Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit
"Back [in the 60's] segregation was normalized so it's easy to say 'If I would have been alive I would have been right there.' But would we have been?" Bill Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, posed the question Thursday night to a standing room only audience in the back room at Barbara's Bookstore on South Halsted.
Ayers, ironically, was himself a left wing radical and founding member of the controversial group Weather Underground during the Vietnam War. He recently returned to the spotlight as questions arose over his connection to then-presidential-hopeful Barack Obama, nearly costing Obama the election.
Ayers joined a panel of activists at different levels of career revolutionism, to discuss the legacy of Fred Hampton and to promote Jeff Haas' book "The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther." The panel was hosted by Barbara's Bookstore in honor of Black History Month.
Haas' book recounts his personal story of growing up a privileged white man in Atlanta, then coming to Chicago after graduating from law school. He learned of the Black Panther movement as a young lawyer working to get Hampton released from prison. He succeeded, only to have Hampton assassinated on December 4th, 1969, in what he worked for years to prove was the work of Chicago police and the FBI, tracing all the way up to its director, J. Edgar Hoover. Haas co-founded the People's Law Office and worked to uncover the covert and often illegal government program to obtain secret evidence on activists, COINTELPRO.
Ayers was moderator of the panel that included Haas, headliner of the evening; LaDonna Redmond, Chicago community activist and co-founder of Graffiti and Grub; Dr. David Stovall, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor in Educational Policy Studies; and honorary guest Bill Hampton, Fred Hampton's brother.
In his southern drawl, Haas began the discussion by giving a substantial recap of the events leading up to the incident that shocked Americans and enraged civil rights activists over 40 years ago. He read an excerpt of the book describing his visit to a church on Chicago's West side to hear Hampton speak, quoting him:
"If you ever think about me and you ain't gonna do no revolutionary act, forget about me. I don't want myself on your mind if you're not going to work for the people. If you're asked to make a commitment at the age of twenty, and you say I don't want to make a commitment at the age of twenty, only because of the reason that I'm too young to die, I want to live a little longer, then you're dead already."
The panelists discussed the legacy of Fred Hampton, hoping to encourage people to get involved in defending civil rights.
"We are all living in a living history," Redmond said. "If we want peace, don't ask what Obama did, ask what you did."
Afterward, Haas signed copies of his book and signed mine:
"Tell truth for power. Keep the struggle for justice alive."