Five Things to Read or Watch to Learn More About Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party
On the 50th anniversary of his assassination, here are some resources to learn more about his life’s work.
On December 4th, 1969, FBI agents murdered Fred Hampton, the deputy chairman of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter. Hampton was only 21 years old. During his early life, he worked with the NAACP, becoming the leader of the West Suburban Branch’s Youth Council. As a youth organizer, Hampton majored in pre-law at Triton Junior College to defend his community against police brutality.
He officially joined the Black Panther Party in 1968. In the next year, he brokered alliances between the Panthers, the Young Lords, and Young Patriots. After the FBI’s disruption of the Panther’s split with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Hampton became chairman of the Illinois chapter. Before his assassination, he was set to become the Party’s Central Committee Chief of Staff.
Hampton’s effectiveness in uniting leftist activists from Chicago’s Latino and White communities quickly made him a threat to the state. In December 1969, the FBI attained a search warrant for Hampton’s apartment. With the assistance of an informant within the Party, they gained info on its layout. A night before the raid, Hampton taught a political education course at a local church. That night, the aforementioned informant slipped a sleep agent into Hampton’s drink to ensure he wouldn’t awaken during the raid.
Around 5 am, a team of 14 agents broke into the apartment. Mark Clark, a member of the Party, was holding a shotgun assuming security duties. Officers shot Clark upon their entry. He reflexively fired one round into the ceiling. Ballistic evidence reveals it was the only shot fired by the Panthers.
In 1970, survivors of the raid filed a civil suit against the Assistant District Attorney, City of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government. Judge Joseph Perry dismissed the original suit but after multiple appeals over the course of twelve years), the City lost in a retrial. The three parties settled to pay a total of $1.85 million to the survivors. Assistant district attorney Edward Hanrahan was later indicted (but cleared) on charges of obstructing justice.
Today is the 50 year anniversary of his death. To learn more about Fred Hampton’s life and death, we’ve assembled a list of resources to inform the public.
Death of a Black Panther: The Fred Hampton Story, 1969-1970
Available for streaming on Archive.org, this documentary features accounts from the Panthers, attornies, and a tour of Hampton’s apartment. The National Archives and Records Administration made the footage available for the public domain. The footage is also available for purchase on Amazon.
The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther, by Jeffrey Haas
Jeffrey Haas is a lawyer and founder of the People’s Law Office. Shortly before Hampton’s death, Haas offered the Office’s services to the Party. In the 15 years it took for the civil settlement, the Office unearthed proof that the COINTELPRO program encouraged violence against the Panthers and other activists. His book is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall (1988)
Ward Churchill served as a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder for 17 years. During his tenure, he published this study of the FBI’s disruption of multiple activist groups. The book is available on Amazon.
Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy, by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas
In addition to general information, this book details COINTELPRO’s disruption of the relationship between the Panthers and Chicago’s Almighty Black P. Stone Rangers. Additionally, the book gives information about informants within the Party. Kathleen Cleaver now serves as a senior lecturer at Emory University’s law school. The book is available on Amazon.
From the Bullet to the Ballot: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party and Radical Coalition Politics in Chicago, by Jakobi Williams
Jakobi Williams is a Chicago native who now serves as an associate professor of history in Indiana University’s African-American and African Diaspora Studies department. In addition to his book on Hampton, he published Revolutions of the Mind: Cultural Studies in the African Diaspora Project, 1996-2002.