Black Panther Party

Debate Emerges Over Inclusion Of Illinois Black Panther Party In National Register Of Historic Places

The Illinois chapter's history with the party could be included in the National Register of Historic Places.

A recent push to memorialize the Illinois Black Panther Party has stirred up a division over how the activist organization’s legacy should be upheld. As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times on Nov. 24, the National Register of Historic Places is moving to include the Illinois chapter’s history in its registry but has been met with pushback.

The inclusion would highlight some of the most crucial locations in the Chicago area that hold deep history for the Black Panther Party. However, many of the concerns over the move come from the organization’s tumultuous history. After being founded in the 1960s, the Black Panther Party, which was an extension of the Black Power movement, was considered to be violent and gang-like by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which even launched a counterintelligence program against the organization. While supporters of the National Register of Historic Places inclusion think the listing will help uphold important historical components, some oppose it and claim it would continue pushing an untrue narrative about the activist group.

Leila Wills, who headed the inclusion project and collected letters of support from more than 20 former Black Panthers, said, “Our purpose is to make the Illinois chapter an official part of the state’s history.” 

Former member Wanda Ross wrote in her letter of support.

“It is important to include the historical significance of the ongoing struggle of the Black Panther Party throughout the United States as a voice for parity and justice. The struggle of Black People to overcome racism is a reality that must be told, addressed, and ended before we can move forward as a nation,” Ross wrote.

However, Fred Hampton Jr., chairman of the Black Panther Party Cubs and the son of former Black Panther leader Fred Hampton Sr. — who was assassinated during a 1969 raid led by Chicago police and FBI counterintelligence efforts — disagrees. He began a coalition to oppose the National Register inclusion move and explained that the federal government’s misinformation about the party had already damaged its legacy. He believes that the National Register recognition will continue to do so because the project doesn’t have respect for the true Black Panthers’ history.

“This is not their story to tell,” Hampton Jr. said. “We come from a community that prefers a demolished truth, as opposed to a structured lie.”

Regardless of reluctance, a state advisory council approved the nomination effort in late October. Now, the National Park Service makes the final call on whether to reject or accept the nomination. After receiving the final proposal on Nov. 8, the NPS has until Dec. 26 to decide.

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