Though historians have noted for years that the FBI was involved in the 1969 assassination of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, a newly released file strengthens the case that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was involved.
During the civil rights era, the FBI conspired to destroy Black activists and the Black Panther Party. Part of this plan was the assassination of Panther leader Hampton. The story of Hampton’s assassination illustrates how much the U.S. government worked to demolish the push for the rights of Black people.
On Dec. 4, 1969 Fourteen Chicago police officers executed a predawn raid on an apartment that left Illinois Black Panther Party leaders Hampton and Mark Clark dead, several other young Panthers wounded, and seven raid survivors arrested on trumped-up attempted murder charges. Hampton died in his bed next to his pregnant wife. Clark was killed in another room, ABC News reported.
Attorneys Flint Taylor and Jeff Haas were the lead lawyers in the landmark 1982 civil rights settlement for the families of Hampton, fellow Black Panther Clark (who was also killed in the 1969 raid that claimed Hampton’s life) and the seven other survivors.
According to attorneys Taylor and Haas, FBI agent Roy Martin Mitchell was the control agent for William O’ Neal, an FBI informant who infiltrated the Panthers, got close to Hampton and supplied the FBI with in-depth knowledge, including a floor plan, that ultimately helped them murder Hampton.
In an article published Jan. 19, on Truthout, attorneys Taylor and Haas wrote that documents in the redacted FBI file support their argument that the FBI was not only involved in Hampton’s assassination, but FBI Director Hoover was directly involved and helped cover up the bureau’s involvement.
Hoover led the FBI from 1924 until his death on May 2, 1972.
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“The newly released file, containing several hundred pages of FBI memos and reports, provides substantial evidence that would have contributed significantly to our examination of Mitchell and his Chicago supervisors,” Taylor and Haas wrote. “It also provides the first direct documentation that Sullivan, Moore and even Hoover were aware of Mitchell and O’Neal’s Black Panther activities; that they ratified, celebrated and rewarded O’Neal and Mitchell’s integral roles in the Hampton raid; and that they were involved in the early stages of the cover-up of the FBI’s involvement.”
Evidence of Hoover’s involvement in Hampton’s murder include: Hoover commending Mitchell for his handling of O’Neal and rewarding him with a monetary bonus; Hoover receiving a memo detailing O’Neal’s BPP activities; and an evaluation of O’Neal sent from Mitchell to Hoover, according to Taylor and Haas.
Historian and writer Aaron Leonard requested the file through the Freedom of Information Act in 2015 and received a heavily redacted version on Dec. 4, 2020, Taylor and Haas said.
Though some of it is redacted, the attorneys said they can fill in some of the blanks based on the research they completed for the case, which led to the largest settlement of a police suit at the time.
“As lawyers who were deeply involved in the Hampton litigation for 13 years, we view these documents as vehicles that would have opened up new avenues of questioning, led us to additional documents to pursue, deepened our proof of the assassination and cover-up conspiracies, and provided compelling proof that the highest level of Bureau officials, including Hoover, were partners in the conspiracies,” the attorneys wrote.