Today marks the birthday of legendary Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton.
The charismatic freedom fighter, who was the chair of the Party’s Illinois chapter, would have turned 74 today.
At just 21 years old, he was assassinated by law enforcement on December 4, 1968 after becoming a target of the state. This period would later be dramatized in the HBO film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” with “Black Panther” star (go figure) Daniel Kaluuya playing the role of Fred Hampton.
Despite Hampton’s young life, he dropped so much wisdom in his speeches and appearances that would inspire generations to come. Like prime Biggie, who created numerous classics in just one album (“Ready to Die” for the uninitiated) many of Hampton’s quotes come from just one speech, when he presented remarks in the spring of 1967.
Here are some of the best gems.
“Theory’s cool, but theory with no practice ain’t s–t. You got to have both of them—the two go together… We not only thought about the Marxist-Leninist theory—we put it into practice. This is what the Black Panther Party is about.”
The Panthers were a proudly socialist organization that was steeped in theory, like Marxist-Leninism. But they knew they had to also deliver to people. That’s why their free breakfast program for children was so important. People in the community needed to see that they put action behind their words, and they envisioned that serving the community would also lead to them embracing more of the theory and revolutionary ideology the Panthers believed in. As Hampton said, “the Breakfast for Children program…we are running it in a socialistic manner. People came and took our program, saw it in a socialistic fashion not even knowing it was socialism,” and that by educating people and letting them work the program, they’ll learn “through observation and participation.”
“We no longer say Panther Power because we don’t believe the Panthers should have all the power. We are not for the dictatorship of the Panthers. We are not for the dictatorship of Black people. We are for the dictatorship of the people.”
Speaking of theory, Hampton and other Panther leaders considered themselves to be a vanguard party, in line with what revolutionaries and communists like Vladimir Lenin advocated. By having a group of people that “did the reading” like the Panthers, they could lead more effectively and bring everyday people into the fold for a mass movement.
“We think you fight fire with water. We’re not going to fight racism with racism, we’re going to fight racism with solidarity. Even though you think you ought to fight capitalism with Black capitalism, we’re going to fight capitalism with socialism.”
Fred Hampton and the Panthers wanted to move away from strictly talking about anti-black racism to address the underlying problems of capitalism. He thought that solidarity with allies across race would be the most effective way to combat both racism and capitalist greed.
“When people got a problem they come to the Black Panther Party for help and that’s good. Because, like Mao says, we are supposed to be ridden by the people and Huey says we’re going to be ridden down the path of social revolution and that’s for the people. The people ought to know that the Black Panther Party is one thousand percent for the people.”
The Black Panther Party was critical of civil rights groups that they believed just appealed to Washington, D.C. to change laws and “redress their grievances.” The Panthers wanted to be more hands-on with the community and address people’s everyday problems through direct confrontation. A known anecdote is when a stop sign was missing in the community and children were being run over. Instead of appealing to authorities, Black Panther Party co-founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale armed themselves and nailed up a stop sign themselves, which showed people that they can also take action themselves.
“You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail the revolution. You can run a freedom fighter around the country but you can’t run freedom fighting around the country. You can murder a liberator, but you can’t murder liberation.”
Fred Hampton acknowledged how frequently police officers targeted the Panthers, which led to his colleague Eldridge Cleaver being run out of the United States. But Hampton knew that no matter how much police tried to suppress individual leaders of the movement, the goals and values of the organizers would live on. His son, Fred Hampton, Jr. (pictured below) is among those carrying on the movement’s legacy.