Akua Njeri says she remembers it was “seriously cold” the night her then-boyfriend Fred Hampton, 21, was killed in his sleep in a raid organized by the Cook County State’s Attorney.
It was December 4, 1969. Hampton was a Black Panther activist and revolutionary who organized and inspired thousands as the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party, and was the father of the baby Njeri, 19, was more than eight months pregnant with.
She joined Hampton in a bedroom in the rear of the apartment that night, with ten other party members present in the house.
“He fell asleep immediately. I didn’t think anything strange about that,” she said.
“The first thing I remember was ‘Chairman wake up, wake up, the pigs are vamping, the pigs are vamping!’ When the pigs knocked on our door, they said ‘Open up,’” Njeri remembered.
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Mark Clark, 22, was the first to answer them, asking who was there.
“The pig responded ‘Tommy Gun’ and kicked in the door and began spraying,” Njeri said. Clark was shot in the chest and died, according to the coroner’s grand jury testimony.
“I saw bullets coming from… the front of the apartment… Sparks of light. I had slid over on top of Chairman Fred. I don’t know what I was thinking, or what I was doing, I just moved over and covered his body,” she remembered. “He didn’t move. Just lifted his head up. It was like he was going in slow motion.”
Hampton “never said a word, he never got up out [of] the bed,” Njeri said. An independent autopsy later determined he had been drugged with secobarbital.
She said it felt like the shooting lasted for hours when it was only minutes because “you don’t know if you’re going to live or die.”
“[Someone] kept calling out, ‘Stop shooting! Stop shooting! We have a pregnant woman, a pregnant sister in here. At the time, I was 8 and a half, 9 months pregnant. Pigs kept on shooting.”
Eventually the shooting stopped, Njeri said. She slid out of bed and into Hampton’s house shoes and thought to herself, “Keep your hands up. Don’t stumble. Don’t fall. They will kill you and your baby.”
She said she saw “two lines of police, they were laughing. [They] grabbed me by the top of my head, slung me to the kitchen area.”
“Somebody said, ‘He’s barely alive, he’ll barely make it. I assume he was talking about Chairman Fred,” she said. “The shooting started back again. The pigs said ‘he’s good and dead now.’”
She remembered thinking not to look in the direction of the bedroom. “I knew I could not break down there.”
“I did see Defense Captain Mark Clark laying on the floor in the living room in a pool of blood,” she said.
The rest of the members in the apartment were arrested and charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder, Njeri said.
“When I was handcuffed the police said, ‘You better not run, you better not try to escape’ and he kept pressing that gun to my belly,” she said. “So my child felt that cold steel.”
Njeri said that night stays with her. “Not always, but sometimes, I’m back there,” she said.
Njeri gave birth to Fred Hampton Jr. later that month. Hampton Jr., now 49, has become an activist himself, following in his father’s footsteps.
“Chairman Fred took a position that we love the people and we are willing, and we know that the ultimate sacrifice can happen, has happened, and in fact with Chairman Fred, did happen,” Hampton Jr. told ABC News.”
Njeri said she felt guilty “for a long time” that Hampton was assassinated but she survived.
“I used to say that if I gave up, the ghost of Chairman Fred would haunt me to this day,” she said. “Because we’re still not free. Power to the people has not become a reality.”