(Originally appeared 01/26/13, EmergePeoria.com)
Fallout continues more than four decades after Hoover-connected cops kill Black Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton during infamous Chicago raid.
In 2011, the late Peorian Mark Clark was inducted into the local African American Hall of Fame. Last year, that honored position with the Hall found its way into the city’s all-new Riverfront Museum.
So now in 2013, more than four decades after Clark’s killing – he was gunned down along with fellow Illinois Black Panther Party colleague Fred Hampton, 21, by Chicago police authorities in a predawn house raid on December 4, 1969 – would be a good time for the Peoria Journal Star to finally revisit some grievous wrongs set to print at that time.
According to Kristan H. McKinsey, Director of Collections and Senior Curator at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the following description is currently included alongside a photograph within the digital confines in one historical kiosk display:
“Mark Clark was a Defense Captain of the Black Panther Party. He was born and raised in Peoria, and attended Manual High School. In 1969, Clark started the first free breakfast program in Peoria for children; a program which spread across the country. Chicago police killed Clark and fellow party member, Fred Hampton, in December of 1969. Their deaths are seen as a landmark event in the Civil Rights movement.”
At the web site for The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas (Lawrence Hill Books, 2009), a detailed account of the killings, lawyer-author Haas writes that he and his colleagues “ultimately exposed the conspiracy between FBI agents carrying out FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s secret and deadly Counterintelligence Program and the Chicago Police that led to Hampton’s assassination. Black Panther leader Mark Clark was also killed in the 1969 police raid on the Hampton house.”
“Nothing but a northern lynching,” one witness described the carnage after the shooting.
So how did the Journal Star react to the killings back in the day? In its December 10, 1969 issue, less than a week after Clark’s murder, the lead editorial claimed, “And it was finally put together under the Panther label by a coterie of articulate ex-convicts and jobless civil rights activists who duped a few young men who were not overly bright to sell their newspapers and play the cannon-fodder roles of tough-guy revolutionaries.”
With appalling gall, the editorial went on to posit that “Hate coupled with intimidation and demagoguery made the Panthers into a sort of black Ku Klux Klan. The white sheet was replaced with the black beret and jacket.”
Confidently asserting that “We doubt very much that anything resembling a murderous police conspiracy against the Panthers exists” the Journal Star also arrogantly maintained, “Just as intelligent whites refused to have anything to do with the Klan, intelligent blacks must refuse to tolerate or associate with the Panthers. The real sympathy that the Panthers need from black leaders of the day is the kind which attempts to protect these young men not from the police but from the idiotic Panther leadership which should not be allowed to continue to drive young men like Mark Clark to early graves.”
Indeed, the Journal Star was so secure in its, ahem, historical understanding and social sensitivities that it even titled this incredibly paternalistic editorial, “The Panthers Need Help.”
A week after its first Panther editorial, the Journal Star published a follow-up piece on December 17 entitled “Slowness in Washington” that decried the US Attorney General’s apparent foot dragging in ordering the FBI to investigate Clark and Hampton’s killings.
The reason for that delay? Again, incredibly, the Journal Star blamed the victim: “The slowness of Attorney General (John) Mitchell’s response and the complete silence from the White House in regard to the Chicago affair is a discouraging commentary on how far the extremist tactics of the Black Panthers and other violent groups have set back black people in their quest for justice.”
Peoria Journal Star: “We know justice will be done in Chicago”
That editorial confidently concluded, “We know justice will be done in Chicago . . . but it may be a little longer in the doing.”
In fact, no one was ever convicted in the deaths, and it took until 1983 that a $1.85M settlement was finally awarded to the raid survivors, families of Hampton and Clark, and their lawyers. A little longer, indeed.
So, after 43 years and counting, will a little editorial justice finally play in Peoria?
Back when it really mattered, the Journal Star not only didn’t do its homework, it indulged in grotesque and detestable characterizations on a par with anything the Deep South could ever conjure up regarding Mark Clark and the Black Panthers.
