Last week, the nearby suburb of Maywood made national news when its village board voted unanimously to grant the childhood home of slain Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton local historic landmark status. Oak Park will play a supporting role in Maywood’s ongoing effort to promote the newly landmarked site.
The designation, granted at a regular board meeting on April 19, means that Hampton House, as it’s now called, will be eligible for numerous financial benefits, such as a property tax freeze and income tax credits for historically appropriate renovations. In addition, any requests for its alteration or demolition must now be reviewed by the Maywood Historic Preservation Commission.
The two-story apartment building at 804 S. 17th Ave. in Maywood is currently a community gathering space replete with a Little Free Library and community refrigerator stocked with free food for those in need. Hampton’s son, Black Panther Cubs Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., hopes to turn the historic home into a full-blown museum and tourist destination.
The landmark designation comes roughly a month after Maywood officially became a partner community of Visit Oak Park, a local affiliate of the Illinois Office of Tourism, which receives state funding to promote tourism initiatives for a range of western suburbs across Cook County.
Member suburbs receive a variety of benefits, including having their event listings and attractions promoted on VisitOakPark.com. Partner communities also receive marketing support and are included in the bureau’s paid advertising campaigns, according to Eric Wagner, Visit Oak Park president and CEO.
There is no cost for suburbs to join the bureau, but the state requires a letter from each village requesting their inclusion in the bureau’s service area. The Maywood village board voted unanimously on that letter during a meeting on March 22.
Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker said the local landmark designation “is just the first step moving forward in regards to the healing of Maywood to actually pay homage and pay the respect that is due” to the legacy of the Hampton family.
Booker said the village is planning an African-American history tour in Maywood in June that will incorporate aspects of Hampton’s legacy.
Moments before the historic April 19 vote, Hampton Jr. said Hampton House “is bigger than a building, more significant than a structure.”
Maywood’s Council Chambers, where the board meeting took place, was packed with community members who supported the landmark proposal. Many of them erupted in applause and chants of “Long live Chairman Fred!” after Hampton Jr.’s comments and just after the board finished voting.
Among the crowd, Maywood Trustee Melvin Lightford pointed out, were people who knew Fred Hampton or whose parents knew the slain Black Panther Party leader.
Joe Wilson, a well-known businessman in Maywood who, along with wife Theresa, own a popular restaurant in Maywood, is a former Black Panther.
“[Joe] came to Chicago from California in that same period of time,” said Lightford. “Talk to him, he was there.”
“I just want to say how honored I am to be here for this moment,” said Maywood Trustee Miguel Jones, before complimenting Hampton Jr.
Jones created the influential Twin Villages Covenant between Maywood and River Forest. The formal agreement, which was approved by the boards of both suburbs in 2020, commits them to “the principles of humanity, equity and inclusion” and guides “the overarching spirit of our distinct towns to think as one and to interact in more collaborative ways,” according to the document’s language.
“You’ve been all over the place,” Jones told Hampton Jr. “And you always mention Maywood. I hope one of the things we can do to honor Chairman Fred is to make this a tourist destination for people to visit. I went to Ghana last year and it was an honor to see [portraits of] Chairman Fred on some [people’s] walls.”
Maywood Trustee Aaron Peppers echoed similar sentiments, adding that his father attended the same schools as Fred Hampton, including Irving Elementary School (now Irving Middle School) and Proviso East High School in Maywood.
“In our household, we had to know [Fred], we had to know the struggle, we had to know the history,” Peppers said. “He quizzed us all the time. It was very important. It was instrumental in my life.”
During his remarks, Hampton Jr. touched on some parts of his father’s biography. As chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Hampton was head of the organization’s largest chapter, Hampton Jr. said. Hampton Sr. was assassinated by law enforcement officials inside his West Side apartment on Dec. 4, 1969.
“You have rarely, if ever, heard me say, ‘The police murdered my father.’ You have heard me say, ‘The government assassinated Chairman Fred.’ He authored the Rainbow Coalition [with many representatives of the organization] here today. The free breakfast program fed a minimum of 3,500 children a week,” Hampton Jr. said, before urging community members to understand and tout that rich history.
Tuesday’s vote comes nearly a month after the Maywood Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to move the historic landmark nomination process to the village board for a final vote. The brick two-flat was built in 1923.
“The significance of the Hampton home is that it represents worker housing for companies like the nearby American Can Company, which was the largest employer during the Great Depression, and later, African-Americans and Immigrants were actively recruited during World War I due to the labor shortage at the time, further adding to the diverse nature of the village’s growing residential base,” according to the landmark application.
The home, the application continues, “is credited with being the fertile ground that nurtured a future thought and opinion leader, whose influence and legacy are still felt to this day by many in the community.”