The effort to memorialize the Illinois Black Panther Party and include its history in the National Register of Historic Places has sparked controversy due to differing opinions on how the organization’s legacy should be upheld and who should tell the story.
The National Register of Historic Places wants to highlight crucial locations in Chicago associated with the Black Panther Party’s history. However, as The Chicago Sun-Times reports, those efforts have been met with pushback, including from the son of beloved Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton Sr.
In the 1960s, the Black Panther Party was founded with a focus on political and economic equality and became known for services such as its free breakfast program and free healthcare program in different parts of the country. However, the FBI and local police launched a counterintelligence operation against it after claiming they were threats to America’s “internal security.”
Those who support the efforts of the National Register of Historic Places believe the inclusion will help highlight the important role the organization played. Others, however, are opposed and think that it would continue to perpetuate misinformation about the activist group.
“Our purpose is to make the Illinois chapter an official part of the state’s history,” said Leila Wills, who oversaw the inclusion effort and collected letters of support from more than 20 former Black Panthers.
Former Black Panther member Wanda Ross, in her letter of support, highlighted the importance of shedding light on their story.
“It is important to include the historical significance of the ongoing struggle of the Black Panther Party throughout the United States as a voice for parity and justice. The struggle of Black People to overcome racism is a reality that must be told, addressed, and ended before we can move forward as a nation,” Ross wrote according to the Chicago Sun-Times
In contrast, Fred Hampton Jr., chairman of the Black Panther Party Cubs and son of Fred Hampton Sr., who was assassinated by Chicago police and FBI operatives as part of their counterintelligence program in 1969, disagrees.
In response to what he says is the federal government’s misinformation about the party, he formed a coalition to oppose its inclusion in the National Register and says the “government’s misinformation about the party had already damaged its legacy.” He believes that the National Register recognition will continue to move forward because the project “doesn’t have respect for the true Black Panthers’ history.”
“This is not their story to tell,” Hampton Jr. said. “We come from a community that prefers a demolished truth, as opposed to a structured lie.”
Despite the opposition, a state advisory council approved the nomination effort in late October. The National Park Service (NPS) now has the final say on whether to accept or reject the nomination. The NPS received the final proposal on November 8 and has until December 26 to make a decision.
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