by Marie J. Kuda
Forty years ago Chicago was a very different place. The Viet Nam war
was still ongoing, though for a moment there had been a degree of
optimism in the air. But the hope that perhaps the world, our world,
could become betterthat a peaceful revolution might still be
possiblewas about to be shattered, again. We had lived through the
assassinations of Medgar Evers, the Kennedys, Malcolm X and Dr. King.
We had seen Chicago neighborhoods burn in the following "Days of
Rage." We were witness with the world to the brutality of the 1968
"police riots" at the Democratic Convention. The ensuing "conspiracy"
trial of the Chicago Eight in Judge Hoffman's court went from comic
opera to disgust when bound-and-gagged Black Panther Bobby Seale was
separated from the other defendants. The shooting death of Black
Panther Fred Hampton in December 1969 barely made a ripple; the
Nation's consciousness wouldn't recoil until guns were turned against
white Kent State students four months later.
But Chicago gays were feeling upbeat; our image was on the upswing
since Stonewall in mid-Summer 1969 local and national media coverage
exploded. On Dec. 2, 1969, Mattachine Midwest ( MM, Chicago's early
gay-rights organization ) held a successful benefit350 tickets had
been sold for a performance of Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band at
the Studebaker Theatre. Proceeds were to be used for a legal defense
fund. MM had been meeting with police honchos for over a year on
issues of bar raids, entrapment, police brutality, and harassment of
gays. Membership was expanding; we were hopeful.
Murderous raid and the gay response
On Dec. 4, 1969, a dozen Chicago police officers serving as minions
of state's attorney Edward Hanrahan, in a pre-dawn raid with a search
warrant for illegal weapons, killed the Illinois Black Panther Party
chairman, 21-year-old Fred Hampton, and Mark Clark, 22. Three
18-year-olds and a 17-year-old woman were wounded. The officers said
they were fired upon and returned fireabout 100 rounds. Hampton was
shot twice in the head at point-blank range while asleep in bed next
to Deborah Johnson, who was pregnant with his child. In the next few
days the mainstream press Chicago Tribune and the Chicago
Sun-Timespublished conflicting reports of the raid. In the Chicago
Daily News, columnist Mike Royko joined those questioning the
official account, suggesting a cover-up on the part of the raiders (
but he still called the Panther's pro-violence, gun hoarding, racists
) while photographer Joe Moreno caught laughing Chicago police
carrying the body of Hampton from the scene. The Panthers and their
attorneys opened the shooting site to the public and the press.
Good Quaker that he was, Jim Bradford, Mattachine Midwest president,
went around to the house on West Monroe Street to see the bullet
holes and evidence for himself. Hampton had worked with the Friends
Service Committee and aside from his rhetoric, they said he abhorred
violence. Bradford unequivocally condemned the shootings as murder. A
regular MM membership meeting was scheduled for Dec. 9; after
Bradford's report the members voted their approval of his request to
send a letter of support to the Panthers via Bobby Rush. Bradford's
letter expressed "our horror at the brutal killings of Fred Hampton
and Mark Clark and our disgust at the manifest contempt for due
process and justice on the part of the State's Attorney." He also
sent a letter of condemnation to State's Attorney Hanrahan expressing
Mattachine's "utter contempt for your vigilante raid on the Panther's
apartment, and your depraved plea for all 'good' citizens to rally to
Read more story below....
Three days later Bradford appended copies of both letters to a press
release sent to all local media outlets. After identifying Mattachine
as a "civil liberties, educational and social service organization
dedicated to improving the status of homosexuals" he went on to cite
similarities between the treatment of Blacks and homosexuals as
minority groups. Bradford then bore witness that his visit to "the
bullet-riddled ... blood-stained apartment ... supports the Panther's
statement ... countless bullet holes and no evidence of return fire
show what dirt was really done." He called for the arrest and
prosecution of Hanrahan and his officers: "When law enforcement
agencies act in such total disregard for civil rights and human life,
no minority group is safe ... Those who pervert their public trust
deserve to be dealt with swiftly and to the fullest extent of the law."
