Date: Mon, 8 Dec 1997 15:44:08 -0500
An ex-Black Panther remembers
By Sis. JoNina M. Abron, Chicago Defender, 3 December 1994
Below is an article written by Sis. JoNina Abron which was published in the Dec. 3, 1994, issue of the Chicago Defender, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the assassinations of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. The sista who was interviewed for the article, Tondalela Woolfolk, died last December. She was 46. Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered by Chicago police on December 4, 1969.
On the morning of Dec. 4, 1969, Tondalela Woolfolk and her fellow Black Panther Party members here awoke to learn that their leader, Fred Hampton, and Mark Clark, a party organizer from Peoria, had been shot to death by police in a pre-dawn raid.
For Woolfolk, then 19, the death of the charismatic Hampton meant "the loss of the organization that I had devoted my life to...which meant that a great part of my life was gone."
Woolfolk, the second of eight children, grew up on the West Side. As a teenager, she was active in an Upward Bound study group where she first heard about the Black Power movement that was spreading among militant young Blacks during the mid-1960s.
She was also active in the Ecumenical Institute, which ran anti-poverty programs on the West Side.
Afer participating in a program for inner-city high school students at Yale University, Woolfolk joined the BPP in early 1969 in New York City's Harlem. After 21 Black Panthers were charged with conspiring to blow up several buildings in New York City in April, 1969, police repression of the BPP escalated. Woolfolk decided to return home.
"I knew everybody [in the Chicago BPP] because these were people from my community. I went to Providence High School [with several Panthers]...I knew who I could trust, who I would be (protected) under fire with. I also knew the area better, the physical layout," she said in an interview.
Hampton maintained tight discipline among his charges, said Woolfolk, who is now 44 and an affirmative action compliance officer for the U.S. Department of Labor in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"Fred would call you up at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning and ask you to recite the [BPP] 10-point platform and program [and] if you didn't know it, you would be disciplined.
"He was always looking for this alertness. You had to be where you were supposed to be at a certain time doing what you were supposed to be doing," Woolfolk said.
The Free Breakfast Program and the Free Health Clinic were two of the BPP'smost successful programs here, Woolfolk recalled.
"...[Fred's] emphasis was on building a movement that would tear the [political] structure down and put in another more humane, more equitable structure. His emphasis was on program-building. That's why the programs were so strong and lasted so long even after he died," she says.
Hampton organized a coalition of Black, white and Hispanic youth gangs in the area, which Woolfolk described as the "original" rainbow coalition.
"They were beginning to deal with political education. I remember the meeting where everybody announced their solidarity with each other at the People's Church," Woolfolk said.
The popularity of the BPP community "survival programs" and Hampton's organization of the gangs brought greater visibility to the Chicago Panthers. It also increased the FBI's scrutiny of the group.
According to FBI records, on Nov. 18, 1969, about two weeks before Hampton was killed, his name was added to the bureau's "Rabble Rouser Index," a list of people whom the FBI said "demonstrated a potential for fomenting racial discord."
By this time, Hampton's life had been threatened and he was convinced that "any minute he was going to be offed," Woolfolk said.
She said Hampton believed there were "agent provocateurs and infiltrators" in the party. Shortly before he was killed, Hampton expelled the entire membership of the Illinois BPP Chapter, Woolfolk said.
"Fred called a meeting and said everybody was purged until further notice. I kind of felt like it was the beginning of the end. It felt awful," Woolfolk said.
After the police raid, Woolfolk went to the apartment at 2337 Monroe Street, where Hampton and Clark were killed.
"The blood was what really got me," Woolfolk said. "The mattresses [where Hampton had slept] were soaked in blood."
To convince the public that Hampton had been assassinated, Black Panthers led hundreds of people on tours of the apartment [for] several days after the raid.
"There were bullet holes everywhere," Woolfolk said. "You could see how the cops [had been] up against the wall and how they had to know where everybody was because the bullets were no more than six inches above the cots. They were shooting at people who were prone," Woolfolk said.
Chicago police had been "whipped uop into this frenzy of fear about the Panthers," she said.
"It was well known that Panthers were not afraid of 'pigs' [Panther tern for police]. If you laid your hands on us, we would defend ourselves."
To Woolfolk, Hampton was "a peace-loving, caring individual. I was horrified at the violence that wasdone [to him]. The way [police] paraded his body afterwards, like he was some kind of prize kill or something.
"It showed their savagery. They had been hunting for this Panther or that Panther, or this lion, something that they were afraid of and they had killed it," Woolfolk said.
Like many other Chicago Black Panthers, Woolfolk left the party soon after Hampton and Clark were killed.
"Until then, it never occurred to me the lengths that people would go to remain in power," Woolfolk said.
"They will try to take you off this planet. They took Fred Hampton's body off this planet. His spirit and my memory of him will never fade away."
The Panthers said their breakfast programs, health clinics and other "survival" programs were created to bring a measure of relief to the lives of poor blacks until they would do better.
In the 25 years since Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed, the quality of life for African-Americans has deteriorated, Woolfolk said.
"Either we get a second life and get up and walk, or we die on the table," she said.
"What we should be involved in is setting up survival programs on a local, grassroots level following the [BPP] 10-point platform and program.
"Those of us who have the knowledge to identify resources should make oursevles available to people in the community."
copyright 1994 by the Chicago Defender