Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton
Fred Hampton
ST-17101234-0002, Chicago Sun-Times collection, Chicago History Museum

Fredrick Allen Hampton was a powerful 21-year-old Black Panther Party (BPP) activist and self-described revolutionary socialist. He was the prominent leader and chairman of the Chicago, Illinois, chapter of the Black Panther Party. Their “Power to the People” philosophy led Fred to founding the Rainbow Coalition, a multicultural alliance among major street gangs to help put an end to infighting and work for social change.

Fred was a gifted student and athlete dedicated to empowering and uplifting the Black community. He enrolled at Triton Junior College, where he majored in pre-law in hopes of using his knowledge of the legal system to stop police brutality. Active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at a young age, Fred assumed leadership of its West Suburban Branch's Youth Council. He demonstrated his leadership capacity by building a youth group of 500 members. He also worked to establish better neighborhood recreational facilities and improve educational resources for impoverished Black communities. Fred’s life centered so much on community organizing and activism that he and his girlfriend Deborah Johnson (Akua Njeri) rented a four-room apartment at 2337 W. Monroe St., in order to be closer to BPP headquarters.

As Fred’s influence grew, he, along with other Panthers, were identified as a radical threat by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1967. The FBI began disseminating disinformation about the groups Fred belonged to and placed a counterintelligence operative (COINTELPRO) in the local Panthers. A hearing on FBI misconduct uncovered documents containing directives to destroy the Panther’s Breakfast for Children Program and to disrupt the distribution of the BPP newspaper.

Fred survived the COINTELPRO and governmental smear campaign, but not the assassin’s bullets. On December 4, 1969, Fred was shot and killed in his bed during a predawn raid at his Chicago apartment. The raid also killed Mark Clark, a fellow Panther, and injured several others. Fred was lying in bed with his pregnant girlfriend when a tactical unit of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, the Chicago Police Department and the FBI all fired 100 bullets into his small apartment.

The police described this as a fierce “shootout” with members of the Black Panther Party. However, ballistics experts determined that only one single bullet came from inside the Black Panthers’ apartment. In addition, the “bullet holes” in the front door, which police pointed to as evidence that the Panthers had been shooting from inside, were actually proven to be nail holes

In 1973, investigations by the family's attorney revealed that Fred’s chief of security, William O’Neal, was the paid COINTELPRO informant who provided floor plans and other details for the raid. This might sound familiar because the same has been said about Malcolm X’s security at the time of his assassination.

After the raid, the minister of defense for the Illinois Chapter of the BPP (now United States Congressman) Bobby L. Rush stood on the steps of the bullet-ridden apartment and laid the blame squarely on J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Fred Hampton was assassinated by police. As a result of the illegal COINTELPRO program and documents associated with the killings, scholars now widely consider Fred’s death an assassination under the FBI's initiative.

A civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of the survivors of the raid and the relatives of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. In 1982, they reached a settlement agreement of $1.85 million; the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government each paid one-third to a group of nine plaintiffs.