African American Heritage

Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton was born on August 30, 1948 in suburban Illinois. He was noticeably gifted in academics and athletics. He wanted to play for the New York Yankees when he was done with school but ended up studying pre-law at Triton Junior College. Hampton was inspired to study law to use it as a defense against police and their brutality. Around this time, he became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), leading their Youth Council of the organization’s West Suburban Branch. He increased the Council’s membership to over 500 members.

While he was organizing youth on behalf of the NAACP, the Black Panther Party was gaining national popularity. The Party's Ten-Point Program that integrated black self-determination and elements of Maoism inspired Hampton to join and move to downtown Chicago. Hampton’s leadership abilities were apparent there. He brokered a nonaggression pact between Chicago’s most powerful and dangerous street gangs. Hampton’s personal charisma combined with his organizing skills and gift of speech allowed him to be noticed and rise quickly within the Black Panthers. He soon became the leader of the Chicago chapter -- organizing rallies, working with the People’s Clinic, and the Free Breakfast Program. With the actions of the COINTELPRO operation decimating the Party’s leadership, Hampton became next in line to be appointed the Central Committee Chief of Staff of the Black Panther Party - also marking him as a person of interest to the FBI. 

The FBI convinced a criminal, William O'Neal, to infiltrate the Party and get close to Hampton. O'Neal succeeded in joining the Party, acting as Fred Hampton’s bodyguard and Director of Chapter Security. At the instruction of J. Edgar Hoover, he worked to undermine the coalitions that Hampton had created amongst the neighborhood gangs and organizations - causing a major rift and creating a distrust of the Black Panthers.

On the evening of December 3, 1969, O’Neal slipped a powerful sleeping drug into Hampton’s drink then left. Officers were dispatched to raid his apartment. They stormed in and opened fire, killing Mark Clark, acting as his security guard. Then they opened fire on Hampton’s bedroom where he laid unconscious from the drug. Despite the intense round of fire, Hampton and his pregnant fiancee were only wounded. Upon that discovery, an officer shot him twice in his head and killed him. The remaining seven Panthers that were present in the apartment were all arrested and indicted by a grand jury on charges of attempted murder, armed violence, and a variety of weapons charges. These charges were eventually dropped after a Department of Justice investigation discovered that Chicago Police fired ninety-nine shots while the Panthers only shot twice.

A short time later, there was a break-in at a FBI field office in Pennsylvania where the COINTELPRO documents were discovered. The cache of documents included a floorplan of Hampton’s apartment and an outline of the deal to conceal the FBI’s role in the assassination of Hampton. In 1970, the survivors and relatives of Hampton sued the federal and local governments for $47.7 million stating that their civil rights were violated. The case was dismissed. After it was determined that the government withheld relevant documents and obstructed the judicial process, a new trial was held in 1979.  In 1982,  Cook County and the federal government agreed to a settlement of $1.85 million.

Records at the National Archives relating to Fred Hampton include the FBI and Department of Justice case files investigating his death, and US District Court files relating to the subsequent civil suit.

Web Highlights

Rediscovering Black History: Re-Introducing RG 60 Class 144 (Civil Rights) Litigation Case Files

Record Group 21: District Courts of the United States

Civil Case Files, 1938 - 1995 ( National Archives Identifier 585321)

Selected Records
Iberia Hampton, et al v. City of Chicago, et al. ( NAID 7284498) Audio records of this file are available in the National Archives Catalog

Record Group 60: Department of Justice (DOJ)

Class 144 (Civil Rights) Litigation Case Files, 1936-1997 ( National Archives Identifier 603432)

Selected Records
144-23-971 Murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark (1969)

Record Group 65: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Case Files

Please use the Find function in your browser to search for 'Fred Hampton'

Motion Picture Films and Video Recordings, ca. 1936- ca. 1985 National Archives Identifier: 12073

Selected Records
Iberian Hampton, et al Edward et al (U.S.D.C., N.D. Illinois), Civil Action No. 70-C-1384 Consolidated U.S. Attorney's Office ( NAID 12156) This record is available for viewing in the National Archives catalog

Record Group 453: US Commission on Civil Rights

Correspondence and Communications Files, 1959-1978 ( National Archives Identifier 1078541)