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The Assassination of Fred Hampton [Book Review]

The details may differ but the story of Fred Hampton is unfortunately not uncommon. Fred Hampton is one in a long list of Black activists murdered during the turbulent 1960’s. His death stands apart from most others as it was proven to have been the result of a concerted effort by the FBI and Chicago police. I won’t go into the details of the murder here as The Assassination of Fred Hampton by Jeffrey Haas does an excellent job of explaining the raid on Hampton’s apartment, shootout, and trials.

These are actually the best parts of The Assassination of Fred Hampton.

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I’d heard of Fred Hampton and his affiliation with the Black Panthers. But, I didn’t know enough about him to understand why he’s so revered in the Black community. Reading about how he became a leader in the community and the various programs he developed in Illinois was eye-opening.

That Hampton accomplished so much at such a young age and within a short space of time is admirable. It was also saddening to imagine what he might have achieved had he lived a long life. Imagine having the awareness and drive as a student to push for the hiring of more Black teachers.

Hampton’s outspokenness and powerful public speaking skills helped him stand out. This brought him to the attention of local community leaders and the NAACP and Black Panthers. But, it also landed him on the FBI’s Key Agitator Index.

In some ways, the story of Fred Hampton’s activism is also the story of the progression of the Civil Rights and Black Power movement. Hampton started out as a grassroots local organizer and then became involved with the traditional nonviolence movement. Hampton marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and experienced the violent hostility of White people who felt threatened by the Black community’s insistence on equality. The nonviolence movement’s failure to move the needle pushed Hampton to consider more militant ideologies and organizations.

Reading about how informants infiltrated the Black Panthers and provided info to the authorities was eye-opening. I was aware that things of this nature occurred. But, it was unbelievable that people would sellout a cause that sought to improve circumstances for people that looked like them in exchange for little in return.

I’m generally more drawn to the female participants and icons of the Civil Rights Movement. As despite fighting against racial inequality, many male Civil Right leaders supported the continued oppression of Black women based on their gender. It was comforting that Hampton didn’t view the female members of the Black Panthers as sex objects or servants. Even more impressive that he didn’t allow other male members to disrespect or harass female members.

Hampton’s ethics seemed to have been beyond reproach with regards to drugs, alcohol, women, and criminal activity. Nobody is perfect but it’s especially important for public figures in these types of movements to not give the opposition any kind of moral high ground. Granted some of his actions were irresponsible but they seemed to stem from youthful immaturity rather than criminal or malicious intent.

The one weak spot in The Assassination of Fred Hampton is that the author uses the book to tell his life story. I don’t have anything against Haas but he wasn’t the reason that I picked up the book. I wanted his legal perspective on the efforts to get justice for Fred Hampton and the other Black Panthers. Not the details of his personal life.

Recommendation

The Assassination of Fred Hampton is an incredible book. It’s a great book for learning about a less celebrated but important Black figure. The Assassination of Fred Hampton would also be of interest to law buffs and social activists. The content is too violent for young children. But, Hampton’s youth activism could motivate teens to become involved in their own communities.

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