A family aquatic park might seem like an on odd way to honor a leader of the Black Panther Party who was killed in a controversial shooting 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 Blank Panthers. By the age of 21, he had already gained a reputation as a talented political organizer. But in December 1969, he was killed in his apartment after a police raid. It was described as a shootout by the police, 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 8-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 an prolonged investigation, and it continues to be a much-discussed case.
Though the city of Chicago has been hesitant to celebrate the life of Fred Hampton, his hometown of Maywood has done so 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 5 miles away, that allowed blacks 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.”