Arts & Events

Author Discusses Book on Assassination of Fred Hampton

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday November 19, 2009 - 09:55:00 AM

I’m going to talk a good deal about Fred Hampton,” said Jeffrey Haas, “how he became a revolutionary leader—but, even more, who he was. How impressed I was hearing him speak, seeing him. He had a real desire for justice. He had wanted to be a lawyer but said he didn’t have enough time to get a law degree. And he died when he was only 21.” 

Haas was one of the attorneys involved in litigation for the family of Fred Hampton, killed by Chicago Police while sleeping, early in the morning of Dec. 4, 1969. Haas will speak about his new book, The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther (Lawrence Hill, $26.95), and engage in conversation with attorney John Burris and Dr. Raye Richardson, San Francisco State University Professor Emerita and owner of Marcus Book Stores, Friday evening at Black Repertory Theatre in Berkeley. The event is co-sponsored by Marcus Book Stores and Black Rep. 

Haas was part of a group of lawyers in Chicago that Hampton had recruited attorneys from and that formed the Peoples’ Law Center of Chicago, still in operation. Haas himself is no longer affiliated with PLCC but notes it is still vigorously alive after 40 years. He and attorney Flint Taylor of the PLCC initiated litigation on behalf of Hampton’s family, settling for $1.85 million after 13 years—the settlement paid equally by the city, state and federal governments. 

“What was surprising to us was how the raid was set up by the FBI. They monitored Fred Hampton’s every movement. And they provided the Chicago Police with a map of Panther headquarters. This came from the COINTELPRO program of the Nixon Administration: ‘Prevent the rise of the messiah, who will unify and electrify the masses,’ read one of its documents, saying Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Elijah Muhammed could be such a one.” 

Haas spoke of how the police portrayed the Panthers as the attackers, “but it was 99 shots to one, the bullets coming from the direction of the police, not the Panthers.” 

Haas talked about Fred Hampton, the young man. “I learned a lot after I got to know the family better,” he recalled. “They’d migrated to the West Side of Chicago from Louisiana. Fred Hampton’s mother babysat Emmitt Till—they knew him as ‘Boo’—and the funeral home Till’s body was sent back to after he was murdered down South was the same place Fred Hampton’s body was, 14 years later.” 

Haas spoke of Hampton’s “real desire for justice. And he wanted to be with the people on the street. In his neighborhood, he brought kids together, brought them home for breakfast—at 10, he had his own breakfast program. He led a walkout at his high school over black girls not being considered for homecoming queen. And he led a march to the City Council to demand a recreation center with a swimming pool for his neighborhood. That was successful; the center is named after him today. He began speaking at 15 or 16, learning by memorization the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and picking up the cadences in church. I think he knew he had the ability to inspire people.” 

Haas talked about the long-term effects of the assassination and its aftermath. “The black community was somewhat divided over the Panthers—but they came together, uniting over this. Eventually, it was the same coalition that elected Harold Washington mayor. And that’s why Obama came to Chicago, thinking something could be done under Washington.” 

Haas returned to Bennington College, receiving a degree in Creative Nonfiction “so I could tell this as a story, not argue it as a lawyer.” Writing the book was like “reliving it; doing it again, going back and seeing the places, the people involved.”  

Coming to Berkeley on tour for him is like coming “to a centerpoint for the ’60s, like Chicago in many ways. A hotbed of political activity. There’s definitely a connection.” 

As a final connection between the events surrounding Hampton’s murder and more recent events, Haas recalled “when the Church Committee proposed an overseeing of intelligence, after some of the facts of Cointelpro emerged, the two people who convinced Gerald Ford to veto it—and the veto was overruled—were Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney! So, one of the lessons of this is to hold government accountable.” 




Author Jeffrey Haas discusses his book with Dr. Raye Richardson and attorney John Burris at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 19, at the Black Repertory Theatre, 3201 Adeline St., Berkeley. $5. 652-2120.