J. Edgar Hoover once called the Black Panthers the single greatest threat to American national security.
“Our counterintelligence program must prevent the rise of a Black messiah from among their midst,” he said in 1968.
Judas and the Black Messiah, the latest film from writer-director Shaka King, examines the role FBI informant William “Bill” O’Neal had on the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.
Hampton was the charismatic chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party and the deputy chairman of the National Party. The Black Panthers offered free breakfasts for school children and a free health clinic to the people of Chicago’s West Side.
O’Neal was 18 or 19 when he and some friends drove a stolen car across state lines and got into an accident. A few months later, he was telephoned by an FBI agent and asked to join the Black Panthers. He visited their office the next day and was appointed Security Captain.
O’Neal said in an interview in 1989, “I felt like I was working undercover for the FBI doing something good for the finest police organization in America. And so I was pretty proud.”
That may explain why he gave information to the FBI.
Hampton was only 21 when he was killed on Dec. 4, 1969 during an early morning police raid. Hampton was asleep in bed when the Chicago police blanketed his apartment with bullets.
O’Neal gave the FBI information on the location of weapons and the layout of the apartment.
The film, currently in theatres and streaming on HBO MAX, stars Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield as O’Neal. They starred in the 2017 horror Get Out.
King’s previous work includes Newlyweeds in 2013 and Mulignans in 2015.
King said during a virtual summit that he hopes Judas and the Black Messiah presents an opportunity for audiences to, “explore the U.S.’s past and present of crushing voices of dissent.”
The Black Panthers are one example of the efforts taken by the U.S. government and law enforcement to silence Black voices and contain Black resistance. These efforts were evident during slavery and the civil rights movement and continue today.
By killing Hampton, the FBI hoped to silence another voice.
SOURCES: CNN.COM, DIGITAL.WUSTL.EDU, NPR.ORG, THEATLANTIC.COM, THEUNDEFEATED.COM, VULTURE.COM