45 years ago today, legendary civil rights activist and Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was gunned down by Chicago detectives and members of the FBI during a raid. As he slept next to his 8 month pregnant partner, the last moments of his life were stolen by the boys in blue. Like most of the members of the Black Panther Party, Hampton was a force to be reckoned with. Law officials quickly labeled the party’s message as trouble, that was filled with colorful white hate imagery. The reality was that Hampton and others were promoters of black love, not white hate, a very dangerous message during that time.
Fred Hampton was born on August 30, 1948 in Summit, Illinois. He grew up in Maywood; his parents having moved north from Louisiana. Throughout his educational career, Hampton was known for his sharp intellect and agile athletic ability. Even during his early years, Hampton possessed an undeniable leadership quality that could not be ignored.
So it’s no surprised that at age 20, he would become a leader of one of the most powerful black power organizations in the country. While studying at Triton Junior College, Hampton took up pre-law as a way to defend himself and other black people against the inaccurate justice system. The Panthers took an active role in watching out for members of the under-served black community. When officers would arrest and interact with members of the community, the panthers were there. There to make their presence known, but more importantly, there to let the police and other law officials know that we look out for our own “by any means necessary.”
Hampton’s legacy goes well beyond being radical. He worked to ensure better resources for the city’s youth in neighborhoods on the west side. As an active leader on the NAACP’s Youth Council, Hampton worked to educate our youth, instilling values of self-love, self-preservation and political thought and intellectual dialect into the daily routines of young black kids.
To me, Fred Hampton was more than a revolutionary, he was a brilliantly defiant hero. Few people are willing to stand up for the rights of people and the many injustices that plague minorities, let alone before being able to legally consume alcohol. While it is apparent that Hampton’s legacy lives on in the forms of award-winning documentaries, discussions and celebrations in his honor, I cannot help but wonder how powerful his legacy, along with other young notable black activists from the 1960s would be if we picked up the torch and took action today.