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WITH the words “I am a revolutionary” echoing around a room full of supporters, it seemed nothing could stop Fred Hampton’s rise to power.
But this powerful moment – as recreated in new film Judas and the Black Messiah – came shortly before the Black Panther Party’s leader was gunned down in his own bed while asleep beside his pregnant fiancee, aged just 21.
The Black Panthers’ Fred Hampton speaks at a rally in Chicago’s Grant Park in September 1969Credit: Getty Images – Getty
Chicago police pictured removing Hampton’s body following his tragic deathCredit: AP:Associated Press
Hampton was the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, a political organisation set up in the 1960s to monitor police brutality.
Now, the new Oscar-tipped film tells the story of the activist’s fight for social change, before he was betrayed by William O’Neal, an informant for the FBI who infiltrated the party, and was killed.
Directed by Shaka King, it follows the Chicago civil rights leader’s work to end racism and social injustice against a backdrop of the government and local police’s conspiracy to stop him.
Starring Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, the drama has already received huge praise as viewers react to the shocking true story. Here, we retell the real events.
A powerful scene in Judas and the Black Messiah shows Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, speaking to his supportersCredit: AP:Associated Press
Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton (top) and LaKeith Stanfield as William O’Neal in new film Judas and the Black MessiahCredit: Alamy
Rise of a revolutionary
In the run-up to the 1950s and 60s, many African American families had moved to Chicago from rural southern states, as part of the Great Migration.
Hampton’s parents had left Louisiana themselves, moving north for a better life before their son’s birth in 1948.
Segregation at the time was rife and Hampton began his activism work from a very early age, hosting weekend breakfast meetings for members of his Chicago suburb community from 10 years old.
In high school he did a lot to fight racial injustice, including calling for more black teachers and administrators to be hired and even leading walkouts protesting the exclusion of black students from the homecoming queen race.
Fred Hampton fought for social change with the Black PanthersCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Fred Hampton, left, helped unite Chicago street gangs as part of his workCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Although Hampton later became well known for his powerful orations, he actually suffered with a speech impediment at a young age, according to The Guardian.
He went on to study law, hoping to use his knowledge to help defend people and aid his work to fight police brutality.
War against street crime and racial injustice
When Bobby Seale and Huey Newton formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, in October 1966, it was initially set up to protect local communities from police brutality and racism.
Noticing potential to make a difference, Hampton then headed up the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party in November 1968 – which offered free breakfasts for school kids and a free medical clinic.
Fred had the unique ability to speak to different audiences. He could talk to welfare mothers, to gang kids, to law students, to intellectuals, to young college students. He could bring people together
Jeffrey Haas, Hampton’s lawyer
The film’s director Kings told audiences at the Sundance film festival that above all, the Black Panthers “were motivated by love”.
Perhaps Hampton’s most impressive achievement was persuading Chicago’s major street gangs to stop fighting each other.
He sought to create a ‘Rainbow Coalition’, combining the Black Panthers, the Young Lords – a group fighting for empowerment for Puerto Rican and Latino communities – and the Young Patriots – who supported white migrants from the Appalachia region – into a political organisation.
Hampton pictured testifying at a meeting on the death of West Side men in 1969Credit: Getty Images – Getty
Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from Judas and the Black MessiahCredit: AP:Associated Press
The Panthers became known for their signature leather jackets and black berets, with many members seen patrolling the streets and shadowing police while carrying rifles, in what was later dubbed ‘copwatching’.
It meant they soon came to the attention of the FBI, and former director J. Edgar Hoover them as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”, in an official memo.
Authorities began monitoring them under the controversial Counter Intelligence Program (known as Cointelpro), set up in the 1950s.
The film features a series of hard-hitting scenes as police confront party membersCredit: Alamy
Dominique Fishback portrays Hampton’s fiancee in the filmCredit: Alamy
Hampton’s power is seen growing throughout the film before his sudden deathCredit: Alamy
It was later discovered the program had included several illegal projects, including wiretapping, aimed at surveilling and infiltrating American political organisations.
While Hampton was briefly jailed for stealing ice cream bars for kids in 1968, he continued his work upon his release.
Killed as he slept beside his pregnant fiancee
As part of the FBI’s work to silence Hampton, they recruited an ex car thief, William O’Neal, as an informant to infiltrate the Panthers.
Having gained Hampton’s trust, O’Neal climbed the ranks and eventually became the chief of security for the chapter.
The film’s stars (pictured) show how William O’Neal worked as a secret FBI informantCredit: Alamy
William O’Neal worked as an FBI informant in the caseCredit: Wikipedia
Most notably, he provided the feds with a layout of Hampton’s apartment, which aided them in planning a search of his property on the grounds of hunting for “illegal weapons”.
The office of Cook County State’s Attorney, Edward Hanrahan, eventually ordered an armed raid on the headquarters on December 4, 1969.
View of the bedroom after the Chicago police raid and shooting which resulted in the death of HamptonCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Bullet holes show the extent of the damage following the raidCredit: Alamy
Authorities stormed into Hampton’s apartment at about 4:45am – and claimed afterwards that they fired several shots after the Panthers first opened fire on them.
Hampton was asleep beside his fiancee, Akua Njeri (formerly known as Deborah Johnson), at the time – who was eight months pregnant – and he was killed alongside fellow Black Panther member Mark Clark, who was also inside.
It was widely claimed Hampton had been drugged with a barbiturate by O’Neal the night before, so he didn’t wake up when the shots were fired. However, O’Neal always denied this.
Hampton’s fiancee with their son, shortly after his deathCredit: Twitter
Hampton’s fiancee was later arrested following the raid, but released following help from supportersCredit: Twitter
In 1991, Njeri published an autobiography called My Life With the Black Panther Party and spoke about Hampton’s killing on the 50th anniversary, saying: “When I was handcuffed the police said, ‘You better not run, you better not try to escape’ and he kept pressing that gun to my belly. So my child felt that cold steel.”
After Hampton’s death, she was arrested and charged with two counts of attempted murder and aggravated assault, as were other members of the party who had been inside during the raid. She was later released from jail with the help of supporters who raised over $100,000 to free her.
Fight for justice
Nearly 5,000 people attended Hampton’s funeral and protests quickly erupted two days after his death, prompting local militia group Weather Underground to destroy police vehicles in Chicago.
The true extent of the FBI’s operation was only discovered on the release of the Cointelpro papers in 1971.
Hampton’s parents cry during a memorial service for their sonCredit: Alamy
Ballistics experts also revealed that only one bullet had been fired by the Panthers, as opposed to nearly a hundred shots from police guns.
A civil lawsuit was filed and reached a settlement of $1.85million which forced the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government to pay out the plaintiffs.
O’Neal was placed into witness protection once his involvement was revealed, but he later spoke out about his work with the FBI – and some sources have insisted he was “tortured by guilt”.
Hampton’s fiancee later spoke out about his tragic deathCredit: Twitter
He died in January 1990, with his death ruled as suicide.
Hampton’s son Fred Hampton Jr. continues to carry out his father’s legacy and raise attention to social injustices around the US.
He is working to purchase and restore his father’s old home in Chicago and started a GoFundMe to gather funds from the public.
Hampton’s son, Fred Hampton Jr, has continued to follow in his footstepsCredit: AP:Associated Press
The New Black Panthers continue to fight for social justice todayCredit: The Mega Agency
The activist plans to turn the home into a landmark museum about his father’s life and his work in the Black Panther group.
Hampton Jr. now serves as the president and chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee and the Black Panther Party Cubs.
Judas and the Black Messiah is out now in the US and on HBO Max and will be available to watch in the UK from February 26.