Hampton and Clark assassinations by quoting one protester stating. ‘They came in and killed Fred Hampton,’ ‘And if they can do it to him, they can do it to any of us.’ ” on December 19, the internal Chicago police investigation found no fault on the part of Hanrahan’s SPU, a finding echoed in a report by the Cook County coroner. In response to public pressure, the Justice Department appointed a federal grand jury to investigate the killings of Hampton and Clark.

On January 6, Bobby Rush informed the press that results of a blood test of Fred Hampton in the independent autopsy revealed a heavy dose of Seconal, a drug that induces sleep. Rush charged that the killing of Hampton was a government conspiracy and that Hampton had been drugged by an FBI infiltrator to facilitate his murder. Hampton’s fiancée, Deborah Johnson (Akua Njeri), who was eight months pregnant the time of his killing and was arrested in the raid, later recounted Hampton’s strange behavior the night of the raid. She said that Hampton never got up from bed during the raid and remained silent. He woke up and slightly lifted his head as guns were being fired but barely moved and never said anything. After the first wave of shooting, police arrested Johnson and pulled her out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. She said she heard a police officer say, “He’s barely alive, he will barely make it.” Then the police started shooting again. Then a police officer said, “He is good and dead now.” 

On May 8, 1970, the state’s attorney Edward V. Hanrahan dropped all charges against the seven surviving Panthers arrested in the December 4 raid, saying that there was no proof that any of the defendants had fired at police. One week later, a federal grand jury issued a 250-page report finding that at least eighty-two bullets had been fired by the SPU officers, and only one shot appeared to have been fired by the Panthers.

After more than a decade of legal wrangling during which the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, the government eventually settled in 1982, agreeing to pay $1.85 million to the estates of Hampton, Clark, and the Panther survivors of the incident, with the federal, county, and city governments agreeing to split the bill. 

Fred Hampton was a revolutionary and Rising Star in Chicago Panthers, this made him a target. Hampton was this incredibly charismatic, young, dynamic leader who started a health clinic and a free breakfast program formed a rainbow coalition of different races. Outrage over his death, especially within Chicago’s Black community, caused the removal of Cook county state’s attorney Edward Hanrahan, whose office had managed the police officers involved in the raid. Before the raid, Hanrahan had been considered a likely candidate for Chicago mayor, but in 1972 he was voted out of office, which effectively ended his political career. Also in 1972 the Huey Newton closed all Black Panther offices outside of Oakland and formally disbanded in 1982, In 1990 and again in 2004 the Chicago City Council designated December 4 as Fred Hampton Day.