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Slain Panther Leader Fred Hampton to be commemorated this week

The son of famed Black Panther revolutionary Chairman Fred Hampton, Sr., is on a mission to preserve the legacy of his parents and ensure that the next generation of freedom fighters is strongly prepared for the struggle ahead.

Fred Hampton, Jr., president and chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee and the Black Panther Party Cubs, is spearheading a campaign to restore his father’s childhood home by converting it into a museum and multi-generational community center.

This weekend, the two-flat brick house at 804 S. 17th Ave. in Maywood, IL, will be at the center of a host of activities in honor of the 73rd anniversary of the slain leader’s birth. Starting August 28, the Save the Hampton House Coalition will convene a series of free and community-based events to commemorate this anniversary.

Organizers said the “1st Annual Chairman Fred Hampton Skate Party” will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Garfield Park Community Plaza, 4008 W. Madison, and the following day the group invites the public to a naming ceremony at Proviso East High School, 807 S. 1st Ave., where a hall will be named after the revolutionary leader.

On Monday, August 30, the Chairman Fred Hampton Streetz Party will feature live performances, free food and activities, as well as a 12 p.m. virtual tour of the site where the Panther was murdered, led by his widow Akua Njeri. The group will then host a “Life Procession” caravan headed toward the city’s Aquatic Center.

“The weekend will be safe and we’ll be enforcing social distancing,” Hampton said. “Everybody will have to mask up so we can party with a purpose and be responsible at the same time.”

These events are part of an overall effort to preserve Hampton’s legacy by having his childhood home designated as a historical landmark. A petition was recently launched to support the growing campaign. In February of this year, the group exceeded a $350,000 fundraising goal and saved the property from foreclosure and demolition.

“We are in the process of securing landmark status but it hasn’t been easy,” Hampton, Jr., told the Crusader. “We are grateful for all of the love and support of the people, but we understand there remain political forces around us that don’t want this story told for various reasons. The Hampton House is an inspiration to young people who want to do better for themselves and their community.”

Fredrick Allen Hampton was born August 30, 1948. He came to national prominence at the age of 19 in Chicago as chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) and deputy chairman of its national arm.

As a skilled organizer, political strategist and leader, the young activist politicized gang members, developed what would become the nation’s free lunch program for public school students, and created a health clinic to combat the rampant lead poisoning of Black children.

Hampton’s unique skill and rhetorical style were so feared by the federal government that it ordered the FBI to begin a surveillance file on him at the age of 14 while he was a freshman at Proviso East High School.

Two years before making FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s domestic hit list to ‘stop the rise of a Black messiah,’ then 12-year-old Hampton organized a massive, non-violent demonstration against the city of Maywood due to a lack of swimming pools that admitted Black children.

Hoping to become an attorney, Hampton became president of his local NAACP youth chapter and in 1968 was recruited by the BPP by local Minister of Defense Bobby L. Rush, an Army veteran who went on to become a U.S. Congressman.

Hampton was only 21 years old when he was drugged by William O’Neal, his bodyguard and undercover FBI informant, who also provided the police with a floorplan of the apartment.

The charismatic young leader, known for his powerful oratory and ability to organize across racial barriers, was gunned down as he lay in bed next to his girlfriend Deborah, who was eight months pregnant with their first child.

Also killed in the hail of 90 bullets fired by the police was 22-year-old Mark Clark, a Panther from Peoria, IL, who had been in Chicago for a meeting and was staying overnight at Hampton’s apartment at 2337 W. Monroe St. on the city’s West Side.

Hampton’s widow, Akua Njeri, gave birth to Hampton’s son two weeks later and later courageously testified against the Chicago Police Department during a civil trial resulting from the heinous murder.

This effort joins a swelling local movement by the estates of famous Black Chicagoans to preserve their legacy by turning their homes into landmarks and house-museums. The families of Emmett Till, a child murdered at the age of 14 by white savages in Mississippi in 1950, and blues legend Muddy Waters have all launched high-profile campaigns to save those properties and preserve their rich cultural legacies.

