45 Years after the US Government Killed Fred Hampton, His Message Lives on

Blog / Thursday, December 4th, 2014
Fred Hampton's apartment after the police raid, with the blood-soaked mattress on which he was sleeping when he was shot and scores of bullet holes in the wall SOURCE: Paul Sequeira / Chicago Reader
Fred Hampton’s apartment after the police raid, with the blood-soaked mattress on which he was sleeping when he was shot and scores of bullet holes in the wall (CREDIT: Paul Sequeira / Chicago Reader)

45 years ago today, the US government murdered Chicago Black Panther Party for Self-Defense Chairman Fred Hampton.

Hampton was sleeping in his Chicago apartment when 14 police officers — in a raid planned by the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office, Chicago Police Department, and FBI — stormed in.

The police fired between 82 and 99 times, killing Hampton and 22-year-old fellow Black Panther Mark Clark.

Hampton was just 21 years old when they assassinated him.

After they killed him, FBI special agent Gregg York lamented:

We expected about twenty Panthers to be in the apartment when the police raided the place. Only two of those black ni**ers were killed, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

Filmmakers Howard Alk and Mike Gray were creating a documentary about Hampton and the Black Panthers when the leader was assassinated. They archived the crime in the now canonical 1971 documentary The Murder of Fred Hampton.

Today — at a time when police openly murder unarmed, innocent black teens and fathers, simply for existing as black men in white supremacist space — Hampton’s ideas, and those of the Black Panther Party, live on.

In these past four and a half decades, the world has indeed changed a lot. One thing that has remained remarkably constant, nevertheless, is racism. The US is still a white supremacist society. Hampton’s ideas, therefore, are just as important now as they were then.

In his legendary “Power Anywhere Where There’s People” speech, delivered at Chicago’s Olivet church, just before he died, Hampton spoke powerfully about “what is to be done.” His words ring true still today:

We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.

We ain’t gonna fight no reactionary pigs who run up and down the street being reactionary; we’re gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we’re gonna fight reactionary pigs with INTERNATIONAL PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION. That’s what it has to be. The people have to have the power: it belongs to the people.

We have to understand very clearly that there’s a man in our community called a capitalist. Sometimes he’s black and sometimes he’s white. But that man has to be driven out of our community, because anybody who comes into the community to make profit off the people by exploiting them can be defined as a capitalist. And we don’t care how many programs they have, how long a dashiki they have. Because political power does not flow from the sleeve of a dashiki; political power flows from the barrel of a gun. It flows from the barrel of a gun!

We want people who want to run on the People’s Party, because the people are gonna run it whether they like it or not. The people have proved that they can run it. … They can call it communism, and think that that’s gonna scare somebody, but it ain’t gonna scare nobody.

The pigs would come up to them and say, “You scared of communism?” And the Sisters would say, “No scared of it, I ain’t never heard of it.”

“You like socialism?”

“No scared of it. I ain’t never heard of it.”

The pigs, they be crackin’ up, because they enjoyed seeing these people frightened of these words.

“You like capitalism?”

Yeah, well, that’s what I live with. I like it.

“You like the Breakfast For Children program, n****r?”

“Yeah, I like it.”

And the pigs say, “Oh-oh.” The pigs say, “Well, the Breakfast For Children program is a socialistic program. Its a communistic program.”

And the women said, “Well, I tell you what, boy. I’ve been knowing you since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, n****r. And I don’t know if I like communism and I don’t know if I like socialism. But I know that that Breakfast For Children program feeds my kids, n****r. And if you put your hands on that Breakfast For Children program, I’m gonna come off this can and I’m gonna beat your ass like a ….”

That’s what they be saying. That’s what they be saying, and it is a beautiful thing. And that’s what the Breakfast For Children program is. A lot of people think it is charity, but what does it do? It takes the people from a stage to another stage. Any program that’s revolutionary is an advancing program. Revolution is change. Honey, if you just keep on changing, before you know it, in fact, not even knowing what socialism is, you dont have to know what it is, they’re endorsing it, they’re participating in it, and they’re supporting socialism.

We in the Black Panther Party, because of our dedication and understanding, went into the valley knowing that the people are in the valley, knowing that our plight is the same plight as the people in the valley, knowing that our enemies are on the mountain, to our friends are in the valley, and even though its nice to be on the mountaintop, we’re going back to the valley. Because we understand that there’s work to be done in the valley, and when we get through with this work in the valley, then we got to go to the mountaintop. We’re going to the mountaintop because there’s a motherfucker on the mountaintop that’s playing King, and he’s been bullshitting us. And we’ve got to go up on the mountain top not for the purpose of living his life style and living like he lives. We’ve got to go up on the mountain top to make this motherfucker understand, God damnit, that we are coming from the valley!

Before he died, Hampton remarked:

I believe I’m going to die doing the things I was born to do. I believe I’m going to die high off the people. I believe I’m going to die a revolutionary in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle.

Hampton was right; he did die a revolutionary in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle. And that international revolutionary proletarian struggle lives on, in Ferguson, in Palestine, and all across the world.

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