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  • Samira Burnside

A Revolution in Reflections

“You can kill a revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.”

Chairman Fred Hampton was the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, a socialist revolutionary organization. He was part of the party for only a year, joining in November of 1968, and then being assassinated on December 4th of 1969. In that time he rose from a rally organizer in the NAACP to being appointed as the national spokesperson for the Black Panther Party. From a minor political actor to the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country”, according to John Edgar Hoover, the acting FBI director at the time. There is always a revolution and there will always be one, but Chairman Fred Hampton lit a fire under it like no one else before him. He had a special skill with words. He knew his ideology and he knew it well, he always emphasized the importance of education and knowing that which you preach. He made sure every new panther went through 6 weeks of extended study so that they would fully comprehend what they were fighting for and why. But he could also simplify that ideology, filter it through the lens of his audience, making it understandable for people who had never read an ounce of socialist theory and people who hated socialism alike.

When the Chairman died, the Panthers scattered. Many fled the country. Others laid low. Some stayed and fought for a while longer, but the revolution never reached the same fever pitch that it had in that one, burning, year. Why?

No one had ever promised that the revolution would be bloodless. People had been lost, people had been thrown in chains, people had been murdered before. What was it about the assassination of Chairman Fred Hampton that doused the flames of revolution the way it did?

Fred Hampton Jr, the son of the Chairman and fellow revolutionary Akua Njeri, says that the assassination instilled a fear of retaliation in supporters new and old. Getting hurt or killed in the line of fire, in the act of revolution, is different from watching a great leader unable to act, shot in his sleep. People often think of leaders as different, as somehow apart from the people, and no matter how hard the Chairman tried to emphasize that he was one of the people just like everyone else, history, and the people in his crowds, cannot help but treat him like a mythological figure. The FBI would consider him a “Black Messiah''. When JFK was assassinated, the entire country was affected. A shockwave ran through culture that permeates to this day. When our heroes die they take a little bit of us with them. A little bit of the hope they gave to us, the strength they inspired. We realize they were not invincible, not more than human. We are all people, and in the end...people are fragile.

This, combined with the propaganda put out against the Black Panther Party, is what led to the fracture, according to Fred Hampton Jr.

But, there is a revolution, and there always will be.


To talk about the revolution after the Chairman, we have to talk about the changes he made to the nature of the revolution.

When we think about revolution and movements that sought equality and civil rights, we divide them by type. To us the movement for civil rights in regards to black people in America is separate and different from the woman’s suffrage movement or the movement for queer rights. But Chairman Fred Hampton didn’t think about it that way. He knew that racism was but a tool used by capitalism to further divide and oppress the people. He believed that police brutality, institutionalized violence and the lack of healthcare and jobs in lower-income and black communities were specifically a class issue, not entirely a race issue, with racism being used as a tool to further oppress and divide the proletariat(Note: The Worker/The Working Class). So, he treated the civil rights movement like the class revolution that it was. He believed in putting the power back in the hands of all people and by extension that meant his people too.

So, unlike many leaders before him, he actively sought out people that usually wouldn’t be interested in the Panthers mission. Between street gangs like the Blackstone Rangers to Puerto Rican organizations like the Young Lords to poor white organizations that waved confederate flags like the Young Patriots, the Chairman united them all. He sold them on the revolution by showing them the power of it. He didn’t explain socialist theory, he created socialist programs. Free breakfast hubs for kids, free healthcare clinics for the people. He didn’t care about their differences, he cared about their similarities. Across the country, organizers in other Black Panther Party chapters began reaching out to the people and groups that made up their community, linking up with shop-owners and unions alike, bringing them into the revolution with the promise of a fairer future.

This is why the Chairman was so threatening to the establishment. He united people across racial,gender and cultural lines. Whether they were city slickers or country boys from Appalachia, they were all the Proletariat, and they all needed a revolution.

“All power to all people.

We say white power to white people.

White power to white people.

Brown power to brown people.

Brown power to brown people.

Yellow power to yellow people.

Yellow power to yellow people.

Black power to black people.

Black power to black people.

X power to those we left out.

X power to those we left out.

We say Panther power to the vanguard party.

Panther power to the vanguard party.”

(Note: Italicized text represent a call and response between Hampton and the Audience)


The Embers of Revolution:

It has been 53 years since the Chairman was assassinated. Yet, we still feel the echoes of his revolutionary compassion to this day. After all, a revolutionary can be killed, but a revolution can never die.

Across the country, his rainbow coalition divides, with no unified vision to guide it and the once controlled and organized structure of the Panthers fading as its members are thrust into chaos. But still, individually they work towards revolutionary action in their own ways.

