Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Killing of Fred Hampton

BOND: Fast forward then to Bobby Rush — you're Bobby Rush — to Fred Hampton. I'm sorry.

RUSH: That's all right.

BOND: To Fred Hampton, and Fred Hampton gets, we know now, assassinated by the Chicago police. But at the first, they report it as a shoot-out —

RUSH: Right.

BOND: — and he's the aggressor and they're just defending themselves. How do you look at it from the very first?

RUSH: Well, I'll tell you. We — I mean, I knew instinctively that Fred had been killed, and I knew that Fred had been — there was no way that he would have gone down without taking some people down with him. He was just that type of person, one of the most courageous individuals, even as a young man. Fred was twenty-one when he was killed. Fred had so many gifts, so talented, and he was very, very courageous. I remember, you know, Fred would just, would not take too much off anybody, but he was a sensitive person. He really fought for the underdog, for the little people, so I knew instinctively that when the police came in that apartment, that they killed Fred and that they used some kind of — something to immobilize him.

That morning was a morning that, you know, of course, is etched in my spirit and in my mind. It was about 4:30, I got a call that there was a shootout at Fred's house and that the police had cordoned off the block that Fred lived on. And so I had someone to pick me up and we went to a house of a Panther that lived in the next block, and we were down in the basement, and we turned the radio on because we couldn't go out and they kept us informed through the radio and I heard that he was killed at about 6:30 that morning. They announced that he had been killed, and so at that point, you know, we, after — this was still — darkness was out.

And then when the daylight came, we understood that the police had left. And so we went to the apartment. And I guess, you know, they left because they were afraid to be in that neighborhood too long. They didn't know what the response was going to be, but in their haste to get out, they left the apartment open. And so by leaving the apartment open, that gave us an opportunity to let people in to see.

BOND: I remember seeing the little sticks stuck in the bullet holes on the outside of the door, and I thought to myself, "There's no better way of showing exactly what happened here." I mean, it was just incredible.

RUSH: Right. Sure. Yeah, Julian, we had I guess it was twenty-five thousand people to go through that apartment in a matter of two weeks or so and we actually had tours. We had Panthers showing people how the bullets came in and showing people how the police, the couple of bullets were shot out, but everything that they — their whole case — everything that they said turned out to be lies. I remember an example in the Chicago Tribune a day or two, because it became real controversial between the state's attorney and the Panther Party.

BOND: Hanrahan.

RUSH: Edward V. Hanrahan. And Hanrahan made — well, they went on television, they did this big reenactment of what he said took place and how the Panthers, you know, came and charged and these vicious Panthers and he talked about at the rear door this is evidence of where the Panthers were. It looked like it was holes, but I went back there and looked at that back door and what they had called holes was nothing but nail heads, you know, and I pointed this out. The Tribune had this big expose about "this shows that the Panthers were shooting back at the police" and things. And it was nothing but nail heads, so their story just totally collapsed on their frantic trying to justify what they had done. But Fred Hampton was killed in cold blood, and we found out later that he had been drugged, that the pathologist said that he had as much Seconal in him as it would take to kill an elephant.

BOND: Really?

RUSH: Yeah, so they had totally immobilized him, and then we found out later that there was an informant, William O'Neal, who had conspired with them to kill Fred.