Most of the 140 post-Stonewall dues-paying members of Mattachine were
fairly conservative and closeted. At the next membership meeting (
Jan. 8, 1970 at my apartment on Carmen ) a "phenomenal" turnout
included "many members who had not attended recently" but had renewed
their interest because of the Boys in the Band benefit; others came
wanting to discuss the Panther letters. There was dissension within
the groupseveral expressed discomfort with Bradford's actions.
Bradford became disgusted, circumspect, hinting at FBI surveillance
of himself and MM. In a matter of months he would resign citing
stress and is still viewed as having had conspiracy paranoia by some
former MM officers. Information coming to light in recent years about
the FBI, COINTELPRO and the Chicago Red Squad surveillance of and
active attempts to subvert dissident groups ( including gays, but
especially Blacks ) confirmed the old leftie adage "just because I'm
paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me."
FBI and Chicago police conspiracy proven
A recent book by Panther attorney Jeffrey Haas exhaustively details
the trials that resulted from the Dec. 4, 1969, Hampton raid. The
criminal assault case against the survivors of the raid fizzled. Haas
and others who would found the Peoples Law Office ( including G.
Flint Taylor ) took on what would became a thirteen-year battle of
federal cases and appeals, claiming violation of their civil rights,
on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and some of the
survivors. Other survivors were represented by Jim Montgomery,
described by Haas as "a smart, savvy African American lawyer ...
rapidly becoming one of the top criminal lawyers in Chicago."
In The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police
Murdered a Black Panther ( Lawrence Hill Books, 2010, 376 pages,
$26.95 ) , Haas painstakingly records how peeling each layer of the
judicial onion over the years of trial and discovery revealed more
and more of the alleged criminal action and cover-ups by federal,
state, and local officials. Later evidence would show that contrary
to the police version of the raid only one Panther weapon firedthe
gun held by Mark Clark who was seated at the front door on security.
It has been suggested that his weapon may have discharged as he fell
Documents since revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show
that as far back as 1967 the FBI instructed its COINTELPRO ( Counter
Intelligence Program ) to "neutralize ... black nationalist hate
groups" describing the Black Panthers as "the greatest threat to the
internal security of the country." Haas cites the subversive
techniques used in attempts to pit Black organizations against each
other. The thrust of FBI activities by 1969 was to prevent the
uniting of perceived Black nationalist groups ( Panthers, SNCC, SLC,
Nation of Islam and others ) behind a single strong leader.
The Panther programs
Hampton was becoming such a leader. He had moved from NAACP community
organizing in Maywood, to local and national Panther party status.
Under Hampton ( who disavowed alcohol and drugs ) the Chicago
Panther's had initiated a free, hot "Breakfast for Children Program"
at several sites, were getting petitions for community control of
police signed, had embarked on political education classes, had a
healthcare program and undertook a variety of propaganda efforts. The
national party had adopted a Ten Point Program calling for
self-determination; employment, housing, education, and health care
rights; an "immediate end to police brutality and murder ... of all
oppressed people inside the United States;" an end to wars of
aggression; and the "people's community control of modern
technology." They quoted and paraphrased the Declaration of
Independence to justify their call for a revolution of the status quo.
After the deaths of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, local
Panthers adopted a strong self-defense posture making it clear to the
mainstream they would defend themselves and their communities. The
FBI installed an informant, William O'Neal, who became Hampton's
chief of security. It was he who urged undertakings with guns. It was
he who said that there was a cache of arms at the Monroe Street
residence and gave the FBI a detailed floor plan. Discovery later
showed that the FBI provided that information to the State's Attorney
( who called Black "gangs ... animals unfit for society" ) who passed
it on to Chicago police who then obtained a search warrant for
illegal weapons ) .
It would be 1973 before the defense attorneys confirmed the perjured
information for the warrant, making it invalid and, in turn, making
the search illegal and Hampton's and Clark's deaths murder. Almost a
decade later the parties to the civil-rights suit would reach a
monetary settlementwith no overt admission of guilt by any of the defendants.
