John Keehan had a lot of identities and interests as a young man. As I prepare this film, I find I have delved deep into my own changes through his story. I am amazed at how quickly my own ideals and focus changed in a short timespan during this volatile historic period from 1960-1975. The year 1968 is when it all seems to happen. This memory may seem far out of place for an already fantastic story. But it comes back full circle.
Dec 4, 1969...Fred Hampton, a 1966 graduate of my high school, was murdered in his bed by the Chicago Police under the direction of the FBI. Why do I say murdered? He was asleep in his bed. 89 shots were fired by police and most likely ONE shot was fired by the occupants of the apartment Fred Hampton was in. Mark Clark died that morning also, he may have fired that one shot in response to this early morning attack.
I mention this now because there is a controversy boiling in over a street being named for Fred Hampton.
The summer of his graduation he was president of the NAACP Youth council. He lead a demonstration for a swimming pool in Maywood in 1967, I think. Black youth were forbidden and discouraged from going to the pools in surrounding suburbs. We got the pool in Maywood. It was named after Fred Hampton in 1970.
Fred had one conviction and he served his time. He was accused and convicted of stealing ice cream off an ice cream truck and distributing it to the neighborhood children. It happened on the block he had grown up on. It was not Fred as far as I know.
Fred never shot anyone and was never accused of violence. Did the Black Panther Party advocate violence? If self-defense is considered violence, yes. Did they advocate the killing of policemen? If the policeman was an individual who had no regards for the law, justice, and the rights of an American citizen and unlawfully attacked them, it seems that those citizens, being armed, would expect to defend themselves against such violence in the name of self defense.
The original name of the party was the "Black Panther Party for Self-Defense."
In November, 1969 there was a shoot out between the police and several Panthers. A Policeman was killed. The police claimed they were ambushed. The Police wanted revenge. The word on the street was the Police "vamped" on the Panthers not expecting them to defend themselves. These were violent times. I was not there, I do not know what happened. I had spent enough times on my knees with my hands up to know the hazards of being a young black man in America in the 1960s. Did I take it personal, yep!
What do I remember about Fred Hampton besides his being an alum of my high school and Black Panther. He was a brilliant young man. He was a union member, UAW I think at International Harvester. Maywood was a working class neighborhood. I remember the first Black Panther office opened in Maywood the summer of 1968, then moved to the West Side. Fred left his lower middle working class neighboorhood to go to engage the "lumpen proletariat" on Chicago's West Side. Many of us never felt good about that move. I was engaged that summer of 1968, a lot happened, Grant Park happened, Vietnam was a major issue. I saw Bucky Fuller speak at Circle campus I think talking about whole systems, maybe it was downstate. It was a year of movement for me. How did so much happen so fast. I was new to Maywood, my father in the war we were protesting.
Fred built the party's reputation in the community by establishing free medical clinics, legal aid and free breakfast for children programs. This is what most of us who want the street named for Fred remember. I can hear the right wing replies to that statement now...."Just like Hamas.."
The street will be named for Fred. No big deal. People are just making it a big deal. Save the comments on this, I am just venting. I will not be engaging dialogue on this one.
Eugene Cernan was a 1952 graduate of Proviso East also, remember him? He walked on the moon. I am just talking alums...reconciling memory. No controversy there right?
The first full fledged African-American astronaut, Robert Lawrence Jrwent to my elementary school in Chinatown, Haines. This is probably why I was in the Science Club, Robert was my role model. Malcolm, Martin and Robert Lawrence, all killed.
Robert was killed in "the line of Duty" in the crash of an F-104 fighter during a training exercise on December 8, 1967. I was still a bit perturbed from his death when Fred got killed. It was enough to turn a brother to irrational conspiracy theories. Chronic Paronia...but hey they all died within several years of one another...but what do I know??? Just that these brilliant, daring courageous men who shattered every stereotypical idea of who we were as African Americans prevelent in apartheid America, within and without the system were dead. All mysterious , unresolved and conflicted circumstances?????? Damn. Including Robert Lawrence, the Astronaut??? I am lucky I did not want to retreat to a bunker somewhere looking back at this.
I did not remember the Science Club. I do remember writing for Gideon's Babble, our underground school paper. I remember working and writing for, distributing the People's Voice, a Revolutionary Union(RU) Paper. I did this at factories before I went to school at Proviso. RU is now the Revolutionary Communist Party, still led by "Chairman Bob" Avakian. Bob was my neighbor in Maywood for awhile. The Maywood House is in his book, "From Ike to Mao."
I was not a member, in case you or the NSA/FBI/CIA are wondering. No new confessions to make 36 years later. Fellow traveller???? Who cares? My intelllectual relationship to Bob was similar to my relationship with most preachers I knew. I looked at him out of my left eye seeking clarity. I like Bob though, he is a funny guy and absolutely dedicated to his world view wheather I agree with all he says or not. Bob likes to party get drunk and talk shit like a lot of people I know. We were not best friends, just passing acquaintances. The RCP comes across like a far left Amway to me these days. Network marketing commmunist revolution, it had to happen. (Opps one more group of folks to get mad at me...will I ever learn???) At least I know Bob has a sense of humour, his acolytes seem not to. They might surprise me. In a democracy Bob deserves to be heard also. So there. I made up and pissed off some more conservatives and fence sitting liberals.
I am a bit pissed off as you can probably tell. This all seems far afield of The Search for Count Dante. But Dante has been accused of teaching self-defense to the SDS and various sundry demonstrators during the 1968 Grant Park Summer of Love Demonstrations according to an email sent to the website of the rock singer Count Dante by the notorius Ashida Kim. He was also said to have taught the Blackstone Rangers street gang. The man seems to have been everywhere.
Mike Schremp found a 1963 picture of John Keehan sitting next to John Cheetam. a future Black Panther leader, at a Toronto Karate Tournament(Looks like Doug Dwyer standing behind Cheetham. A true urban myth.
Well that is enough of that. I have vented, and fit Count Dante into the matrix while I was at it. How about that?
I am simply seeking the truth about this man's life. Oddly, the journey is beginning to give me some truths about my own life.