BLACK PANTHER LEADER MARK CLARK
REMEMBERED AS QUIET LEADER ON ANNIVERSARY OF INFAMOUS
Activist Killed in Chicago Alongside Legendary Panther Fred
Hampton 30 Years Ago
-- The killing of well-known Black Panther leader Fred Hampton
by Chicago police 30 years ago on December 4, 1969 was one
of the critical turning points in the history of the urban
civil rights movement. Today, however, few people outside
a local cadre of civil rights veterans and fewer
still among the areas general population remember
that Peorian Mark Clark also lost his life in that polarizing
tragedy which had national repercussions.
then 22, was in Chicago to attend organizing and strategy
sessions of Black Panther leaders from throughout the state,
according to U.S. Congressman Bobby L. Rush (D-1st, IL), a
current 4-term representative whose district includes Chicagos
South Side. Rush, 53, was a founding member of the Illinois
Black Panthers who served as the groups Minister of
Defense in the late 1960s.
Clark was a quiet leader, Congressman Rush noted at
the site of the Hampton-Clark killings, 2337 W. Monroe St.
on Chicagos West Side, during a recent commemoration
of the event. He was one of those people whose strength
came from within.
death was anything but quiet. According to published newspaper
reports, 14 police officers assigned to the office of then
Cook County States Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan stormed
an apartment occupied by seven Black Panthers in a 4:40 a.m.
raid while most of those inside were sleeping. A federal grand
jury, in fact, determined that the police fired between 82
and 99 shots at the people in the flat. Only one shot was
proven to have come from a Panther gun. Hampton was killed
by two rifle shots to the head as he slept on a mattress,
noted the Chicago Sun-Times. Four other Panthers were
wounded along with two police officers.
notably, may have been the only member of the household who
was able to come to the aid of his comrades. Accounts in the
Journal Star at the time of the incident state that
an officer at the scene claimed Clark fired at him from
behind a second door. He said Clarks shotgun apparently
jammed as he was attempting to fire a second time. Clark was
hit twice, the fatal wound being in the heart. Other
conflicting reports at the time contend Clark fired no weapon
the truth, the ensuing controversy over who was to blame,
who should be punished, and who would ultimately pay led to
an enormous 12-year court battle. A partial roster of the
agencies involved is a testament to the incredible reach of
the proceedings: the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Attorney
General, the U.S. Court of Appeals and a special federal grand
jury, not to mention the City of Chicago and Cook County.
the end, the case reportedly became one of the longest and
costliest civil lawsuits in federal court history. A $1.85M
settlement in the early 1980s was split between the
raid survivors, families of Hampton and Clark, and their lawyers.
for the victims at the time contend the settlement (was)
a clear admission by federal, county and city authorities
that there was a conspiracy to murder Fred Hampton and Mark
Clark and destroy the Blank Panther Party, reported
the Chicago Tribune. Opposing opinions posit that government
lawyers agreed to the settlement to head off continued litigation
in an interminably long legal nightmare.
charges were filed, no police officers or other officials
were convicted in the Panther case. It is generally believed,
however, that Hanrahans political career was severely
damaged by the affair and its aftermath.
OF A MINISTER
Clark was one of 17 children of the
Rev. and Mrs. William Elder Clark. Rev. Clark was a well-known
Pentecostal minister who died several months prior to his
sons death. Mrs. Clark lived in Michigan for many years
after her son died. She reportedly later returned to the Peoria
area where she died three months ago. Several Clark children
still live in central Illinois while others reside out of
Mark Clark should be considered one the martyrs to the cause
of black dignity and human equality, the Rev. Blaine
Ramsey, pastor at Davis Memorial Chapel in LaGrange, IL. and
a one-time Peoria minister, declared in a recent phone interview.
He came to my church (in 1969) and asked me, Rev.
Ramsey, can we use Ward Chapel A.M.E. for our breakfast program?
And I consented to it no other church in Peoria would
open their doors for what I considered a worthwhile
endeavor. There were a number of little children who really
needed a good breakfast.
Ramsey, 75, recalled that the Peoria Black Panthers
breakfast program for children headed by Clark served approximately
30 students Monday through Friday for six months.
Clark was committed, very warm, very affable, and he had a
dedication to help his people, maintained Rev. Ramsey,
who served as head of Ward Chapel A.M.E. for three years (1966-1969)
prior to moving to Springfield to lead a special racial justice
task force of the Illinois Council of Churches. At the
same time, Mr. Clark was of the avant garde and these people
were not very well received. He preached a very radical black
self-help philosophy. And people were not really ready for
or not, many people in Peorias African-American community
were deeply affected by Clarks death. At the time,
I was really sad about it, Doris Lilly stated when reminded
of the anniversary this week. It was very wrong the
way the police handled the situation. Very unfair and racially
motivated. Very wrong.
accountant with the Peoria Urban League and a long-time member
of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, Lilly, 50, said she was a classmate of Clarks
during their junior high years at Roosevelt School. He
was a quiet person, recalled this veteran of area civil
rights marches in the 1950s and 60s.
of Clark evoke stronger passions for other fellow Peorians,
especially for one of his remaining family members. George
Clark, 58, still recoils at the thought of his brothers
death. Ive just kind of put it out of my mind.
Other people in my family like to remember, but I like to
forget. It just brings up bad memories for me, explained
this city street department inspector and former Army specialist
by phone this week.
brother did offer that some of his family planned to attend
30th anniversary ceremonies December 4 in Chicago. Scheduled
activities include a commemoration 6-10 p.m. at the National
Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement center at 5409 S.
Halsted and a candle light vigil from midnight to 2 a.m. at
the site of the original police raid. No local events are
asked about his brothers legacy, Clark made the point
that Im sure (Mark and his colleagues) should
be remembered. Hes one of the people that came out with
the breakfast program for children. There were many positive
things he tried to do here. I think that should be recognized
young Clarks final resting place is Springdale Cemetery,
the repository for many of the citys most acclaimed
personalities. Having worked alongside him, Rev. Ramsey also
served Clark one last time by presiding over his funeral.
Held at the no-longer-standing Freedom Hall at First and State
streets, the services were very solemn noted Rev.
to the funeral, Clarks body lay in state at the Tench
W. Parks Funeral Home (now Colonial Chapels) clad in trousers,
jacket and black beret worn by local Panthers, according
to newspaper reports.
much progress across the nation has occurred for blacks and
other minorities in the decades following those December 1969
killings, one need not search far for examples of the overt
underlying causes that spawned defense groups like the Black
Panthers and leaders like Mark Clark.
the summer, avowed racist Benjamin Smith, who lived for a
time in Morton and had ties to an East Peoria-based hate group,
went on a killing spree directed at minorities in Illinois
and Indiana. And just last week, the Klu Klux Klan was active
in an open recruitment of Pekin-area teen-agers.
little wonder that the ever-shrinking number of those who
do remember Mark Clark will never forget him and his work
cut short at an early age.
yeah. People still remember him, Clark replied when
asked if he still receives acknowledgments from other Peorians
concerning his late brother. Every once in a while people
will bring him up.
with Clark photo in the Journal Star (Peoria, IL),
December 12, 1999.
Grave marker photo by LJM.