In the early-morning hours of December 4, 1969, Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and national deputy chairman, was killed during a police raid on his West Side apartment, which served as a stronghold for the group. Another Panther, Mark Clark, was also killed, and four others were seriously wounded.

Though the police described the incident as a “shootout,” a federal investigation found that only one bullet came from the Panthers. Police fired 82 to 99 shots. A civil lawsuit against the city, county, and federal governments on behalf of the survivors and the relatives of Hampton and Clark was eventually settled for $1.85 million.

“Fred Hampton was a young, brilliant, charismatic community organizer,” says Haki R. Madhubuti, who founded Third World Press, now the country’s largest independent black-owned book publisher, in Englewood in 1967. “I first met him in early 1969 at Roosevelt University, where he and I had been invited to address the newly formed Black Student Union. We were both especially interested in enriching the lives of children. I was working to establish an alternative elementary school. The Panthers operated a successful breakfast program for school-aged children and were in the midst of organizing a free medical clinic. In Hampton’s remarks, he spoke of brokering a nonaggression pact between the Blackstone Rangers and other street gangs. His work among poor black, white, and Puerto Rican youths became known as the Rainbow Coalition.”

Within two weeks of the killings, Madhubuti (known at the time as Don L. Lee) published a poem, “One Sided Shoot-Out,” about the incident in the Chicago Defender. Fifty years later, Chicago commissioned Madhubuti to compose a new piece to commemorate the anniversary.

Among Hampton’s legacies were the nonaggression pacts he brokered between gangs and the alliances he built with other activist organizations. At an October 1969 press conference, he and members of Students for a Democratic Society and the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican gang–turned–human rights group, talk about a planned march to protest the Vietnam War and the prosecution of the Chicago Seven and to advocate for Puerto Rico’s. Dave Nystrom/Chicago Tribune

He Never Saw the
Bullets Coming

By Haki R. Madhubuti

I.     born in a time of war

there is little memory of
denmark vesey and those who betrayed him,
nat turner’s revolt centuries before the turner diaries,
harriet tubman and the fear her name evoked,
sojourner truth and people running from her words,
frederick douglass refusing to accept whiplash,
marcus garvey daring to organize millions of Black people
without the permission of whites, w.e.b. du bois
committed to thinking outside the box, circle
and lies of white conquerors. ida b. wells
challenging the real fake news. elijah muhammad’s
confirmation of Black as integral to self-definition
and giving malcolm x a voice.
fred hampton daring to tell the people the truth
about their lives decades before black lives
mattered, in a time, as today, where white lives
mattered more as anti-democracy movements entrenched themselves.


II.     betrayal of one’s own kind

it is the wisdom of children that is missing
from the blue notes of Black musicians who were
always ahead, not knowing it themselves,
as we revolutionaries pushed, shoved, made up new languages
that closely approximated our overneeded call for meaningful
resolution, light quest, love, honor and yeses from our creator
by conditions forced into our singular lives within the watchful eyes
of the enemies, the enemies of art, drum making and almond milk.

the night before the hunt and kill — they laughed.
the negro officers renewed their nigger cards,
the white officers dipped their bullets in pig oil, and
tore up the constitution, bill of rights and
proclaimed that god is white-white, and we go
before first light with orders from washington,
chicago’s kill squad and fbi’s COINTELPRO.
reporters who really wanted to be poets
confronted their contradictory truths, which ate
their eyes and minds and burned their fingernails off
while they choked on their lying tongues.

it was murder.
& we meet to hear the speeches/ the same, the duplicators.
they say that which is expected of them.
to be instructive or constructive is to be unpopular (like: the
          leaders only
sleep when there is a watching eye)
but they say the right things at the right time, it’s like a
          stage show:
only the entertainers have changed.
we remember bobby hutton. the same, the duplicators.

the seeing eye should always see.
the night doesn’t stop the stars
& our enemies scope the ways of blackness in three bad
          shifts a day.
in the AM their music becomes deadlier.
this is a game of dirt.

only Blackpeople play it fair.

An estimated 5,000 mourners attended Hampton’s memorial service at First Baptist Church in Melrose Park. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, who delivered a eulogy, said that “when Fred was shot in Chicago, black people in particular, and decent people in general, bled everywhere.” Ray Foster/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images