Fred Hampton's childhood home in Maywood Credit: Deanna Isaacs

If you’ve seen Judas and the Black Messiah, the multiple-award-winning film about the 1969 murder of Illinois Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, you’ve got a picture in your head of the 4:30 AM raid in which a drugged and sleeping Hampton was killed by a barrage of police bullets.

The raid was carried out at Hampton’s apartment at 2337 W. Monroe by a police unit assigned to Cook County state’s attorney Edward Hanrahan. Although Hanrahan claimed that there had been a shoot-out there, the physical evidence in the apartment made it clear that, with the exception of a single shot, police had done all the shooting. Hampton had been riddled by bullets while sleeping in his bed next to his pregnant fiancée, Akua Njeri.  

The police didn’t bother to take possession of the scene, however, and in the days after the raid, surviving Panthers, including current U.S. congressman Bobby Rush, opened the apartment to the public, who were able to walk through and see for themselves Hampton’s blood-soaked mattress and the path left by the bullets that also killed Panther member Mark Clark and wounded four others.

It was powerful firsthand evidence, and a tangible lesson in Chicago history.

The Hampton apartment building doesn’t exist anymore; it was torn down. So was the nearby Black Panther Party headquarters building at 2350 W. Madison, scene of a gun battle with police earlier that year. It’s now a Walgreens.

The Panthers were militant and revolutionary. They also pioneered free breakfasts for Chicago school students, set up legal and medical clinics, and brought together a Rainbow Coalition of disadvantaged groups that included Puerto Ricans and poor whites. A half-century later, with the values they sought—including jobs and decent housing for all, truthful education, free health care, courtroom justice, and an end to police brutality and wars—still elusive, there are efforts underway to identify and preserve what remains of the physical evidence of their work in the community. 

Fred Hampton Jr. is heading up an effort to save and repurpose his father’s childhood home. He says the former two-flat at 804 S. 17th Avenue in Maywood has been rescued from a threatened foreclosure (thanks to a GoFundMe campaign), and that they’ll be applying for local landmark designation in the near future. They don’t need a public petition for that, but he’s posting one to show community support. His plan is to turn the house into a Black Panther Party museum and neighborhood resource center; he says they’ve started with a community garden and refrigerator, a recording studio, and a weekly program streaming on YouTube, Free Em All Radio.

Meanwhile, a pair of Loyola University graduate students working under Ted Karamanski, professor and founder of Loyola’s public history program, and collaborating with journalist and media consultant Leila Wills, are working on a broader project. Adam Yunis, Mikey Spehn, and Wills, with advice from Landmarks Illinois, are seeking a multiple property listing on the National Register of Historic Places for a group of Illinois Black Panther Party sites. Yunis says they currently have a list of 11 potential properties, including the Maywood house, the former People’s Church at 201 S. Ashland (now the Epiphany Center for the Arts), and other south- and west-side buildings where, for example, the Illinois BPP hosted free meals and clinics and held public meetings. They hope to have their submission ready by the end of the year. (Black Messiah fans: check out Wills’s interesting online panel of original Panther members and some of their attorneys discussing the film. Wills, who was born in Altgeld Gardens, is the daughter of Illinois Black Panther Party members Tony and Linda Wills, and a diligent BPP documentarian.)    

Last Sunday, one of those potential sites, Proviso East High School, dedicated its Social Justice Room to Hampton, a 1966 graduate. The dedication in the school auditorium featured impassioned speeches by Illinois senate majority leader Kimberly Lightford and house speaker Chris Welch, among many others. But the most dramatic moments came during a reading by Judas and the Black Messiah cast member Alysia Joy Powell that brought Njeri—who’d tried to shield Hampton during the raid with her own body and, 25 days later, gave birth to their son—to tears.

Njeri and Fred Jr. were the final speakers. They talked about carrying on the work and saving the Hampton House. It’s “a place where you can go to get a political education” and more, Njeri said. “Power to the people.”