By DELORES MCCAIN, TERRY DEAN
Editor's note: Portions of this story were taken from a March 9, 2006
Austin Weekly News article.
South Side congressman Bobby Rush remembers the death of Black
Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, who was killed nearly 40 years ago
today. So do other community leaders in Chicago concerning what took
place at Hampton's West Side home, 2337 W. Monroe, just before
daybreak. In a pre-dawn raid of the West Side apartment, Chicago
police gunned down Hampton and fellow panther Mark Clark. The
shooting took place Dec. 4, 1969 at about 4 a.m.
Austin Weekly News in March 2006 reported on the effort by Hampton's
family, friends and supporters to have 2300 W. Monroe Street named
after him. At a morning ceremony on March 6, of that year, and
standing in front of where Hampton's house stood, Rush, a former
Black Panther member, recalled the faithful day.
"On a day similar to this, Dec. 5, 1969, we were gathered here in the
early morning," said Rush, a member of the Chicago Chapter of the
Black Panther Party at the time of the killings. "[At] about 4
o'clock, I got a call that there was a shootout on West Monroe. We
gathered because this area was cornered off. We gathered in a
basement less then a block away and listened to the radio to get the
word that Fred Hampton had been killed by police officers."
The move to rename the street after Hampton stirred controversy. The
Chicago Police Union contended that Hampton should not be honored,
and that the Black Panther Party was more of a criminal outfit than a
political organization. Supporters of the Party disagree, citing the
group's work in civil rights and community activism. The city
eventually did not rename the street.
Supporters, though, argued that Hampton, who was deputy chairman of
the Illinois chapter of the Panthers, deserved the honor and insisted
his 1969 killing was unjustified.
"Fred Hampton gave his life-he didn't commit a crime," said Rush in
2006. "He gave his life because he fed hungry children. He gave his
life because he advocated free medical attention for people who had
no medical care. He gave his life so that the homeless would have a home."
The pre-dawn raid was executed by Chicago Police, and included the
FBI and members of the Cook County States Attorney Office's special
tactical unit, according to news accounts. Law enforcement officials
were armed with guns and a warrant to search for illegal weapons.
According to accounts from Black Panther Party members, when police
stormed the apartment, both Clark and Hampton were asleep. Clark,
asleep in the front room, was the first man killed. Hampton was later
shot by police. Officers at the time, however, said Hampton and Clark
shot first as officers were attempting to serve the warrant.
But the events further raised questions about police brutality and
simmering tensions between the mostly white police force and black
communities it supposedly served. Rush, who was not at the scene of
the shooting, recalled what happened after the incident.
"Around 6 o'clock that morning, policemen left this area and they
left the apartment open. That was their biggest mistake and that was
our biggest blessing," he said. "That they left the apartment open
and people began to stream through that apartment, in a few days
between that Wednesday morning and that Sunday, over 25,000 people
came through that apartment. And, they all left with their mind made
up. They all left saying 'Fred Hampton had been murdered while he
slept-murdered in his sleep.'"