Some folks, like Jose “Cha-Cha” Jiminez, a leader of the Young Lords, decided that politics were their best substitute for revolutionary action. And while his attempts to change Chicago through becoming mayor failed, the voter-base he helped develop aided Chicago in electing its first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983.

The Black Panther party found itself continually reinvented and reflected. In the years to follow, the “New Black Panther Party” emerged, a group with little to no actual connection to the Black Panther Party itself. It was a Black Nationalist group, eschewing the notion of a cross-racial revolution in favor of bigotry and hate, all while using the same iconography and language as their predecessors.

But also from that same divide came the Black Panther Cubs, a group run by Chairman Fred Hampton jr and Akua Njeri, dedicated to preserving the memory of the Black Panther Party and bringing people together across race and class lines. The Black Panther Cubs, made up of ex-Black Panther Party members and new revolutionaries alike, has already picked up where its predecessor left off. It doesn’t have the nationwide reach that the Black Panther Party had, but it does support its community through food pantries, community gardens and food giveaways.

So the question is, what makes the modern revolution so ineffective? The advent of the internet and quick international communication should make community organizing and direct action easier, right? So why are we so scattered and unable to create effective change?

It’s because we are afraid. Afraid of the repercussions of revolutionary action, of giving up our colonial comforts for a better world. Afraid of looking outside ourselves and at others. Afraid of searching for our commonalities instead of our differences. Afraid of what it means to challenge what we know and to act for the betterment of our communities.

But that’s why they killed him. Not just because he was charismatic and intelligent, not just because he brought people together, but because he showed people that they could do it too. Fred Hampton Jr agrees, saying “Chairman Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party represents what we refer to as a ‘real model’ instead of ‘role model,’ People in all walks of life throughout the world can relate to the legacy of Fred Hampton.”. Anyone could be a revolutionary when the Chairman preached to them. Hampton Jr would later go on to say that “Chairman Fred and Mark Clark were assassinated in a way that would terrify people for generations to come, so we have to work to keep their legacy in the minds and hearts of the people.”.

So, the revolution is scattered, people are afraid of retaliation, the legacy of the Black Panther Party remains incoherent and plagued by leaders who misinterpret the legacy of their heroes and good people that just want to help and don’t know how. What now? What do we do in the ashes of a revolution, awaiting the next spark?

Remember what the Chairman did in the first place. He didn’t just preach the revolution, he enacted it. He made his community better to inspire people to act. He doubled the size of the Panthers, not by sitting around and being angry at the state of the world, but by reaching out to the would-be revolutionaries around him and giving them a cause. He saw the things that bound people together beyond race and political outlook, and that isn’t something unique to him. Don’t wait for someone to change things, don’t wait for the right politician to vote in, don’t wait for a new movement to sprout up, don’t wait.

Do it. You don’t need permission, you don’t need fame. Fred Hampton was just a man like every one of us. If he could do it, so could you. He’s already laid the bricks.

“If you ever think about me,

and if you think about me(...),

and if you ain't gonna do

no revolutionary act

forget about me.

I don't want myself on your mind

If your not going to work for the people.

Like we always said,

If you're asked to make a commitment

at the age of twenty,

and you say,

"I don't want to make a commitment",

Only Because of the simple reason that,

"I'm too young to die",

"I want to live a little bit longer"...

What you did is,... you're dead already.

You have to understand,

That people have to pay

the price for peace.

If you dare to struggle,

you dare to win.

If you dare not struggle, then

god damn-it, you don't deserve to win.

Let me say peace to you.

If you're willing to fight for it.

Let me say in the spirit of liberation...

I've been gone for a little while.

At least my body's been gone

for a little while.

But I'm back now.

And I believe that I'm back to stay.

I believe that I'm going to do my job.

And I believe that I was born,

not to die in a car wreck;

I don't believe that I'm going to die

in a car wreck.

I don't believe I'm going to die

slipping on a piece of ice;

I don't believe I'm going to die

because I got a bad heart;

I don't believe I'm going to die

because of lung cancer.

I believe that I'm going to be able to

die doing the things I was born for.

I believe that I'm going to be able

to die high off the people.

I believe that I will be able to die

as a revolutionary in the

international revolutionary

proletarian struggle

and I hope that each one of you will

be able to die in the international

proletarian revolutionary struggle

or you'll be able to live in it.

And I think that struggle's

going to come.

Why don't you live for the people.

Why don't you struggle for the people.

Why don't you die for the people.”

-Chairman Fred Hampton

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1 Comment

Muki Nuku Organics
Muki Nuku Organics
Feb 13, 2023

Powerfully writtent and effortlessly conveyed. Power to the People!

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