Those deplorable editorials still speak for themselves through a yet-to-be-cleaned decades old textual bullhorn of hate and racism with a mouthpiece resting squarely on the doorsteps at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL. This cranky old river city is the home of Richard Pryor, Betty Friedan, Joe Girardi, Philip Jose Farmer, Ray LaHood, Jim Thome, Bob Michel, Dan Fogelberg, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, and Caterpillar Inc. to name a few notables.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. My analysis, if not my exact choice of language, doesn’t appear to be so wildly off the mark if you take into account at least one scholarly review on the subject:
“The Peoria Journal Star offered a conservative perspective in its coverage of the raid and the murders of Clark and Hampton which did not look favorably upon its native son.”
Authors Dr. Judson L. Jeffries, Professor and Director, Department of African American and African Studies, Community Extension Center, The Ohio State University and Dr. Omari L. Dyson, Assistant Professor of Education at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, came to this assessment in “Nobody Knows My Name:The Marginalization of Mark Clark in America’s Collective Consciousness,” International Social Science Review (2010, Vol. 85, Nos. 3 & 4).
Authors Jeffries and Dyson based their claim upon reading “all news articles that pertained to the raid over a six-month period, from Dec. 4, 1969, to June 30, 1970.” This analysis included 43 articles in the Journal Star over that period, not to mention more than 545 other articles in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Daily Defender, Maywood (IL.) Herald [hometown of Fred Hampton], The New York Times, and Washington Post.
They conclude, in part, that, “In sum, the press’s treatment of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mark Clark as an afterthought has undoubtedly contributed to his marginalization in America’s collective consciousness – something that serious students of politics and history alike should find unsettling.”
Among the work’s annotations, they added, “Clark’s lack of national distinction should not detract from viewing him as an important figure in American history. He is important because he sacrificed his life so that others may live a better life. He is important just as hundreds of civil rights workers whose names were not household words were important, but whose work made a difference in people’s lives.
Clark was “right out front” in Peoria
“Likewise, Clark is important because of the work that he did. He opened up a Black Panther Party branch in a city where there was not a tremendous amount of radical activity, which means he could not hide from authorities. He was right out front and there were few other radical groups whose members experienced the repression levied by the police.”
Thirteen years ago, to its credit the Journal Star printed a feature article by me about Clark at the time of the 30th anniversary of the Chicago raid. However, it failed to include several lines of my original draft, which if I recall correctly, dealt with the editorials in question.
Years later, in 2007, the paper ran a piece by staffer Pam Adams, “Panther sensed his own death.” It was an anniversary remembrance printed in late November that included this statement near the beginning of the piece:
“There is the suspicion, never confirmed, never squashed, just hanging in the air like stale smoke, that he may have been involved in an unsolved, 38-year-old murder case. Police named him as a possible suspect in the slaying years after he was gone.”
Wow, talk about consistency. Some things apparently never change when it comes to Mark Clark, the cops, and the Peoria Journal Star.
More recently, three years ago on what would have been Clark’s 62nd birthday in the 40th anniversary year of the raid, the Journal Star shirked off the opportunity to print my submitted commentary on the 1969 editorials. In an email, Opinion Page Editor Mike Bailey blithely offered, “Due to budget cuts, we no longer have an op-ed page that can accommodate a piece of this length. I can flip it to the newsroom if you’d like to see if they have any interest.”
Talk about flipping your responsibility.
And this year, when I wrote Bailey again with an updated commentary on the editorials, which included the museum details, the opinion page editor didn’t even bother with a reply or an excuse, lame or otherwise.
Wanting to be thorough, I also contacted several writers at the paper just prior to the most recent December 4 raid anniversary, hoping to get at least something in the paper about Clark. One columnist, Phil Luciano, actually wrote back:
“I was considering it seriously, until I read this line: ‘Your paper especially has a lot to make up for in recognizing the good and significant work of Peorian Mark Clark.’
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. I don’t speak for my paper, just myself.
“However, I never will be bullied and/or shamed into considering a story. Please peddle this idea elsewhere.”
If Luciano wasn’t so busy being such an ethical paragon of journalistic integrity, or whatever he is, the Journal Star’s columnist might have found the time to do at least a little relevant reporting. Then, perhaps, he would have contacted US Congressman Bobby L. Rush of Chicago.
