This week in history: Fred Hampton’s murder makes headlines

The truth surrounding the raid on Black Panther headquarters in Chicago wouldn’t come out for years. Here’s what the earliest coverage of Fred Hampton’s murder looked like.

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Ralph Abernathy stands outside the West Side apartment where Fred Hampton was murdered during a raid by Chicago police.

Fred Hampton’s assassination on Dec. 4, 1969, brought civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy to Chicago. In this Dec. 6, 1969 photo, Abernathy stands outside the West Side apartment where Hampton, the Black Panther leader of the Illinois chapter and rising star in the party, was murdered during a raid by Chicago police. Investigations would later uncover that the FBI had colluded with the police to quell the party’s movement.

John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times

As reported in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

On the morning of Dec. 4, 1969, Chicago police, working covertly with the FBI, raided Black Panther headquarters on the West Side, killing the charismatic chairman Fred Hampton and downstate leader Mark Clark.

It would be years before this truth would come out. The front page story in that day’s Chicago Daily News, written by Edmund J. Rooney and Barry Felcher, tells a very different story.

“Fred Hampton, 21, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and another Panther leader were killed early Thursday in a gun battle with state’s attorney’s police,” the report said.

Four other Panthers and two officers were also injured, Rooney and Felcher noted. They identified Mark Clark, the other man killed, as a “Downstate leader of the militant Panthers” and said he had a “long police record and had dropped out of school in the eighth grade.”

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The state’s official narrative on the raid came from State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan. At a press conference, he told reporters that a “gun battle broke out as state’s attorney’s policemen tried to enter the apartment to search for illegal weapons.”

Hanrahan said the officers leading the raid allegedly announced themselves, only to be met with gunfire from the first-floor apartment. Three times, the state’s attorney claimed, officers ceased fire and demanded the occupants “come out with their hands up,” only to be met with more gunfire.

“The immediate, violent criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther Party,” Hanrahan said.

Defense for Hampton and Clark came in the second half of the article, on page six.

Bobby Rush, current U.S. Representative and then-deputy minister of the party, asserted that Hampton had been sleeping during the raid, the report said. He then led reporters on a tour of the apartment, showing them bullet holes from police firing into the apartment but no shots fired out.

Rush’s account was the only defense of Hampton and Clark included in the original report, which attributed all other details to police sources. Police insisted that a gun was found next to Hampton’s hand.

Want more? Read Saturday’s “This week in history” newsletter, part of Afternoon Edition, or check out “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” by Jeffrey Haas.

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