Socialist Spotlight: Fred Hampton

“We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.

We ain’t gonna fight no reactionary pigs who run up and down the street being reactionary; we’re gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we’re gonna fight reactionary pigs with international proletarian revolution. That’s what it has to be. The people have to have the power: it belongs to the people.”

Fred Hampton, “Power Anywhere Where There’s People!” speech, Chicago, 1969

The quintessential coalition-builder, Fred Hampton advocated on behalf of the working class as a revolutionary socialist. His fight against racial capitalist structures remains relevant today, as does his murder at the hands of the state.

His ability to connect with the masses drew national attention and led to the founding of the multiracial “Rainbow Coalition” — a movement which consisted of street gangs and various socialist organizations in the Chicago area, including the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, which Hampton chaired. Born in 1948, he quickly rose to prominence as an organizer for the NAACP in the 1960s in his hometown of Maywood, a Chicago suburb.

Hampton served as an NAACP Youth Council President and mobilized his group of over 500 members to help his community gain access to better education resources and recreational facilities. His philosophies meshed with the The Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program and he joined the organization in 1968. Hampton’s organizing ability also drew the attention of the FBI, which opened up a file on him the year prior.

Thanks to the efforts of seven dissidents and journalist Betty Medsger, we know about the federal government’s insidious program to infiltrate various political groups. Combined with years of investigative reporting since the 1970s and this federal civil rights lawsuit, we know the inner workings of COINTELPRO, which largely targeted leaders of the civil rights movement and various left-wing organizations.

Hampton was a target of COINTELPRO not only because of his ability to upset the Chicago political establishment, but also for his skill in building effective, multiracial political coalitions. A perfect example of that took place at the United Front Against Fascism, a national conference Hampton organized in Oakland. Over 5,000 people participated, with members of the following organizations represented: Communist Party USA, the Peace and Freedom Party, the Progressive Labor Party, the Red Guard Party, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Students for a Democratic Society, the Third World Liberation Front, the Young Lords, the Young Patriots Organization, the Young Socialist Alliance and various groups associated with the women’s liberation movement.

This “Rainbow Coalition” pushed for civil rights for Latinx, Chinese-Americans, and even included white, Southern working class people. In fact, whites made up the majority of UFAF participants. The principles expressed at this conference —  police accountability, community control of policing, advocating for the scaling back of investment in policing and the release of political prisoners  — mirror the modern-day Black Lives Matter movement and Antifa ideology.

Much like today, the patriarchal, racial capitalist institutions resisted such a movement. The FBI long had Hampton on its “agitator index” as a “key militant leader” due to Director J. Edgar Hoover’s desire to stamp out any potential threat to the political establishment. In the aftermath of the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Hampton ascended as the youngest, most skilled and captivating civil rights leader in the country. Hoover targeted him, in part, because of his belief in “a ‘messiah,’ who could unify and electrify the ‘militant’ black nationalist movement.”

Hampton not only spoke in revolutionary terms like his Black Panther counterparts and concisely explained the unique brand of American oppression. With his gifted oratory skills, he genuinely inspired all types of people across the working class and interwove relatable humor into his speeches. Take this speech, delivered to a group of Northern Illinois University students in 1969:

“For those people who have their feelings hurt by n— talking about guns, we’ll have a cry-in after the question and answer period. And for those white people that are here to show some type of overwhelming manifestation of guilt syndromes, and want people to cry out that they love them, after the cry-in, if we have time, we’ll allow you all to have a love-in.”

He drew increased surveillance in the late ’60s from the FBI, who recruited William O’Neal to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Despite evidence provided by a separate FBI agent that Hampton’s organization largely dedicated its time to various mutual aid projects, Hoover, as the head of an oppressive law enforcement agency, demanded proof they were violent and orchestrating some sort of coup.

With the help of O’Neal’s blueprint, a combination of the FBI, Chicago Police Department and Cook County Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office organized a raid on Hampton’s apartment in December of 1969. Ostensibly, this was executing a warrant for weapons possession. In reality, seven minutes of gunfire included 82 to 99 shots fired by police with the only other alleged bullet from a misfired shotgun that fell in the apartment.

Hampton, at only 21 years old, and Mark Clark were murdered in the raid while several other Black Panthers were severely wounded. It is perhaps the most consequential and prominent example of the U.S. government violently thwarting a left-wing socialist movement.

Short Pieces:


  • The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas (2011)
  • From the Bullet to the Ballot: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago by Jakobi Williams (2013)
  • The Black Panthers Speak by Philip S. Foner (1995)