Among his many accomplishments, Congressman Rush might be best known these days as the only person to ever defeat Barack Hussein Obama in an electoral contest, back in 2000 when the then-Illinois state senator attempted to unseat Congressman Rush from his 1st Illinois district seat in a primary battle. The Illinois 1st District mostly covers the Windy City’s South Side. Rush has represented the district since 1993.
Long before he soundly trounced the Hawaiian-born community organizer 61 to 30 percent, Congressman Rush had been a community organizer of a slightly different type. Rush was a founding member of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and a co-leader back in 1969 of that revolutionary socialist black liberation and civil rights defense group along with Party Co-Chairman Fred Hampton.
To get an idea of the times, 1969 was an incredibly tense one in Chicago between the Panthers and police. A quick rundown of the incidents are cited in “Violence in the U.S. Volume 2, 1968-71,” published by Facts on File, Inc. (1974):
“5 Chicago policemen were wounded July 31 in a gun battle with Black Panther Party members at the party’s Illinois headquarters. Both sides accused the other of firing the initial shot.
“A Chicago policeman was wounded Oct. 4 in a gun battle on the roof of Black Panther Party headquarters. 7 party members were arrested and charged with attempted murder and resisting arrest.
“2 Chicago policemen were killed and 6 wounded Nov. 13 during a gun battle between the police and Black Panther members. A 19-year-old youth associated with the party was killed by the police after he allegedly shot a patrolman.”
And then the infamous December 4, 1969 raid when Chicago police under the direction of Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan killed Clark and shot Hampton point blank in the head on his mattress where he had been next to his nine months’ pregnant fiance Deborah Johnson (now Akua Njeri).
The policeman who shot Hampton is reported to have said, “Bobby Rush is next!”
Fortunately Rush, the Panthers’ Defense Minister, was not present that night at the raid house located at 2337 W. Monroe Street. Fortunate too that Rush was not at his home, also raided the same night by police.
“I remember Mark Clark as a quiet young man who was resolute in his compassion, in his social consciousness,” Congressman Rush, 66, said last week via email.
“And I remember him being someone that had a charisma that was an example of quiet determination. Mark wasn’t a man of many words, but he was a guy who led by example. So a lot of people loved Mark. A lot of the members from Peoria followed him. They were loyal to him.”
Congressman Rush did not know Clark for long, but the brief time they spent together was extraordinary.
“The only time that I actually was in his presence was when he came to Chicago right before his death, his murder. So my impressions of him were profound, but they were . . . they . . . they were short and sweet.
“Mark kinda stays with you. He had such impact, such charisma that I remember. And his spirit lingers. Even today. That was over 40 years ago.”
Asked if Clark, 22 at the time of his death, still had an importance for people locally and nationally, Congressman Rush remarked, “Oh absolutely!
“So we could all be in a better place.”“
He was among the leaders who gave their lives so that this nation would be a better nation. He sacrificed his life for his people. So Mark is in the Hall of Fame . . . in heaven. Even at a young age he paid the ultimate sacrifice for his people. How can we forget someone who supremely sacrificed so that we could all be in a better place?”
On January 17, 2009, the Meridian (MS) Star printed an editorial “We honor and we apologize” that stated, in part, “There was a time when this newspaper – and many others across the south — acted with gross neglect by largely ignoring the unfairness of segregated schools, buses, restaurants, washrooms, theaters and other public places. We did it through omission, by not recording for our readers many of the most important civil rights activities that happened in our midst, including protests and sit-ins. That was wrong. We should have loudly protested segregation and the efforts to block voter registration of black East Mississippians.”
According to the Associated Press, The Richmond Times-Dispatch stated in an editorial on July 16, 2009 that it played a central role in the “dreadful doctrine” of Massive Resistance — a systematic campaign by Virginia’s white political leaders to block school desegregation. The newspaper says that “the record fills us with regret.”
Perhaps now the Journal Star will also find the time, and finally recognize its institutional responsibility, to help set the record straight by specifically addressing its awful 1969 editorials as a whole new generation is beginning to know more about a true civil rights leader through the Hall of Fame and new city museum.
A public apology to Mark Clark, his comrades, and their remaining family members for the paper’s racist and paternalistic declarations published in the wake of Clark’s horrific demise would be a good place to start.