This week marked 50 years since Illinois Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed at Hampton’s West Side apartment by Chicago police officers in a pre-dawn raid assigned by the Cook County state’s attorney. Officials at the time said the slayings were the result of a gunfight instigated by the Panthers. But it was later revealed that BPP members were asleep when officers stormed the residence to execute a search warrant, equipped with a floor plan obtained by a paid FBI informant, and fired more than 90 rounds, killing 21-year-old Hampton, 22-year-old Clark, and wounding several others.
Their deaths sparked years of dispute over what happened and political repercussions for those involved. No one was convicted of the murders but a $1.85 million settlement was eventually awarded to survivors of the raid and the families of Clark and Hampton did produce evidence that Hampton and the Illinois Black Panther Party had been targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO campaign to disrupt and undermine dissident political organizations. Hampton’s killing is widely regarded as a government assassination of a charismatic rising black leader in a resistance movement.
Here’s a few of our picks from the many 50th anniversary commemorations we’ve been reading and watching this week.
Reporter William Lee recounts the ongoing impact the killings have had on city politics, race relations, black activism, and campaigns against police brutality. The piece also highlights the newspaper’s role in supporting official claims at the time by infamously running exclusive photos supplied by then-Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan purported to show holes from bullets fired by Black Panther members that turned out to be nail heads.
Haki Madhubuti, the Chicago-based stalwart of the Black Arts Movement and a contemporary of Fred Hampton, was commissioned by Chicago Magazine to compose a poem to commemorate the 50th anniversary as a follow up to “One Sided Shoot-Out,” a poem he published in The Chicago Defender two weeks after the killings.
Block Club Chicago and ABC7 Chicago covered a vigil held every year at the site of the police raid and spoke to Akua Njeri, Hampton’s fiancee, who was asleep next to him when the shooting began. Then known as Deborah Johnson, she was nine months pregnant at the time and charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault along with other Panthers. Weeks later she gave birth to Fred Hampton Jr. who now leads the Black Panther Party Cubs and is reportedly consulting for an upcoming movie on Hampton’s life to be produced by filmmaker Ryan Coogler, director of the Marvel film Black Panther.
Truthout published an exclusive interview with Flint Taylor, who represented the Hampton and Clark families in a lawsuit that turned into what was the longest civil rights trial in federal court at the time. After 13 years of litigation, the legal team he was part of at the People’s Law Office obtained a landmark settlement and helped expose the FBI’s secret COINTELPRO program, later providing evidence of government misconduct to the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee investigation, which castigated the excesses of domestic intelligence operations.
In the Q&A, Taylor reflects on the impact of the assassinations, parallels to more recent police violence controversies and ongoing reform efforts.
Long-serving congressman Bobby Rush was a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panthers and served as defense minister when Hampton and Clark were killed. After the raid, he sought refuge from police at a South Side church before turning himself in. Rush has spoken extensively about Hampton’s legacy, and commemorated him at a House session this week.
What did we miss? Let us know what you’ve been reading or watching to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in the comments section below.