NEAR WEST SIDE — About 100 people lined up Wednesday at the exact location where Fred Hampton Sr. was killed on the Near West Side, in a re-enactment of the thousands who came to honor the Black Panther Party leader in the days after he was shot in a police raid 44 years ago.
The family, friends and supporters joined Hampton's widow, Akua Njeri, as she celebrated the short but influential life of the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party outside 2337 W. Monroe St. where they both lived.
While the home has since been torn down and replaced with a new one, the group held a moment of silence in the front yard, then thrust their arms in the air with their fists closed as a symbol of black unity.
They then lined up and walked toward the home's front porch as if they were going inside to see for themselves what had happen to Hampton Sr. — similar to how thousands lined up to see Hampton's body in the home in the days after the raid.
“It was a conspiracy between the FBI, Chicago police and State Police to destroy the Black Panthers,” said Njeri, formerly known as Deborah Johnson. “They figured if they cut off the head, then the body would die, too."
The raid happened at 4:35 a.m. on Dec. 4, 1969, when police knocked on the door of the home, Njeri recalled.
"They came for him early in the morning, thinking we were [sleeping] but we were not," she said. “Once we responded with ‘Who is it?’ the police began shooting through the door.
"I was eight months pregnant, and [Fred] jumped on top of me to protect me,” said Njeri, who now lives in Englewood. “By the time the shooting stopped, Fred was dead.”
In addition to Hampton, who was 21 at the time, Mark Clark, a Black Panther captain, also was killed that day. Law enforcement authorities who conducted the raid have maintained they were defending themselves. A Chicago Police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Njeri was not injured during the raid, and, 25 days later, she gave birth to Fred Hampton Jr.
“I never met my father, but through his teachings he left behind I know he was a proud man who believed in standing up for what was right when it came to black people,” Hampton Jr., who is now 43, said at Wednesday's ceremony.
“He would be disappointed to see so many young black men killing each other, but would understand that due to a continued assault against our people, it has taught young black men that they are not respected by society and should not respect each other,” Hampton Jr. said.
Fifty-five students from Chatham Academy Charter High School, 9035 S. Langley Ave., also attended the memorial with their African-American studies teacher Qadir Jamal.
"They need to know the struggles we had to go through and what sacrifices have been made for them and by who," Jamal said. "Political power starts with the community, but if you are not involved in building up your community, then you are not involved in making a difference. And young people need to understand this."
Bobby Seale and Huey Newton formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland, Calif., in 1966. Initially Seale and Newton said they started the group to protect local communities from police brutality and racism, but it later became a group with revolutionary ideals and sponsored free medical clinics and breakfast programs for needy children.
Hampton Sr., a Chicago native who grew up in Maywood and graduated from Proviso East High School in 1966, founded the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party in November 1968.
The group, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) said, appealed to young black males.
"Things were changing in the civil rights movement, and organizations became more militant in their rhetoric and started speaking to young black males," said Rush, a one-time member of the Black Panthers who said he was unable to attend the memorial Wednesday.
"The evolution of the civil rights [movement] and the black power movement, which was more militant, attracted me to the Black Panther Party. When I joined the Panther party, it was an extension of the evolution of the entire movement," Rush said.
Other former Black Panther members said Hampton Sr.'s legacy is still going strong, and is needed as much as ever.
John Preston, a 59-year-old East Garfield Park resident, said “The Black Panther Party is not dead, and is very much alive, but we now operate in a different manner.”
All the black-on-black crime is a direct result of youths now knowing their history, said Arthur Drake, who said he grew up with Hampton Jr.
“Youth nowadays lack education about their culture, so they act up by being violent, and that is a behavioral pattern that needs to stop,” said Drake, of Englewood. “The Black Panthers are still needed because racism still exists, and until it ends, the fight for survival is on.”
Although the ceremony marked a solemn event in Chicago's history, there were lighter moments Wednesday.
"That man was a Kool-Aid addict," Njeri recalled of her husband. "I would laugh when I see him drink one cup after another."
But turning serious again, she added: "If he were here today, Fred would still being fighting for the liberation of our people."