Chgo Sun-Times's Mitchell: Black Panther 'Will Always Be Remembered for Giving Hungry Children a Hot Breakfast'

September 7th, 2009 2:05 PM
In yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Mary Mitchell lauds Fred Hampton, a Black Panther leader killed 40 years ago by police.  In "Hampton's forgotten legacy:  Today's youth can learn something from Black Panther leader's humanitarian deeds," Mitchell soft-pedals the Panthers' extensive history of violence and radical politics in favor of citing some of Hampton's alleged good works:
He stood up for disadvantaged
People in Chicago are still so divided over Hampton that, a couple of years ago, efforts to erect a street sign in his honor caused an uproar.
Hampton will always be remembered by some for advocating violence.
But for many others -- those who benefitted from his courage -- he will always be remembered for giving hungry children a hot breakfast.
Or for opening a free walk-in health clinic on the West Side.
Or for trying to open a swimming pool, so poor black children could get relief from the heat.
Or for being a bold advocate for justice.

The Panthers' breakfast program for children has long been applauded, even by some conservatives, as a worthwhile endeavor.  Ignored are the severe problems associated with that program across the country.  Chicago was hardly an exception.

In September, 1969, the Chicago Tribune reported that money donated to the Black Panthers

"by merchants and other businessmen to feed breakfast to needy children appears to have been channeled by Panther officials to their own personal use, investigators for local and federal law enforcement agencies indicated after a close scrutiny of Panther activities.  The Tribune reported yesterday that the Panthers' breakfast program, which they claim feeds 3,500 school children a day, is almost nonexistent in Chicago.  Yet, the Panthers continue to solicit money and food to run the program."

The piece went on to identify program money given to Fred Hampton for a suit and books, as well as disbursements to other members.  One I found of particular interest since it involves a current U.S. Congressman:

Bobby Rush, the deputy minister of defense, is listed as receiving $145 on April 9. On the same day, the records show "Che" as the recipient of $20 for tires.  Investigators say that Che is Rush's nickname.

So did media exposure spur the Panthers to make good on their pledge to feed needy children?  In a word, no.  In January, 1970, the Chicago Tribune featured the story "Panther Free Food Project Barely Alive."  The article began:

The Black Panther party's program of feeding hungry school children is barely operating in Chicago, a survey by The Tribune disclosed yesterday.
It was found that only 44 youngsters actually showed up for the breakfasts at four locations yesterday, despite claims by Panther leaders that 1,000 children are being fed each week.

The report also noted:

Since Dec. 4, when Illinois Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed in a raid by state's attorney's police, investigators say the party has received many large cash donations for the program. . .
It was Hampton who last September claimed that the Panthers were feeding 3,000 to 4,000 children each week at three locations.  A Tribune survey found at that time showed that on most days the breakfast centers never opened and on others only a handful of children showed up.

Mary Mitchell writes that "Many of us did an (sic) poor job of passing on the spirit of men like Hampton."  Don't beat yourself up too much, Mary.  You liberals are still doing what you can, even 40 years later.