Beyond the Rhetoric
It was a typical Monday afternoon during my senior year at the University of Wisconsin when fellow linebacker John Borders plopped down next to my seat. John informed me that he had made another deal with Professor Rosenstein.
He said this deal was to do separate papers on the Chicago Black Panthers through interviews with Chicago leader Fred Hampton. Our documented grade would be a “B” each.
I became interested and that night we went to hear the mysterious Fred Hampton for the very first time. It was sponsored by the SDS – Students for a Democratic Society. Basically, they were a blend of radicals and communists and totally white.
Fred spoke for a straight two hours and mesmerized the large crowd. I went up to him on the stage as they were breaking up and told him we would like to come and visit him at his weekend headquarters the following Saturday. He said, “Come on down to “Chi,” we would love to chat with you.”
Early Saturday morning we jump-ed into my little red Buick Opel Kadett and drove to the West Side of Chi Town. They were expecting us, and we had no problem getting into the Saturday morning breakfast meeting. Fred told us to just raise our hand when we wanted to speak or ask any questions.
We stayed a good two hours and learned a lot about the Chicago Black Panthers, which was very different from the Los Angeles or Bay area groups. Every Saturday morning they would sponsor free breakfasts for the local community and the kids would come en masse. To listen to the mesmerizing Fred Hampton on a full stomach was quite a treat for a ghetto child.
Fred had a way of listening intently to whoever was speaking to him and would put on a serious stare. It was scary but yet serious. The local kids worshipped the Panther members, and the Panthers were reciprocal in their respect for the community. The white establishment hated this relationship. We would soon learn just how much they hated the notorious Fred Hampton and his Chicago Panthers.
We gave our reports to Professor Rosenstein and he loved them. We got our “Bs” (3 hours), which went well with our grade point average at the prestigious University of Wisconsin.
I had decided to start working continuously with the Chicago Panthers. They were doing great things for the ghetto communities, and I felt we could help them get their message out. In about two weeks that short-lived ambition was destroyed.
On my way to school, I would buy a Chicago Sun-Times and a donut and then hitch-hike a ride to class. One cold morning (15 degrees) the bold print on the first page hit me like a ton of bricks. “Chicago PD Murders Fred Hampton” blared the headline.
My mind was messed up for months. They broke into his bedroom and shot him multiple times as his pregnant wife lay next to him. It was a blatant assassination. The guy who was becoming my hero was murdered in cold blood by the police establishment.
Prosecutor [Ed] Hanrahan and his police goons did this without experiencing any recourse from the law officials. They all walked away “clean.”
A Black hero was slaughtered and nothing was done about it. It was a message to all of us.
Fred Hampton is still regarded as a “Hero,” and books and movies are still being made about him. It is too bad he could not have blessed us with a full life. Things would be so different now.
I learned the hard way just how crooked our society is and how difficult it is for any positive change to be made. HELP US, JESUS!
Harry C. Alford is the president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and a leading and influential policy advisor who regularly has a seat at the table on corporate boards and the highest levels of government, including at the White House and on Capitol Hill.