50 years ago today, Fred Hampton was assassinated by the FBI and Chicago Police Department. That heinous act took away one of the world’s brightest lights and perhaps, the Black messiah J. Edgar Hoover had always feared. Fred Hampton could have been and should have been, President of the United States of America.
Fred Hampton was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. Since 1970 more Americans have lived in the suburbs than central cities — Hampton could relate to them, being a suburban kid from “the heartland.” Hampton was a natural organizer, a young kid who grew his suburban NAACP youth chapter from seven to 700 members. Later he would make a name for himself organizing and building coalition among organizations ranging from street gangs to leftist political groups. Hampton did it with his intellect, mixed with unusual charisma and peculiar ability to speak to people’s pain and hopes. Why wouldn’t America believe in this guy?
American politics requires coalition building and skilled organizing — no one was better than Hampton. Hampton was a natural leader, a charismatic personality who was unusually informed, especially for his age. At 21-years-old he’d already assumed statewide leadership of a political, community based organization (the Illinois Black Panther Party) and so effective at bringing together disenfranchised groups, of all races, that the FBI considered him a threat. Few individuals die having accomplished as much, inspired as many or made as much history as Hampton, who was assassinated at only 21 years of age. Why wouldn’t America want him as its first Black POTUS?
Who could be more articulate, effective or competent than this young Black man who, from a ghetto in Chicago, captured J. Edgar Hoover’s full attention? Hampton was able to convince street gangs, such as the Blackstone Rangers and Black Disciples, that fighting each other only entrenched their poverty. Surely he could bring together Democrats and Republicans. His roots were in the suburbs but his impact felt in the big city. He could speak to voters all over the electoral map. But more than progress and unity, America was hungry for Black suppression. 50 years ago today, Hampton’s apartment was raided at 4:30 am, while sleeping next to his pregnant fiancee. Hampton was assassinated by the Chicago police, a deed initiated by the FBI. Up to 99 shots were fired at Hampton and other Panthers. A single shot — fired unintentionally into the ceiling — came from the Panthers.
There is no question that Fred Hampton had the brilliance, drive, vision and leadership ability to be the first Black President of the United States. His background, connection to the masses and sheer brilliance all pointed to that eventuality. Racism took him and that ultimate promise from all those who identify as Americans. On this day we should mourn his loss for what it truly was — not simply the death of an activist but the assassination of a world leader.