Black History Month: Black Panther Party + Fred Hampton


Hi friends,

We’re back in your inbox to continue our Black History Month series unlearning biases against Black historical figures that mainstream culture taught us to fear. This week, we’re talking about Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. 


The Black Panther Party was founded by Huey Percy Newton and Bobby Seale after the two met at Merritt College in Oakland, CA in 1961. They became friends after protesting the college’s “Pioneer Day” celebration, which honored the (white) pioneers who came to California in the 1800s, but omitted the role of Black people, enslaved and freed, in settling the West of the United States. In response to this omission, Newton and Seale organized the Negro History Fact Group, which called on the school to offer classes in Black history.

Newton and Seale founded the Black Panthers in 1966, following the assassination of Malcolm X and after police in San Francisco shot and killed Matthew Johnson, an unarmed Black teen.

The Panthers emerged during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, where nonviolence was the most common way to confront racism. However, the Panthers took a different approach. The group’s formation was a response to police violence across Oakland and across the nation. At its core, the group was part of the Black Power movement, sharing ideals of socialism, self defense (especially against police violence), and meeting the needs of Black communities with direct aid


Newton studied the law and found that it was perfectly legal to carry loaded weapons in California as long as they were not concealed. Building off of that knowledge, the Panthers began walking the streets of Oakland armed, converging on police who pulled over Black residents to observe and, frankly, intimidate the police from further harm. 

Let’s put this in perspective: it is the late 1960s and Black people across the United States are watching as nonviolent Civil Rights leaders are getting beaten and sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs on television and in real life. Generations of Black children have grown up fearing lynch mobs, getting paid subminimum wages, and attending schools and restaurants alike that were segregated by race. At this point, the nation was at an inflection point with Jim Crow laws and white supremacist violence poised to replace the de jure segregation era. Only three generations removed from enslavement, many parents and grandparents still intimately connected with plantations through sharecropping. Black self defense wasn’t radical because they carried guns; it was radical because the notion of Black people reclaiming their own power and fighting back by any means necessary ran counter to the desires of a country that built their economy and social systems on Black exploitation.

While guns weren’t the point of the Black Panther Party, they are often associated with them (and rightfully so – they’re a major part of why we even talk about the Second Amendment). Their attention to the particular laws around guns provoked the National Rifle Association (yes, that same one) to release statements against open carry in the 1960s. Because guns were carried by Black people first, well-known conservative icons including Ronald Reagan, the NRA, and white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan all rallied against widespread gun use for the first ~15 years of public discourse about guns (we highly, highly recommend listening to More Perfect’s The Gun Show for more information). 


Fred Hampton, who would eventually become deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was born on August 30, 1948. Hampton was raised in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, IL, where he excelled throughout school in both academics and athletics. After high school graduation, he enrolled in a pre-law program at Triton Junior College, where Hampton became involved in the civil rights movement, joining his local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His innate leadership and organizational skills catapulted him to rise to the position of Youth Council President for the chapter. Hampton mobilized a racially integrated group of five hundred young people who successfully lobbied city officials to create better academic and recreational facilities for Black children.

In 1968, Hampton joined the Black Panther Party, where he pulled from his NAACP experience and soon was the head of the Chicago chapter. During his brief time with the Black Panther Party, Hampton formed a “Rainbow Coalition” which included Students for a Democratic Society, the Blackstone Rangers, a street gang and the National Young Lords, a Puerto Rican organization. Hampton was remarkably skilled at unifying otherwise opposing groups against white supremacy. He even successfully negotiated a gang truce on local television.

Tragically, the United States’ government saw this rise in Black power as a threat to its own stability, rather than a source of community support and stability. In 1969, the first FBI’s first director, J. Edgar Hoover (remember him? From when we talked about Dr. King a few weeks ago? You know, the one who called Dr. King a “colossal fraud and an evil one at that”?) in 1968 called the Black Panthers, “One of the greatest threats to the nation’s internal security.”

In an effort to neutralize the Chicago Black Panther Party, the FBI (through their counterterrorism program, COINTELPRO) and the Chicago Police Department teamed up to place the chapter under heavy surveillance and to conduct several harassment campaigns. In a series of raids in 1969, several BPP members and police officers were either injured or killed in shootouts, and over one hundred local members of the BPP were arrested.

