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Remembering Fred Hampton and Mark Clark

Published Dec 11, 2009 11:08 PM

Dec. 4 marked the 40th anniversary of the targeted assassinations of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two leading members of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. These young revolutionary activists were killed in a Panther residence on Chicago’s West Side in a neighborhood where the organization ran free breakfast programs and was in the process of establishing a free medical clinic.

Fred Hampton

Hampton was 21 when he was killed in his apartment while sleeping. Clark was 22 and was visiting Chicago from Peoria, Ill. Despite their youth, both Hampton and Clark had been organizers for several years. Hampton had worked with the NAACP Youth Council in Maywood, a Chicago suburb. Clark had worked with the NAACP in Peoria, which sought to educate and mobilize young people to fight segregation and racism.

In 1969 the Federal Bureau of Investigation had identified the Black Panther Party for liquidation. Corporate media accounts of the BPP falsely portrayed the organization as violent and bent on inflicting harm on whites in general and the police in particular.

Hundreds of Panther leaders and cadres were arrested on trumped-up charges. Several were killed, including Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins. Other Panthers were driven underground and into exile, such as Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver, who eventually took refuge in Algeria where they established the International Section of the BPP in 1969.

Mark Clark

Origins of the Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Party grew out of the civil rights and Black Power struggles in the United States. In Alabama in 1965-66, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization utilized the black panther symbol to build an independent political organization in the state. By early 1966 other areas of Alabama had set up Panther organizations, and these efforts entailed the armed self-defense of African Americans against the racist attacks by the Ku Klux Klan and law-enforcement agents.

Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Turé), Willie Ricks (aka Mukasa Dada) and H. Rap Brown (aka Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) were leading organizers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which built the initial Black Panther organizations in Alabama. After the cry for “Black Power” gained national attention in the summer of 1966, several groups around the country began to form Black Panther organizations.

In California there were at least three different Black Panther organizations in both the southern and northern areas of the state. In October 1966 Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, along with a few other young men such Bobby Hutton and Elbert Howard, formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Eventually this grouping became known as the Black Panther Party, and went on to open approximately 40 chapters throughout the U.S. and the International Section in Algiers.

In 1969 Fred Hampton had gained a national reputation for his organizing efforts in Chicago. He had joined the Black Panther Party in 1968 and quickly rose through the ranks to become Deputy Chairman of the Illinois chapter. He soon became a target for neutralization by the police and the FBI.

In early 1969 Hampton was falsely accused of robbing an ice cream truck. He was convicted and sent to state prison in Menard, Ill. He was released in August 1969 on appeal and continued his organizing work.

Hampton was instrumental in forming alliances between the Panthers and youth organizations such as the Disciples on Chicago’s West Side. He later formed coalitions with the Young Lords, a youth group of Puerto Ricans who sought to build a revolutionary movement in Chicago and New York.

Hampton also worked with organizations from the Chicano community as well as whites from Appalachia, who formed a group called the Young Patriots. He worked with other leftists from the student movement, including members of Students for a Democratic Society.

Police, FBI target Panthers

During the fall of 1969 the Chicago 8 conspiracy trial began. Bobby Seale, the BPP chairman, was a co-defendant, along with seven members of anti-war, peace and student groups who were charged with plotting to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Seale was attacked by presiding Judge Julius Hoffman, who denied him the right to represent himself in the absence of attorney Charles Gerry. Hoffman ordered Seale bound and gagged. Seale was eventually removed from the trial and thrown into prison.

The Black Panther Party in Chicago was attacked on numerous occasions by the police during 1969. In one armed confrontation at the BPP office, five police officers were wounded along with three Panthers. On Nov. 13, 1969, former Panther Spurgeon “Jake” Winters was killed in a shootout where three police officers were killed. Hampton eulogized Winters as a fallen comrade.

After the deaths of the three Chicago police officers in November, FBI and police efforts intensified against the Illinois chapter of the BPP. FBI Special Agent in Charge Marlin Johnson recruited William O’Neal, a petty thief who had been arrested for taking a stolen car across state lines, to infiltrate the Panthers.

O’Neal engaged in agent-provocateur behavior inside the organization. He was reported to have built an electric chair to torture informants, when he himself was an FBI snitch. O’Neal drafted a floor plan of the Monroe Street apartment where Hampton and other Panthers lived and turned it over to the FBI.

The FBI did not carry out the deadly raid, but utilized Illinois State Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, who had political aspirations to become governor of the state. Hanrahan recruited 14 Chicago police officers to conduct the raid. Prior to the raid, O’Neal drugged the apartment occupants so they would be unable to defend the residence against the police, as the Panthers had done at their offices on the West Side.

When the police conducted the raid at 4:45 a.m., they killed both Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Four other Panthers—Ronald “Doc” Satchell, Verlina Brewer, Brenda “China Doll” Harris and Blair Anderson—and one supporter were wounded in the raid.

Louis Truelock and Harold Bell were brutally beaten in jail after the raid. Deborah Johnson, later known as Akua Njeri, was eight months’ pregnant with Fred Hampton’s child. The seven survivors of the raid were falsely charged with numerous felonies, including attempted murder.

Even though the charges against the survivors were eventually dropped, the coroner’s inquest reached a verdict of “justifiable homicide.” A federal inquiry said the raid was botched and resulted unnecessarily in the deaths of two people. No criminal charges, however, were filed against the police.

A civil suit filed by the survivors, which went on for over a decade, led to an out-of-court settlement. No one was ever found criminally liable by the courts for the murder of Hampton and Clark or for the wounding and false prosecution of the others in the apartment on Dec. 4, 1969.