Fifty years ago, on Dec. 4, 1969, a team of heavily armed policemen under the direction of the Cook County State’s Attorney, acting in conjunction with the FBI, stormed the West Side residence of Illinois Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton and killed him.
"They came in and machine guns and shotguns and rifles and killed everyone in that apartment," said U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st), who co-founded the state chapter of the Panthers, on Nov. 24.
Hampton had “more Seconal in his body than it would take to take down an elephant,” he said. “They knew that if he had not been disabled, had not been drugged, there was no way they would have killed him without him killing someone else.”
Speaking to the Saturday Morning Forum of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition at New Covenant Baptist Church, 754 E. 77th St., Rush said the authorities planned to kill him next.
"They came to my apartment at 5 a.m. the very next morning, shot my door down. If I had been there, I would not be here,” he said. But he was underground, safe in the rectory of Holy Angels Catholic Church, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd. “I stayed there two nights, and then I went up on the Gold Coast, up on Astor Street, living up with the White folks.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who introduced him on Saturday, and his attorney informed Rush that there was a warrant out for his arrest: “If I was out on the street, they would have shot me down.”
Jackson invited him to Operation PUSH headquarters. Rush survived, going on to attend Roosevelt University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and McCormick Theological Seminary. He was elected to City Council in 1983 and Congress in 1992. He spoke on Saturday morning, his 73rd birthday, flanked by his grandchildren.
"The police didn't kill me. Y’all ain't going to like this, but Obama didn’t beat me. You helped me, and I’m going to tell you all this,” Rush said. “I’m still here! The Lord has been good to me. He's helped me from the red clay of Georgia and brought me all the way to Capitol Hill.”
Rush asked Panthers in the audience to stand and be recognized, and Willie Calvin, now of Olympia Fields, did so. They met as elementary school students in Lawndale, more concerned, as Calvin remembered, with basketball than anything else. But Calvin said their experiences in the military — Rush served in the Army from 1963 to 1968 — changed their worldviews.
Calvin served under Rush as the defense captain in the Panthers from 1968 until 1970. They worked to get the word out about the Panthers’ social programs: “It wasn’t just guns. I was talking about (the) need to defend yourself against racial discrimination, lack of health care, lack of housing, lack of jobs.”
“I remember him being the actual leader of the organization, even though Fred was the chairman. The Ministry of Defense was the actual leader and the head of the chapter,” Calvin said. “I remember his leadership. I remember his ability to communicate with the members and also with folks on the outside,” from aldermen to members of the Weather Underground and the Young Patriots Organization.
“I think what he talked about today was the injustice, the lack of housing, the lack of medical attention — I think those were the motivating factors of him as a young guy that still continues today in his service as a congressman,” Calvin said. “I believe those were his actual motivations, that justice needed to be justice.”
Rush went on to highlight his membership on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and to rail against Comcast, which is in a lawsuit before the Supreme Court with businessman and entertainer Byron Allen, who claims the telecommunications conglomerate turned down a deal to carry six channels he owns in violation of the 1866 Civil Rights Act.
As reported by The New York Times, Allen says Comcast discriminated against him, saying that Comcast’s addition of four Black-owned networks in 2010, when the conglomerate bought NBCUniversal, is being used to justify not associating with more African American entrepreneurs.
Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have voiced support for Allen. Rush expressed a desire to break up the conglomerate in a letter earlier this month to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Comcast has enjoyed the largesse — as has the cable industry, in general — of the African American and other minority communities, and has reached such prominence that it now disregards these communities with a cold, callous corporate insensitivity that is stultifying, arrogant, harmful and intensely painful,” Rush wrote.
The fear is that the question before the court, the standard for proving racial discrimination, could affect the status of the 1866 Act, which gives everyone the right to "make and enforce contracts” and sue regardless of race.
Jeremy Edwards, Rush’s spokesman, said the congressman wants the two parties reach “an amicable agreement” before the Supreme Court rules. The Times reported that the justices appeared to focus on whether plaintiffs must make the case that racial discrimination was the main or a contributing factor in early stages of litigation.
“He is calling on Comcast to do the right thing and not jeopardize the civil rights of African Americans for the purposes of winning a fight over network programming,” Edwards said in a statement.