GARFIELD PARK — The mural honoring the legacy of Fred Hampton, the slain chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, has been repainted with a new design dedicated to the history of Black political struggle on Chicago’s West Side.
The new design was created by the same group behind the original mural of the civil rights icon. Organizers decided the time was right to paint over the deteriorating original mural since the country is reckoning with the same racial injustice and police violence that the Black Panther Party fought decades ago.
The original mural of Hampton was painted in 2010 at the intersection of California Avenue and Madison Street by artist Dasic Fernandez. Every element of the mural and the process to create it was politicized, according to Fred Hampton Jr., Hampton’s son. The mural faces westward and away from Downtown as a sign that his father’s legacy belongs to the people of the West Side, Hampton Jr. said.
The younger Hampton commissioned the original mural with allies in the musical group Rebel Diaz after first attempting to rename the street where Hampton was slain by officers in his honor.
“There was a big fight in City Hall, and the street sign was never officially approved,” Hampton Jr. said.
The group decided the 2010 mural would be a more fitting way to honor Hampton’s memory and inspire conversation among residents about the struggle for Black liberation.
Hampton is among the most revered figures in the neighborhood’s history since he lived on the West Side when he was killed by police in a 1969 raid as he slept next to his fiancé Akua Njeri, who was nine months pregnant with Hampton Jr. at the time. The assassination was part of the FBI’s illegal COINTELPRO operation aimed at preventing “the rise of a messiah,” feared to be Hampton, among the movement for Black liberation.
Residents in the area were initially skeptical when they saw their beloved mural was being painted over, which Rodrigo Starz of Rebel Diaz said is a testament to how deep Hampton’s legacy runs on the West Side. But the community was supportive when they learned the new mural was being painted at the direction of Hampton’s son and would represent more of the Black Panther’s history in Chicago, Starz said.
The mural now honors not only Hampton but also the other members of the Black Panther Party present at the police raid known locally as the Massacre on Monroe. The painting now incorporates the stories of Defense Captain Mark Clark, who was also killed in the raid, as well as Akua Njeri, and the party’s Minister of Health Doc Satchel.
“Often we remember the figure that had the name, that had the charisma … but there’s always a group behind that person to give that person strength,” said Andre Trenier, the artist who painted the new mural.
A young Hampton Jr. is also depicted in the mural as a symbol that the revolutionary movement to end white supremacy in America lives on despite attempts to snuff it out.
“They tried to burn down the garden, but the good seeds remained,” Starz said.
The portraits in the mural are also a reminder of how young Hampton and the Black Panthers were, Trenier said. Though he was a key leader in the movement. Hampton was just 21 when he was murdered.
“You see their faces and you see the light in their eyes and it changes things,” Trenier said.
The mural isn’t just public art, Trenier said. It is also an invitation for people to learn more about the legacy of the Black Panther Party, like their work in Chicago to develop a free breakfast program for children and broad health screenings for sickle-cell anemia, a genetic disease prevalent among Black people.
Public art is a powerful avenue for sharing the legacy of the Black Panthers since the movement for Black liberation is often misrepresented and cherry-picked in schools, Trenier said.
“It’s not being taught. Because it’s actively being hidden and corrupted,” Trenier said. “I hope this opens some eyes and some brains.”
As the mural was being painted, older people from the area approached the artists and shared stories about how their lives were touched by Hampton and how they participated in the Black freedom movement, Starz said.
“There’s power in art. It was literally like a political education course as we were painting,” Starz said.
Young people who hadn’t previously known about the Black Panthers saw the group painting the mural and began asking questions about the struggle for equality, Hampton Jr. said. The mural gives neighborhood youth real people from their community who they can draw strength and wisdom from, he said.
He also hopes it will instill in them a sense of pride for the revolutionary history of the West Side.
“We have to be innovative, creative about getting this information out. Information is raw material for new ideas,” Hampton Jr. said. “We intend to turn the community into classrooms.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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