Friday, August 30, 2019 || By Dr. Rhonda Sherrod || OPINION || @maywoodnews
Escaping the American South wasn’t easy for many African Americans who fled North during the Great Migration. In her stunning, award-winning book The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the myriad ways White Southerners tried to prevent Blacks from leaving the land white people called Dixie.
In some Southern towns, trains headed North were not even allowed to stop; and, in others, Blacks were literally dragged off Northbound trains they had already boarded. Many Blacks had to devise dramatic escapes — reminiscent of enslaved people whose brilliant ventures involved subterfuge and daring, and who mostly moved under cover of night. Although these brave men and women were “fling[ing]” themselves North in search of “the warmth of other suns,” as Richard Wright has written, they could not have known that Northern cities and streets would be, in many ways, as mean and treacherous to their children as Southern life had been to them.
Francis Hampton came up from tiny Haynesville, La. He had lived in suburban Argo and Blue Island before settling his family down in Maywood. His wife, Iberia Hampton, who babysat Emmett Till, the Chicago teen whose savage death at the hands of white Southerners in Money, Miss., helped launch the Civil Rights movement, was a courageous union steward at Corn Products Refining Company. Many believe their son, Fred, inherited her incandescent spirit that longed and quested for justice.
Francis Hampton was quiet and, seemingly, somewhat shy, but he had valiantly served in World War II before working at the same company as his wife. The Hamptons’ children, William (Bill) and Delores (Dee Dee), along with their brother, Fred (born on August 30, 1948), attended Irving Elementary School right across the street.
In the 1960s when Fred was organizing at Proviso East High School and the NAACP in Maywood and later in Chicago, the streets of Northern cities were rife with Black poverty, inequality, squalor, and economic disinvestment. Northern ghettos were brutal, harsh, and depressing areas where Black parents were in constant fights for equitable educational opportunities for their children, good jobs with fair pay for themselves, decent, habitable housing for their families that was not rat-infested, and basic city services — like proper garbage pickup and disposal.
Meanwhile, they were also paying higher prices, or what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called a “Negro tax,” on food that was often stale and substandard, and basic necessities. Racist police brutality and corruption in Black communities coexisted with normalized discrimination and inequality — conditions that created a consciousness that caused many activists and scholars to view the police as occupying forces whose job was containment rather than service and protection. Into this tragic, painful, and violent abyss — one that government officials refused to properly remedy for these long-suffering, taxpaying citizens — stepped the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (the Black Panther Party’s original name).
It is hard to understate the attractiveness of the Black Panthers. They were young, beautiful, uncompromising problem-solvers and bold critical thinkers whose demands were rooted in dignity and justice. Their “survival programs,” which included feeding hungry school children all over the country and providing free medical services for people with no, or substandard, insurance, as well as their articulate call for respect for members of the Black community, was exhilarating to many people in those downtrodden neighborhoods.
Led by the indomitable spirit of their patron saint, the late Malcolm X, whose brilliance and commitment to the liberation of Black people was undeniable, the Panthers were prepared to lay down their lives for the fair treatment of Black people. Like the great Fannie Lou Hamer, who had told the Democratic Party leadership on national television in 1964 that she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” the Panthers were driven to action.
They helped renters who were being unjustly evicted (something that was not uncommon), they showed up at schools where Black children were being mistreated, and, from the beginning, they appeared where Black people were being harassed by the police.
In fact, the Panthers began in 1966 in Oakland, Ca. with co-founders, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, evoking pride and awe in Black citizens when they arrived on the scenes of police aggression with their command and recitation of the law and their demand for a showing of legally required probable cause for police action. By 1968, in Chicago, Fred Hampton’s brilliant activism, community organizing, oratory skill, and stunning talent for building coalitions across racial lines (based on his concept of a “Rainbow Coalition”) was deeply admired.
Learn more about Maywood’s own Fred Hampton, in this the 50th year after his death, in Part two of this article, on Sept. 7, the day of the official One Book, One Proviso book launch at Afriware Books.
© Dr. Rhonda Sherrod VFP
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