Just two weeks before he was assassinated by the FBI in 1969, Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton gave a rousing speech at the University of Regina, addressing topics including the oppression of African Americans in the United States and the treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
As the acclaimed new film Judas and the Black Messiah shows, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party advocated for freedom for the Black community, the power of self-determination, and an end to police brutality and the killing of Black people by authorities.
His civil rights and anti-war activism spoke to ideals that also resonated in parts of Canada, including what was then known as the University of Saskatchewan’s Regina campus, says a professor at the school.
Dawn R. Flood, an associate professor of history at Campion College at the University of Regina, says the campus had “somewhat of a radical reputation” with a larger percentage of liberal arts students compared to its more conservative Saskatoon counterpart.
And it was the Regina students’ union that invited Hampton to speak in November 1969 before an estimated 600-700 students.
“That’s a pretty big audience for a small campus speech. I think it speaks to the similarities of issues on both sides of the border at a time of social upheaval,” Flood said in an interview.
Arriving Friday via premium video on demand and in theatres where COVID-19 rules allow, Judas and the Black Messiah stars Oscar-nominated Get Out actor Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield as William O’Neal, who became a Black Panther Party informant for the FBI.
The federal agency considered Hampton a radical threat, placed him on a watch list and orchestrated a Chicago police raid in which he was shot and killed in an apartment on Dec. 4, 1969. His only child, Fred Hampton, Jr., was born less than a month later.
Flood said BPP leaders regularly gave speeches on campuses around that time, putting the money from their speaking fees toward fundraising efforts for the Black Panthers to pay mostly legal defence funds.
Hampton’s messages from back then “remain relevant and cannot be confined to any geographical confines,” said his son.
“There were movements on the ground, especially the Black Panther Party, and they literally turned the communities into classrooms in tense times, similar to as we speak now,” Hampton, Jr., chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party Cubs, said in a phone interview.
“We recognize that people become involved in struggle, become conscious, one of few ways: through inspiration, aspiration or desperation,” he added.
“Today, similar to that era of the Black Power movement of the 1960s, people were forced or inspired to come to the point to recognize that we have some serious problems and that it’s going to take us, the people, to solve it.”
Flood said Hampton flew to Regina along with two other Chicago Black Panthers on Nov. 18 and was met with “a bit of a press gaggle” at the airport but not much fanfare, said Flood. He told reporters he planned to meet with local Metis leader Harry Daniels so he could learn more about the treatment of Indigenous people in the province.
“I think his whole organizing principle was around bringing together progressive peoples of any race, who have similar problems rooted in class exploitation and racism, to overthrow the capitalist system,” Flood said.
Flood said Hampton touched on the treatment of Indigenous peoples the next day in his on-campus speech.
He also “talked a great deal about overthrowing the fascist capitalist imperialist system, as Fred often did talk about,” Flood said.
“After that, there were a lot of letters to the editor and local opinion being published in the press, some of it supportive, but a lot of it just outraged that Fred Hampton and his friends would dare call the police ‘pigs,’” she said.
Hampton and the other two Panthers planned to fly to Alberta to give another speech, seemingly on Nov. 20, but Hampton was “invited to leave” Canada by border officials and they returned to the U.S. without further incident, said Flood.
“Apparently the border policy was, if a reputable group invites someone in, there’s no reason to prevent that someone from coming, so the Panthers were not prevented from entering Canada,” said Flood.
“But in crossing the border to Alberta, not Fred Hampton but the two others, Willie Calvert and Jerry Aldridge, were alleged to have used false identification and so they were officially deported. Fred Hampton was just invited to leave the country with his colleagues.”
After Hampton’s murder, there were a number of letters to the press in Regina talking about the good the Black Panthers did, “and that Canadian officials needed to be wary and not be repressive the way the FBI had been through COINTELPRO and things like that — the counterintelligence program to infiltrate, discredit and destroy New Left organizations,” said Flood.
“There was concern that this would also happen in Canada and some letters in the press from radical activists in Regina warned about this,” she said, noting the RCMP had the Security Service branch, which “operated similarly to the COINTELPRO counterintelligence program in the United States.”
Hampton Jr., who was a technical consultant on the film and visited the set, said of his father’s legacy: “The momentum is ongoing.”
“Chairman Fred was a Black Panther mind, body and soul,” he said. “Chairman Fred was a servant of the people. Chairman Fred was committed, courageous, charismatic. He carried the party line.
“He just didn’t talk about it — he did it. Everything from right there in community disseminating the Black Panther Party newspapers, to not only operating but organizing the Rainbow coalition and challenging … what we refer to as contested conditions in a city that was and remains to be one of the top segregated cities in the country, Chicago. Chairman Fred acknowledged the race as well as the class contradiction, and did it when it was not a ‘politically correct’ thing or ‘chic.’ He went against the grain. Chairman Fred was a revolutionary.”
© 2021 The Canadian Press