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Simon Balto Explores Life and Legacy of Fred Hampton

Friday, December 20, 2019

Dominican University's Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture on January 21 focused on Fred Hampton, an activist and leader in the Black Panther Party who was killed by Chicago police in 1969. Simon Balto, assistant professor of history and African American Studies at the University of Iowa, discussed Hampton's life, work and controversial murder 50 years ago, on December 4, 1969, by Chicago police in conjunction with Cook County State's Attorney Ed Hanrahan and the FBI.

Balto is currently researching a project focusing on Hampton, who grew up in Maywood, the west Chicago city neighboring the Dominican campus, and graduated with honors from Proviso East High School. As a teenager, he was active with the NCAAP and organized its West Suburban Youth Council, where he advocated for better recreational facilities and educational resources. He chaired the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and brokered a nonaggression pact among Chicago's most powerful street gangs in an effort to reduce violence and build solidarity. He was instrumental in the organization's Free Breakfast Program.

In May 1969, Hampton held a press conference announcing the formation of the original Rainbow Coalition in Chicago, an alliance of Black, Latinx and poor white residents focused on challenging the racial and economic status quo in the city.

Viewing Hampton as a destabilizing militant leader, the FBI opened a file on him and placed him on its "Agitator Index." Using information gained from an informant, the Chicago police raided his apartment and killed Hampton and colleague Mark Clark in a fuselage of between 90 and 99 shots. ‚Äč

Balto also is the author of Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago From Red Summer to Black Power (2019) which explores the origins and historical evolution of a systemic culture of racially repressive policing in Chicago. He holds a master's degree in African American Studies and a PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin.