“I’m going to die for the people because I’m going to live for the people.” They said, “Right on.” He said, “I’m going to live for the people because I love the people.” And they’d say, “Right on.” And he’d say, “I love the people, why?” And they’d say, “Because we’re high on the people, because we’re high on the people.” And that was Fred Hampton. When you saw this 21 year old, it was unbelievable. You had no choice, but to be moved by Fred Hampton.” (Eyes on the prize documentary)
This week marks the 40th anniversary of Fred Hampton’s assassination. Hampton was the rising leader of the Black Panther Party in Chicago. On December 4th 1969, in the middle of the night, Chicago Police officers raided Hamton’s house. His pregnant fiancée gives these words:
“The police pulled me from the room as Fred lay unconscious on the bed. I heard one officer say, He’s still alive. Then I heard two shots and another officer said, He’s good and dead now.”
The picture I was given of Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers in grade school was an unfair and incomplete image of what actually happened. I was lied to. I’m not sure who to blame. It could be the Civil Rights sections of the History books that only wanted to praise Martin Luther King Jr., Demonize Malcolm X, and pretend all other possible negative details were non-existent. Or it could be a few of my teachers who chose to believe and regurgitate a type of history that is at least, insufficient and at most, well crafted fallacies written by people in power who benefited from the oppression and marginalization of others. It was not until I began to read for myself and go into more depth in my college classes that I realized the misguided stories I was being fed in my juvenile years.
I suppose the culprit does not matter at this point. What is most important is understanding that what I was taught was wrong, discovering what the truth is, and putting pressure on education systems to make sure that the truth is being taught in the future—I haven’t quite figured out step three as of yet. In one of my history classes at University of Chicago, we had Flint Taylor come as a guest speaker—which is one of the lawyers who defended the Black Panther members who were in the house during the police raid. Taylor told us about his first hand experience of looking through FBI documents and revealing how they planted informants inside of the Black Panther Party. He also explained Edgar Hoover’s connection with the Chicago Police Department, and how they were in cahoots with planning the police raid, and ultimately the assassination of Fred Hampton.
“You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill a revolution.” These are Hampton’s famous words, and they came into full intuition after his death at 21. The Black Panther’s were not a perfect organization, but they had many positive influences within the black community. They have often been potrayed solely as violent, angry, hostile and militant. But on the contrary, they were a grassroots community based social and political justice organization that held sickle cell anemia awareness forums, opened stores on the west side of Chicago, and started the Free-Breakfast Program for children in the community.
I wrote it once and I feel the need to write it again. Why is history so imprecise? And what else should I not trust about what I learned in my grade school history classes?