In the early hours of December 4, 1969, heavily armed members of the Chicago Police Department, working with the FBI and the tactical unit of the Cook County State Attorney’s Office, stormed the apartment of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and assassinated him as he lay sleeping in his bed.
At just 21 years of age, Hampton had already developed a reputation among the poor of Chicago as a brilliant organiser and orator, and he had also come to the attention of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a secret war waged by the US government against those it deemed radical or subversive.
Fred Hampton was born on August 30, 1948, in Chicago and as a youth was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, before joining the Black Panther Party when it began to organise in the city in November 1968.
Hampton quickly rose to prominence within the organisation and was known to lead by example, being instrumental in organising the Black Panthers’ free breakfast programmes and people’s clinics in the city. He also organised weekly rallies and daily political education classes for Black Panther members and the community as a whole.
Below is an extract from a speech given by Hampton not long before his death. His assassination was a significant event in the widescale suppression of militant black politics, indicative of the fear felt by those in power at his abilities in bringing revolutionary socialist politics to the most downtrodden and oppressed in US society.
As Fred Hampton himself was fond of saying, “You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.”
We always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat, I am the people.
A lot of people don’t understand the Black Panthers Party’s relationship with white mother country radicals. A lot of people don’t even understand the words that Eldridge [Cleaver] uses a lot. But what we’re saying is that there are white people in the mother country that are for the same types of things that we are for stimulating revolution in the mother country. And we say that we will work with anybody and form a coalition with anybody that has revolution on their mind. We’re not a racist organization, because we understand that racism is an excuse used for capitalism, and we know that racism is just—it’s a byproduct of capitalism. Everything would be alright if everything was put back in the hands of the people, and we’re going to have to put it back in the hands of the people.
With no education, the people will take the local foundation and start stealing money, because they won’t be really educated to why it’s the people’s thing anyway. You understand what I’m saying? With no education, you have neocolonialism instead of colonialism, like you’ve got in Africa now and like you’ve got in Haiti. So what we’re talking about is there has to be an educational program. That’s very important. As a matter of fact, reading is so important for us that a person has to go through six weeks of our political education before we can consider himself a member of the party able to even run down ideology for the party. Why? Because if they don’t have an education, then they’re nowhere. You dig what I’m saying? They’re nowhere, because they don’t even know why they’re doing what they’re doing. You might get caught up in the emotion of this movement. You understand me? You might be able to get them caught up because they’re poor and they want something. And then, if they’re not educated, they’ll want more, and before you know it, they’ll be capitalists, and before you know it, we’ll have Negro imperialists.
We don’t think you fight fire with fire; we think you fight fire with water. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’re still here to say we’re not going to fight reactionary pigs and reactionary state’s attorneys like this and reactionary state’s attorneys like [Edward] Hanrahan with any other reactions on our part. We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.
Black people need some peace. White people need some peace. And we are going to have to fight. We’re going to have to struggle. We’re going to have to struggle relentlessly to bring about some peace, because the people that we’re asking for peace, they are a bunch of megalomaniac warmongers, and they don’t even understand what peace means. And we’ve got to fight them. We’ve got to struggle with them to make them understand what peace means.
Bobby Seale is going through all types of physical and mental torture. But that’s alright, because we said even before this happened, and we’re going to say it after this and after I’m locked up and after everybody’s locked up, that you can jail revolutionaries, but you can’t jail the revolution. You might run a liberator like Eldridge Cleaver out of the country, but you can’t run liberation out of the country. You might murder a freedom fighter like Bobby Hutton, but you can’t murder freedom fighting, and if you do, you’ll come up with answers that don’t answer, explanations that don’t explain, you’ll come up with conclusions that don’t conclude, and you’ll come up with people that you thought should be acting like pigs that’s acting like people and moving on pigs. And that’s what we’ve got to do. So we’re going to see about Bobby regardless of what these people think we should do, because school is not important and work is not important. Nothing’s more important than stopping fascism, because fascism will stop us all.
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