A couple of years ago I met Fred Hampton Jr. at a New Orleans community event during “Black August.” He’s a towering figure that adorns himself in paraphernalia that lets you know that he is all about the struggle for liberation. Most notably, he is the son of one of the greatest activists and leaders America has ever known. His father, Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was assassinated by Chicago police just a few weeks prior to Fred Jr.’s arrival into the world.
Fred Hampton died on December 4, 1969. Fred Hampton Jr. was born on December 29, 1969. Twenty-five days separated a father from meeting his namesake, but perhaps equally as tragic, the raid that claimed Fred Hampton Sr.’s life on December 4, 1969, separated a movement from one of its most magnetic leaders.
Fred Hampton, the almost-father, was only 21-years-old when his life ended in a hail of gunfire, an orchestrated murder plot coordinated by the FBI and Chicago Police Department. His death, which occurred precisely 20 months to the day from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., concluded a turbulent decade stained by a series of high-profile assassinations of political and civic leaders.
And though it might seem erroneous to draw a parallel between Chairman Fred’s militant approach to liberation with Dr. King’s tactical nonviolence, the commonality between their schools of thought was engaging a diverse coalition of followers to broaden the scope of the struggle connected with American capitalism. Specifically, their olive branch offered to poor, disenfranchised white Americans to see themselves as actors in the fight for liberation and equity.
A large part of the reason I am interested in seeing “Judas and the Black Messiah”, a movie that examines the activism of Fred Hampton and the betrayal he encountered from an assumed Black Panther colleague, but actual FBI informant, William O’Neal, is to watch the film’s adaptation of his rise to prominence as a social justice leader and to see how the screenwriters tell the story of his intersectional approach to freedom-fighting.
Based on what I have researched about Chairman Fred, it is my belief that what made him most dangerous was his youthful charisma, commanding presence and remarkable ability to coalesce a cross-section of marginalized people to see the Black liberation struggle as less of a social dilemma exclusive to Black folks, and more of an obstacle for any American living outside the margins of capitalistic favor.
I know how his story ends and for me, it’s not so much about mourning the departure of a man that would only be 73-years-old in 2021. It is about watching a story that America needs to grapple with in an era of social unrest, and the thought of Fred Hampton Jr. being able to see his father adequately acknowledged for his contributions to our collective betterment.
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be