On Oct. 15, dozens of community members gathered outside the childhood home of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton in west suburban Maywood, to mark the 55th anniversary of the revolutionary party’s founding. Hampton was assassinated by law enforcement inside of his West Side apartment on Dec. 4, 1969.
The Friday event wasn’t merely a commemoration, said Hampton’s son, Black Panther Cub Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. The day was an exercise in realizing Hampton’s and the Black Panther Party’s legacies of bottom-up activism rooted in community.
“A hero does something and you say, ‘Wow,’ but you can’t emulate it,” Hampton Jr. said. “These brothers and sisters came from our community and transcended geographical, gender and generational lines.”
On Friday, Hampton Jr., along with his mother, Mother Akua Njeri, gathered to unveil and dedicate a new People’s Bench, an official Little Free Library, an improved “Feed Em’ All Community Fridge” and a Little Free Pantry. They also unveiled original artwork created from the original Hampton Family Bench.
The projects were the result of a collaboration between eight different local community organizations across Proviso Township and Berwyn.
Their collective goal is to transform the Hampton House into a space “to teach young people as well as adults about the legacy of Fred Hampton, the Hampton family as well as the significance of this space and what it means to Maywood, Proviso Township and to American history,” according to a statement released ahead of the event.
“When you show up to a Black Panther Party Cubs event, you’re going to see a rainbow coalition,” said Randall McFarland, the founder of Best of Proviso Township, one of the partner organizations.
McFarland said Emanuel Lutheran Church in Hillside teamed up with a partner organization to stock the free food pantry outside of Hampton’s boyhood home. The pantry, he said, will be stocked with non-perishable food items.
Benjamin Henning, a community organizer with the community group Engaged Berwyn, said his group was involved in creating the new artwork out of the original Hampton Family Bench and helping to restore the new bench. They also installed the Little Free Library, he said.
Oak Park activist Anthony Clark, whose Suburban Unity Alliance was responsible for partnering with Hampton Jr. on the free community refrigerator setup outside of the Hampton House, called for community members to channel the legacy of Hampton Sr. and the Black Panther Party.
That legacy dates back to Oct. 15, 1966, when Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seal formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, California, in response to rampant and unchecked police brutality. With virtually no recourse or government intervention to count on, they took matters into their own hands and became their own advocates and protectors.
“I thank my parents for truly teaching me what our school systems are not,” Clark said. “When I reached out to the Chairman about the fridge, he said, ‘Right on. Let’s do it.’ We cannot wait on anybody else to do the work we can do for ourselves. We truly can’t.”
Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker said he has had conversations with Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th), who was also in attendance on Friday, about ways of preserving the legacy of Hampton and the Panthers.
“Since becoming mayor there have been multiple conversations we’ve been having … about the preservation of the house, the revitalization of the pool space and working on a cultural arts facility that can help with our youth,” he said.
“Wauconda is [a town] in [Illinois],” Hampton Jr. said. “They’re booming [because of the film “Black Panther”] … You’ve got living, real history right here! … Let the world know. Geographically Maywood is small, but politically it’s a giant.”