In 1969, Fred Hampton – chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party – said: “we saying that theory’s cool, but theory with no practice ain’t shit.” He elaborated this statement in another speech that he gave in the same year: “I don’t care how much theory you got, if it don’t have any practice applied to it, then that theory happens to be irrelevant. Right? Any theory you get, practice it. And when you practice it you make some mistakes. When you make a mistake, you correct that theory, and then it will be corrected theory that will be able to be applied and used in any situation. That’s what we’ve got to be able to do.” Hampton’s words continue to be relevant. In the current conjuncture, Western Leftists – with a few principled exceptions – have been denigrating and viciously condemning concrete mass struggles and socialistic experiments in the Global South from a perspective of self-congratulatory moral purism.
On an early Saturday afternoon, about a dozen residents and local organizers gathered in Maywood outside of the childhood home of Black Panther icon Fred Hampton. Armed with boxes of fresh whole corn, cherries, peaches and greens, they stood ready to stock a new community fridge that will provide people access to food 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Maywood is a food desert,” said Anthony Clark, an Oak Park activist and founder of Suburban Unity Alliance, a nonprofit that led the charge to open the community’s first public refrigerator. “It’s all corner stores,” Clark said. “For people to even think about accessing fresh produce, they need money. They need to be able to travel. They have to leave the community and take their money outside of the community.”
A movie that centers a political giant such as Fred Hampton is inevitably going to generate a kind of public and political discussion that is wholly anathema to the Hollywood corporate environment. The masses of people, especially young Black Americans and activists of all races rallying under the banner Black Lives Matter, are hungry for political education. Unfortunately, Judas and the Black Messiah is largely devoid of the most critical political content that characterized Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. Of course, the definition of political content is itself subject to political struggle. A new wave of interest in the Black movement has produced an urgency among cultural artists to retell the story of the Black Panther Party.
In March 1976, we sat in a cavernous Chicago courtroom while FBI agent Roy Martin Mitchell testified in the federal civil rights case that we and our partners at the People’s Law Office had brought on behalf of the families of slain Illinois Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and the seven survivors of the murderous pre-dawn Chicago police raid on their West Side apartment. Thanks to the liberation of FBI documents from the Media, Pennsylvania FBI offices, the revelations of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities and our own hotly contested pretrial battles to uncover the truth about the raid, we had been able to document the local FBI’s central role in setting up the raid as part of the Bureau’s secret and highly illegal COINTELPRO Program.
Fifty years ago this week, a squad of Chicago police officers killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in a pre-dawn raid on the apartment where they were sleeping. In the decades since, a revealing body of evidence has emerged showing that Hampton was the victim of a political assassination, sanctioned at the highest levels of the U.S. government. The story matters today, but not because the FBI still engages in assassination. The Bureau targets so-called “Black Identity Extremists” on flimsy grounds, but there’s no evidence that it has killed any of them.
On a February afternoon in 1969, Chairman Fred Hampton and his contingent of Illinois Black Panthers went looking for a Puerto Rican kid by the name of Cha-Cha in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Hampton had just read in the paper that the Young Lords street organization had shut themselves in the 18th District police station—along with the police commander and the media—to protest the ongoing police harassment of Latinx residents. The Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers established themselves on the West Side of Chicago in 1968 and functioned under a ten-point program of self-empowerment and service. Their Oakland, CA founding members were already involved in multiracial movement building through the left-wing and anti-war Peace and Freedom Party.
The childhood home of slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, 804 S. 17th Ave. in Maywood, will not be up for auction this week, as was originally scheduled, buying community leaders some more time in their attempts to keep the home in the Hampton family. The ongoing ordeal, many community leaders said, should nonetheless serve as an opportunity for many people to learn about the factors that led to the home going into foreclosure in the first place. According to the website of the Judicial Sales Corporation, the foreclosure sale — which was supposed to be at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 23 — has been canceled for now.