Chicago Divided Over Proposal to Honor a Slain Black Panther
Along a little-traveled block of Monroe Street on the city's West Side, a lot has changed, and a lot has not, since the early morning in 1969 when a police raid here left Fred Hampton, the local chairman of the Black Panther Party, dead in a storm of gunfire.
The homes, including the one Mr. Hampton died in, have been razed and new ones have been built. And a construction team was hammering away on a new building this week, even as Fred Hampton Jr. showed a visitor the street he wants renamed in his father's memory.
"This is one of the ground zeroes in our community, a place where brutal acts of terrorism occurred," Mr. Hampton said, gazing around in his dark sunglasses as snow flurries fell. "Chairman Fred deserves this honor for all the contributions he made. I learned lessons from his legend — about what a man is supposed to be."
What has not changed over four decades, even with the blurring and fading of memories, is the size of this city's division over what happened the day the elder Mr. Hampton was killed, who he was and what his legacy should be.
For his son, born just weeks after his father was killed and now known to some as Little Chairman Fred, and for many other black residents here, Mr. Hampton was a hero who boldly demanded rights for black people, pressed for meals for black schoolchildren and died at the hands of the police.
For many white residents, and police officers especially, Mr. Hampton was a frightening, dangerous radical from a turbulent era who told The Chicago Sun-Times, not long before his death at age 21, that he was "at war with the pigs."
And so, although nearly 1,300 city blocks in Chicago already bear brown street signs with honorary names for all sorts of people (plenty of whom few have ever heard of) and although most of those distinctions make their way through the City Council without even a moment of notice, a proposal this week to turn this block into Chairman Fred Hampton Way has stirred a sudden fury of debate.
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