A partnership of Lehigh organizations has produced a fascinating and engaging slate of speakers, discussions, and community events to celebrate Black History Month.
One of the most highly anticipated events is a talk by Fred Hampton Jr., a controversial social justice activist who has followed in the footsteps of his martyred father, Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton Sr.
The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 in Packard Auditorium. The program is sponsored by the Black Student Union, the Joint Multicultural Program, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, The Humanities Center, the Dean of Students Office, Africana Studies, and the National Society of Black Engineers.
Other Black History Month events include:
• On Friday, Feb. 9, a trip to the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in New York City will depart from Drown Hall at 7 p.m. The cost is $5. The Nuyorican is a center of the slam poetry movement where many prominent African-American poets have found their voices.
• On Friday, Feb. 16, Lehigh students, faculty and staff are invited to a free Gumbo Night at Umoja House. This event requires an RSVP to the Multicultural Affairs Office so that organizers can estimate attendance. Anyone planning to attend should e-mail the office at firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday, Feb. 13.
• On Tuesday, Feb. 27, a discussion titled “The Color Complex” will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Whitaker 303. The discussion will focus on the tragedies of intragroup racism.
Also, a Brown Bag discussion on the “use of the N-word” was held in UC room 308 on Feb. 7.
Fred Hampton Sr., leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, was gunned down by Chicago Police in an infamous December 1969 raid at Hampton's apartment. The early morning raid was ordered by State's Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, who said at the time that the 14 police officers were searching for illegal weapons.
The circumstances surrounding the raid continue to be hotly debated in Chicago, where a proposal to rename the street where the shootout occurred “Chairman Fred Hampton Way” failed to gain sufficient votes for passage by City Council last year.
Police, citing numerous guns they found inside the apartment, contended that a shootout led to the deaths. But survivors in the apartment said the police had fired nearly all of the more than 80 shots. The police officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the raid, but survivors and family members ultimately received a $1.85 million settlement from a civil rights case against the government entities involved.
Akua Njeri, Fred Hampton Jr.'s mother, was in the apartment at the time of the raid, which also claimed the life of Black Panther Party leader Mark Clark. ''The first metal that touched me was not a doctor's stethoscope, but a gun to my mother's belly,'' Hampton Jr. told a New York Times
reporter last year.
Hampton was born just weeks after his father was killed, and grew up to become active in Black Nationalist politics. He is chairman of a group he founded while in prison called the Prisoners of Conscience Committee. Hampton served nine years in the 1990's for firebombing a Korean-owned store in Chicago, a crime he denies committing. Hampton says he was targeted by authorities because of who he was—the son of the slain Black Panther leader.
Hampton, known to some as Little Chairman Fred, started out working as a community organizer in Chicago, and became president of the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement in 1990. He says his activities defending the democratic rights of the African-American community made him a police target. He was incarcerated in 1992 for aggravated arson and given an 18-year prison sentence. He was released in September 2001.
The main goal of the Hampton lecture is to educate “or at least encourage people to want to learn more about the Panthers,” says Alta Thornton, assistant dean for multicultural affairs. She acknowledges the fact that Hampton is a “controversial figure.
“But even if most leave in anger or opposition to his ideas, they will have had access to rhetoric from a different vantage point, which is an important, often absent aspect of a real, quality education,” Thornton says.
Thornton expresses hope that “Fred Hampton Jr.’s lecture will educate attendees on the history of the Black Panther Party and their role in advancing issues of civil rights and social unrest in the face of racism and discrimination.”
Thornton also hopes that Hampton will discuss the “Panthers’ goal of improving the quality of life for the economically disadvantaged.”
Calvin John Smiley, the political chair of the Black Student Union, believes that Fred Hampton Jr. will bring a “dynamic lecture to Lehigh” that illustrates “the difference between the Black Power Movement of the 1960s compared to the present Black Power Movement.”