45 years ago (at the age of 21!), chairman Fred Hampton was assassinated in his home during a police raid coordinated by the FBI and its notoriously illegal COINTELPRO which sought to marginalize and eradicate one of the greatest social justice movements in US history.
As a youth organizer for the NAACP and eventual leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), Hampton was the physical embodiment of Antonio Gramsci’s “organic intellectual.” Born to working-class parents, he became a pre-law major in college and deployed his knowledge to combat police brutality and unfair law enforcement practices that targeted impoverished black and brown youth in the greater Chicago area.
His realization of the inherent connection between institutional racism and class politics led him to negotiate a “class-conscious, multi-racial alliance” between politicized organizations (the BPP and Students for a Democratic Society) and Chicago’s major street gangs (Young Patriots, Young Lords, Blackstone Rangers, Brown Berets and Red Guard Party). As BPP’s local leader, Hampton organized rallies, assisted with maintaining a local medical clinic, taught weekly political education classes, and operated a Free Breakfast Program for underprivileged children.
As both an organic intellectual and de facto educator, Hampton’s brilliant oratory skills were not used to place himself above the oppressed, but rather to immerse himself within the oppressed community of which he was a member. His words, and the linguistic style in which his analysis was advanced, were a shining example of the simultaneous process of education and dialogue that must take place with the oppressed.
And as the praxis to Gramsci’s theory, Hampton’s effective class analysis and stage-based approach that included “real world” solutions made him the quintessential revolutionary. “That’s what the Breakfast for Children Program is,” he told us. “A lot of people think it’s simply charity, but what does it do? It takes people from a stage to a stage to another stage. Any program that’s revolutionary is an advancing program. Revolution is change.”
Hampton, like many freedom fighters of his time, transcended the struggle against racial oppression by effectively tying it to the international class struggle, much like Martin Luther King, Jr. had begun to do with his critical assessment of war and poverty.
Hampton urged all to recognize the crucial tie between race and class, and called on all to fight racism with WORKING-CLASS SOLIDARITY. Prior to his death, he famously proclaimed that “they can kill the revolutionary, but they can never kill the revolution.” The fact that his words, message, and revolutionary spirit serve as our engine is a testament to this.
Forty-five years later – as poor, Black, and working-class citizens are STILL figuratively and literally choked to death by police in the streets – the struggle remains REAL. Hampton’s words are not only relevant; they are crucial.
Sending love to our namesake. Your torch remains unscathed and as bright as ever.