Thoughts on Hampton murder

Jeffrey Haas, author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton provides some useful insights in his recent Monthly Review interview on the anniversary of Fred Hampton’s murder by Chicago police and the FBI. Here’s a perceptive excerpt:

JH: Chicago has a large black community, which has operated both inside and outside the power structure of the Democratic machine. In fact, it was the reaction to Hampton’s death that created the independent coalition of blacks and liberal whites that resulted in the election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor. Some argue that Barack Obama is a direct descendant and beneficiary of that legacy, and certainly his campaign would never have obtained traction in Chicago had not the black community obtained substantial power within the Democratic Party.

MR: Sectarians often criticize the Black Panthers as “militarist” and the Weather Underground as “adventurist.” To what extent would you agree? If your experience permits you to say, how does the younger generation of the politically aware, those born after the 1960s and ’70s, see the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground?

JH: The more I studied the sixties, the more I came to believe that the Panthers and Weather Underground were both the natural — and perhaps necessary — development of the movements of the era. The Panthers sought to remedy the ineffectiveness of Dr. King’s religious and nonviolent movement to change the conditions of blacks outside the South, and to channel the youthful rage of the many urban riots, into a progressive and cohesive force for political and revolutionary change. Similarly, the Weathermen evolved after years of increasingly militant protest, which nevertheless failed to stop the Vietnam war or stop the attacks on the black movement. To say that the emergence of these groups was inevitable does not mean that their strategies and tactics should not be reexamined today. However, to criticize what they did, based on the contradictions of today, rather than on what they knew and faced in the sixties, is shallow and prevents an understanding of their critical roles in the history of the movement.

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