Fallout and future
Some historians see the fallout from the Hampton raid as the point at
which Chicago Blacks declared political independence from the local
Democratic machine, laying the groundwork for Harold Washington to
become the first African-American mayor of Chicago. As a state
senator Washington had repeatedly called for an independent
investigation into Hampton's death. Likewise, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis,
who was a West Side alderman at the time, praised Hampton and
denounced his murder.
Former U.S. Sen. Carol Mosley Braun, later Ambassador and candidate
for Chicago Mayor, was a friend of Hampton and helped with the
breakfast program at one point. She said in an interview for the PBS
WTTW documentary "From DuSable to Obama" that when she was a student
at the University of Illinois, Hampton would come by "we'd have lunch
save the world and all that; that's actually when I met Bobby Rush.
... We were all kids together and we were going to save the world."
Former Panther Bobby Rush, who had testified in federal court to
Hampton's extraordinary leadership qualities, completed law school
and became a four-term U.S. congressman from Illinois.
Only six African Americans have served in the United States Senate
since the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. Three ( Braun, Barack
Obama and Roland Burris ) were from Chicago; one went on to become
elected our 44th president.
These accomplishments were made against the grain. One can only
wonder at the difference it would have made to the city if Hampton
had lived. What those thousands of students ( and their successors )
in the hot breakfast programs might have accomplished; what
differences would have been made not only in the schools, but in the
streets, what their legacy might have been. Instead, the manner of
Hampton's death fractured the Panther Party, left people feeling
hopeless or crying out for justice, and gave street cred to those who
chose more criminal methods of survival.
Legal legacy and cost
And the police methods continued on. The tenacious G. Flint Taylor,
the Peoples Law Office, and other lawyers have pursued over 100 cases
of confessions extracted by reported police brutality and torture,
many laid at the feet of former Commander Jon Burge. The enormity of
the allegations contributed to the moratorium on executions and
commutation of death sentences by Illinois' under the former Governor
and the recent passage of legislation abolishing the death penalty.
Millions of dollars in wasted taxpayer funds have been used for
payouts in settlements and fees. Burge has been convicted of perjury
and obstruction of justicelying about the torture of victims in
police custody. But, despite his felony convictions the Police
Pension Board ruled that Burge can keep his monthly police pension of
$3,000 Illinois taxpayer dollarsa decision Taylor said is
outrageous. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan concurred and
filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court on Feb. 7 to deny Burge benefits.
In the year following the Hampton-Clark murders, Mattachine Midwest
lost many of its activists to other groups that were organizing
around specific goals challenging the legislative and legal status
quo. MM became more a social-service organization and ran its course
over the following decade. Pride week events turned from protest
marches with rallies in Daley Plaza within shouting distance of City
Hall, to celebratory parades bedecked with politicians, liquor
distributors and others courting the gay vote or dollar. While the
identity of the gay-liberation movement became seemingly more
inclusive ( separately labeling the lesbian, bisexual and transgender
communities ) , we were to be pursuing only our own piece of the pie.
The governmental delays and misinformation during the AIDS epidemic
of the 1980s and '90s showed LGBTs were on the expendable list. HIV
linked us with more diverse parties seeking preventative information,
research and improved treatment. Hampton had linked us to the wider
At a time when our government is decreeing ever more restrictions on
our rights and freedoms, we cannot afford to isolate our issues. We
must acknowledge our strength and effectiveness as citizens lies in
our ability to make common cause with others who seek freedom and
justice. When voices are being raised against our government's
actionslike pre-emptive war on Iraq that has already killed (
calling it collateral damage ) as many innocent civilians as we lost
in 9/11, like the toileting of unaccounted for millions of taxpayer
dollars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, like the restrictions on our
constitutional rights posed by the "temporary" Patriot Act which has
run out, but extension proposals are before the Congressit's good to
remind ourselves of what the government will do to squelch protest.
As Flint Taylor was quoted saying in an 1982 New York Times article
after the Hampton case was settled: "It will live on as a reminder of
how far the government can and will go to suppress those whose
philosophies is does not like."