Iberia Hampton, far left, with her oldest son William Hampton, center, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., during a 1971 news conference. | John Filo/Associated Press | Below: Hundreds crowd into the Maywood Park District’s gymnasium to remember Iberia Hampton, who died last week at the age of 94.
Sunday, October 23, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
A crowd of at least 100 people packed the gymnasium inside of the Maywood Park District, 921 S. 9th Ave., on Sunday to remember Iberia Hampton — the mother of Black Panther icon and Maywood native son Fred Hampton — who died on Oct. 16 at the age of 94.
Her oldest son, Maywood Park District Commissioner William “Bill” Hampton, said that his mother had been recuperating from a stroke at the time of her death, which reverberated well beyond Maywood — the Hampton family’s home since 1958.
Jeffrey Haas, the Hampton family’s attorney for more than four decades and who spoke briefly at the Oct. 23 memorial service, said that people are invoking the Hamptons rather often nowadays.
Haas said he’d just returned from a ceremony in Oakland commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panthers — the black nationalist political organization that was founded in 1968 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and for which Fred served as Illinois chapter president.
“Iberia’s and Fred’s names were mentioned quite a few times [in Oakland],” said Haas, the author of “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther.”
A year after Fred’s infamous assassination on Dec. 4, 1969 by Chicago police officers, Haas and a team of attorneys, which included Flint Taylor and James Montgomery, brought a $47.7 million lawsuit against Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, and other local and federal officials.
Hanrahan authorized the police raid that resulted in Hampton’s murder. Another Black Panther leader, Mark Clark, was also killed in the raid, which authorities claimed was conducted in order to search for illegal weapons.
The case was initially dismissed by a federal district court, but the attorneys appealed the decision all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided 5-3 in 1980 to send the case back to the lower courts for a new trial.
In 1982, the city, county and federal governments agreed to a $1.85 million settlement to be distributed among nine plaintiffs, including Iberia and the mother of Clark.
“Iberia was a mama to so many,” said Taylor at Sunday’s memorial service. “She was my second mother. She was Jeff’s second mother. And she stood with myself, Jeff and Jim when we tried to bring justice to her family. The strength and understanding she had — she gave some of it to all of us.”
“I canceled a four-day trip to Bermuda to be here,” said Montgomery, “and I’d do it 10 more times to be here … Fred Hampton was Iberia’s legacy and a freedom fighter who was second to none.”
Montgomery, who said he was deeply influenced by, and admired, Fred, said that the slain activist died fighting “for a cause that’s never going to die.”
Steward for justice
Iberia Beatrice Hampton was born on Feb. 5, 1922 to Elihue and Lizzie White in Haynesville, Louisiana. She was the oldest of the couple’s four children.
Haas writes in his 2009 book that the families of Iberia and her husband, Francis Allen Hampton, “farmed the land their great-grandparents had worked as slaves.”
In the 1930s, Francis moved to the Chicago area seeking opportunity. He found a job at the Corn Products Refining Company in Argo, a southwest side suburb.
While Francis worked, Iberia stayed home to care for their three children — William, Delores and Fred. In Argo, she would sometimes babysit a “curious and quite rambunctious” child nicknamed Bobo, whom Iberia called “a handful,” according to Haas.
In August 1955, Bobo, whose birth name was Emmett Louis Till, would be found dead in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi, his body — beaten and bloated beyond recognition — tied with barbed wire to a cotton-gin. He had allegedly whistled at a white woman, invoking the wrath of the woman’s husband.
“I couldn’t stand going to his funeral and seeing him like that,” Iberia would tell Haas. “I wanted to remember him as the active and saucy kid I babysat for.”
Three years later, in 1958, the Hamptons moved to Maywood, where Fred attended Irving Elementary School (now Irving Middle School) and Proviso East High School.
“All the kids loved Fred,” Iberia told Haas. “And the teachers, too. Seems like he was never alone.”
Iberia recalled that Fred’s rhetorical promise was made clear in his deft ability to signify, or to jokingly insult other students, some of whom, Iberia recalled, teased Fred about his physical appearance.
“They called him peanut head and watermelon head,” Iberia told Haas. “He was upset for a while, but he learned to defend himself with words.”
Along with his way with words, Fred also showed a gift for bringing different people together. He would often herd the kids in the neighborhood into Iberia’s kitchen on weekends and they “would cook breakfast together for themselves and all of us,” she told Haas.
Before, and well after, her son’s death, Iberia’s kitchen on the 800 block of South 17th Ave. in Maywood, would often become the scene of political conversations — philosophical and strategic.
But they were more than armchair deliberations. Iberia’s own history of grassroots and workplace organizing may have helped inspire her famous son.
When she eventually got a job with Corn Products in 1956 (“doing quality control on the bottles and caps as they came down the assembly line,” Haas writes), Iberia was selected to be a union steward.
“I loved it,” she told Haas. “Once we cooked meals at the Union Hall for over seven hundred people, every day during a two-month strike.”
During Sunday’s memorial service, mourners still salivated at the thought of Iberia’s meals, which she would fix for the activists, entertainers, politicians and everyday people who would make regular sojourns to her Maywood home.
Her oldest son Bill, who has shepherded his younger brother’s legacy since the latter’s death in 1969, would host regular political and social gatherings contoured by his mother’s cooking.
“I don’t think there’s been a year that’s gone by that I’m not spending time in the Hampton home,” said U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) at Sunday’s memorial. “Mrs. Hampton was an activist, a mother and a tremendous cook.”
Relative Martha Allen recalled Iberia’s peach cobbler, banana pudding, collard greens, fried fish and other southern fare.
“Everyday was Thanksgiving at her house,” said Allen.
Everyday at Iberia’s was also a continuance of the struggle that claimed the life of her son. Davis said the Hamptons would regularly produce a list of “progressive people running for office” in the community, so that area voters could “select who they thought were best fit for office.”
Among those officeholders who made trips to the Hampton’s home were state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough.
“I spoke with her many times and she’d always tell me we all had to be the change we want to see in this community,” said Welch, who noted that he shares a birthday with Iberia.
“I called her mama,” said Yarbrough, among the legions of people who claim filial kinship to the widely known matriarch. “She told it like it is.”
“She was a fighter until the end,” said Allen, recalling her visits with Iberia in the matriarch’s final days. At 94, and bedridden, she was still strong enough to give orders, that indomitable will that once coursed through her son unabated.
“That’s what we need in our communities,” Allen said. “There’s no giving up if you want change to come about.” VFP