In Bronzeville, a manse and coach house once owned by famed Black journalist Lutrelle “Lu” Palmer and his activist-wife Jorja became the centerpiece of controversy when its new owner moved to evict several grassroots organizations, including the UNIA, Moorish Science Temple and Palmer’s CBUC/BIPO, all of which were housed on the property for several years.

One of the most popular tourism sites in the nation is the Anacostia home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C. The historic house has operated as a museum for more than a century. In Atlanta, the childhood home of civil rights icon Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was quietly sold for $1.9 million by his estate to the federal government in 2018.

Despite the interest in preserving these sacred spaces, some African Americans are finding it hard to obtain national landmark status for the properties. In fact, Richard Moe, who at the time was the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sparked criticism when he admitted that house- museums “are barely getting by” due to chronic underfunding, deferred maintenance and a lack of professional staffing.

The family says the Hampton property will not only provide a much-needed community center for Maywood residents but also spark tourism to the small, Western suburb. Volunteers have been seen making minor repairs to the house, and others planted a vegetable garden in a vacant lot next to the home and distributed the produce at no cost to those seeking food.

The Crusader reached out to Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker for comment and did not receive a response prior to its deadline.

Hampton, Jr., says the resurgence in the cultural motif of the Black Panthers started before the Oscar-winning film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which saw Daniel Kaluuya awarded an Oscar for best actor; and LaKeith Stanfield, who played O’Neal, was nominated for best-supporting actor. The film was released at the height of the George Floyd uprisings last year, sparking renewed interest in the lives and work of Hampton and members of the BPP.

The blockbuster was not Hollywood’s first attempt at dramatizing Hampton’s life and the Panther mystique.

In 1995, “Panther,” written by Melvin Van Peebles and directed by his son, Mario, was one of the initial attempts to showcase the champions of radical protests. Not to be confused with the superhero movie “Black Panther,” in which the title character was played by the late Chadwick Boseman, these films and documentaries—such as 2006’s “Dave Chappelle’sBlockParty,” in which Hampton, Jr., made a guest appearance—have found a new, energized audience in the wake of Black Lives Matter.

“These projects attract people to Panther history, but we are committed to making sure they understand the work and commitment it takes to change a community for the better,” Hampton, Jr., said. “Some people think it’s just about the leather jackets and the berets and the music and stuff like that, but to us, we bear a responsibility to teach the truth.

“Hollywood has a way of making things look glamorous,” he remarked, “But there’s nothing romantic about being fired upon by the police for standing up for your people. There’s nothing romantic about being followed or living in fear that your parents might be killed. It took a lot of courage for my parents and so many others to do the work that they did.

“It was key to me (that Shaka King, the screenwriter) told the story truthfully and my parents were represented respectfully,” he continued. “It was equally important that they got the historical nuances about the Party correct. I didn’t want my father portrayed in a God-like fashion so people couldn’t relate to him. I want young people to learn about him and know that they can also make a difference in the lives of others.”

Hampton, Jr., knows firsthand about sacrifice and has said he feels no additional burden to live up to his father’s name. “I was blessed to be the son of two revolutionaries,” he said, laughing. “I have no choice but to stand strong.”

In 1993, he was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated after being accused of throwing Molotov cocktails in response to the bogus Rodney King verdict. At the time, Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Toomin imposed a prison sentence of 18 years and the younger Hampton was sent to Stateville Correctional Center and Menard Prison, in downstate Illinois.

“There were men still in (Menard) who had done time when my father was locked up,” Hampton, Jr., told the Crusader. “These brothers let me know that some of the racist guards who were there harassing me were the same ones who harassed my father.”

Still, Hampton said despite the rigors of working against systemic racism, he remains committed to seeing his father’s vision through. “He fought for all power to all of the people—including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, everyone who stood against oppression,” Hampton said. “He created the first Rainbow Coalition. They thought they could stop the revolution by murdering him. They didn’t.”

To find out more about the efforts to save the Hampton House, visit the group’s website at savethehampton- house.org.

Thanks to the generosity of funding provided by The Field Foundation of Illinois, Inc. in producing this article.

 (Published in the Chicago Crusader Newspaper August 28, 2021)

 

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