On December 4, 1969, during an early morning police raid of the BPP headquarters at 2337 W. Monroe Street twelve officers opened fire, killing the 21-year-old Hampton and Mark Clark, the Peoria, IL Party leader. Police also seriously wounded four other Panther members

Most of the Black community in Chicago were outraged over the raid and the unnecessary deaths of Hampton and Clark. Over 5,000 people attended Hampton’s funeral where Reverends Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference eulogized the slain activist. Years later, law enforcement officials admitted wrongdoing in the killing of Hampton and Clark. In 1990, and later in 2004, the Chicago City Council passed resolutions commemorating December 4 as Fred Hampton Day.


In founding the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale mapped out the group’s shared values in the form of a Ten-Point Program that included the following:

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
  5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
  6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
  7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
  8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
  9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
  10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Local chapters of the Panthers were often led by women and focused their attention on community “survival programs” that drew inspiration from the Ten-Point Program. These local groups organized a free breakfast program for 20,000 children each day, in addition to a free food program for families and the elderly. They sponsored schoolslegal aidoffices, clothing distributionlocal transportation, and health clinics and sickle-cell testing centers in several cities.  These programs were particularly important for low-income Black communities during an era where these neighborhoods received so little support from state and federal governments; sponsored by the Panthers, these programs provided direct, concrete aid. 

In addition to aid programs, the Panthers organized. They campaigned for prison reform, held voter registration drives, organized the aforementioned programs in a dozen cities serving thousands who could not afford it, and created Freedom Schools in nine cities including the noteworthy Oakland Community School, led by Ericka Huggins from 1973 to 1981.

Flier for the 1972 Black Community Survival Conference with promotion provided by the Black Panther Party’s Angela Davis People’s Free Food Program. 

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Black Panthers were made villains by the FBI and our history books alike. While they were not a perfect organization (spoiler alert: no organization can be), they set the bar for what direct aid and Black liberation could look like. So often, our history books and accounts of the Civil Rights Movement poise the Civil Rights Movement and Black nationalists against each other but that oversimplification is inaccurate. The Civil Rights Movement (as we think of it in the 1960s and 1970s) and all Civil Rights Movements that followed have been explicitly impacted by the ideals of the Black Panther Party. Although the Party itself was disbanded in 1982 (and the New Black Panther Party assembled in 1989 clearly states that it is unrelated to the original), its legacy lives on and there is certainly something for us to learn from its emphasis on direct, active, community-focused responses to disparities and oppression. 



To be honest, our open rate for this email last week was on the lower side so we’re re-upping our non-financial way to take action from last week once again because it feels too important to let slip through the cracks. We are emailing our Attorneys General and our Governors to ask that they immediately reduce the prison population within our states. Please note: the information listed is for people who have some sort of oversight role in the goings-on of prisons. If you would like to email the people who run your local jail, email us and we’ll help you figure out who the best contacts are there, too! YOUR STATE OFFICIALS’ CONTACT INFORMATION HERE


“My name is ____ and I am a resident of your state. I am writing to ask you to halt new admissions to prisons and juvenile detention centers throughout the state and placement facilities, and release all detained and incarcerated people who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. These include the following: 

  • Elderly people
  • People that the CDC has classified as vulnerable (those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes)
  • People within six months of their release date
  • People who are incarcerated for a technical parole or probation violation 

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all of our lives and poses a public health risk to everyone.  Together, through strict social distancing, we can slow the spread of the virus and help prevent our healthcare system from getting too overwhelmed—literally saving lives.  But, people in jail and prison cannot practice social distancing, and many of them are already predisposed to complications from the virus.

Jails and prison populations must be reduced so that cells are not shared and there are sufficient medical beds.  In addition, soap, hand sanitizer, and medical care should be provided free of charge, and all surfaces should be deep cleaned for the safety of those incarcerated and those employed at the facilities. 

As we all take steps to ensure the health of ourselves and our loved ones during this pandemic, we must also take steps to ensure the wellbeing of the 43,000 children and 2.2 million adults across the country who are behind bars right now. They are human beings worthy of dignity and entrusted to your care; please treat their wellbeing as you would any constituent.”

You can always modify our scripts to match your own language – we just jot these down so you have a place to start! 


Incarcerated people are infected by the coronavirus at a rate more than five times higher than the nation’s overall rate, according to research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The death rate of inmates (39 deaths per 100,000) is also higher than the national rate (29 deaths per 100,000). As of January 7, 2021, more than 433,000incarcerated people and staff have been infected with coronavirus and at least 1,960 have died, The New York Times reports.

People in prisons and jails can’t social distance and don’t have adequate health resources or PPE as is. For more information about COVID-19 in congregate settings, particularly prisons and jails, you can read this EJI Report

Alright friends, we’ll see you again Friday with another Black historical figure that you may not know much about! 
In Solidarity,
Ellie, Emily, and Hayden

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