A family aquatic park might seem like an on odd way to honor a leader of the Black Panther Party who was shot and killed by Chicago police in 1969. But an unrestricted public pool for youth was part of Fred Hampton’s dream of improving the living conditions in his hometown of Maywood, Illinois.
The young revolutionary was chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. By the age of 21, he had already gained a reputation as a talented political organizer. But in December 1969, Chicago police raided his apartment, killing Hampton and Mark Clark, another Black Panther leader. Police described it as a shootout, but ballistic tests showed the CPD fired 99 shots into the apartment while only one shot exited.
Hampton was sleeping next to his fiancé, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time. Other Black Panthers present reported that Hampton was wounded in the shoulder before police officers shot him point blank in the head. The results of an independent autopsy backed up those reports. The controversy surrounding Hampton’s death led to a prolonged investigation, and it continues to be a much-discussed case.
Though the city of Chicago has been reluctant to celebrate the life of Fred Hampton, his hometown of Maywood has honored the activist by naming a street and pool after him. The pool in particular was important to Hampton’s legacy. Just after graduating from Proviso East High School with honors, Hampton was still working with the NAACP. He organized youth trips to a pool in Brookfield, Illinois, about five miles away, that allowed Black people to swim. The closest public pool in Melrose Park was whites only.
This motivated Hampton to campaign for a pool that was unrestricted for the youth of Maywood. He organized rallies and had confrontations with the authorities. (Some scholars think these interactions influenced him to take a more revolutionary path and later join the Black Panther Party.) He eventually secured the funds from local businesses to have the pool built. The pool was not intended to be named after him but when he was assassinated prior to the pool’s completion the village board approved naming it in his honor.
A bust of Fred Hampton by sculptor Preston Jackson was dedicated in 2006. The statue sits near the pathway that leads to the pool. It’s inscribed with this quote from the young civil rights fighter: “If I leave, I’ll be back. And when I do come back, I’ll be back to stay and join the revolution.”
Know Before You Go
The aquatic center is a public pool. The hours vary with the seasons and the pool is closed when the weather is bad. The statue is out in front close to the sidewalk and is available to visit year round. The pool is one block away from the Maywood Metro stop.