Big Issue Vendor

‘The time I met Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers’

With the premiere of Shaka King’s new film, Judas and the Black Messiah, StreetWise vendor A. Allen recalls when he spent time with the Black Panthers in Chicago. The words chairman Fred Hampton said to him will stay with him forever.
Voice of the people. Hampton and Dr Benjamin Spock attend a rally against the trial of eight people accused of plotting a riot in Chicago in October 1969. Hampton was assassinated less than two months later Image credit: Esk/AP/Shutterstock

Fred Hampton was chairman of the Illinois Black Panthers. Aged 21 he was killed by authorities who had identified him as a threat. Last week Daniel Kaluuya won an Oscar for his performance in Judas and the Black Messiah (the killing also features in The Trial of the Chicago 7). 

Here, A Allen, a vendor of Chicago street paper StreetWise, writes about meeting Hampton in the 1960s.

I was only about 7 or 8 years old when I discovered there was a Black Panthers headquarters on 109th Street between Racine and Loomis, about half a block from where I lived in Chicago.

My first encounter with them came from the free breakfast program. My mom worked the second shift and was usually asleep in the morning. My dad worked the first shift and was mostly gone in the early mornings, so the breakfast program was perfect for us to attend. This was before free breakfast was offered in the public schools.

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I remember how good the breakfast smelled when I entered the office of the Black Panthers. I can still remember how the bacon and eggs smelled – so, so good. And when they served us, I could then smell the hot, buttered toast. All that was served with grits, or oatmeal with juice and milk. The breakfast was so good early in the mornings. It was a great way to start the day. I still remember how the Panthers would rush us off to school, saying “don’t be late and learn as much as you can.”

Concerning Chairman Fred Hampton, I remember them announcing weeks in advance the Illinois chairman would be coming to the South Side, then in two weeks, then in one week, then the next week, then in a couple of days, and finally, “he will be here tomorrow.”

I was so excited the day finally came when I would meet Chairman Fred Hampton. I thought he would be this high and mighty guy dressed in fine clothes. He turned out to be an ordinary guy dressed in ordinary clothes, but he had a very strong, resounding voice.

He was up close, in my ear. “Who are you?”

“I am A. Allen.”

“But who ARE you?”

“I am a Black kid from down the street.”

“You don’t know who you are. I am going to give you an identity. You are a revolutionary. Say it.”

Even at age 7, it provoked a lot of thought for me. I felt it was deeper than I understood. I didn’t know the concept of what he was saying until I became much older, in or after high school.

When he was killed, I remembered the moment I had spent with him, his significance. Now, with the movie, Judas and the Black Messiah, I understand where he was going with this, but at the time I didn’t.

He was a very powerful speaker with a tenacious attitude toward social reform. But after speaking, he was a quiet, humble, respectful man, a man who could be easily loved.

This article is published courtesy of StreetWise / INSP.ngo