by Lawrence J. Maushard
In 2011, the late Peorian Mark Clark was inducted into the local African American Hall of Fame. Last year, that honored position with the Hall found its way into the city's all-new Riverfront Museum.
So now in 2013, more than four decades after Clark's killing – he was gunned down along with fellow Illinois Black Panther Party colleague Fred Hampton, 21, by Chicago police authorities in a predawn house raid on December 4, 1969 – would be a good time for the Peoria Journal Star to finally revisit some grievous wrongs set to print at that time.
According to Kristan H. McKinsey, Director of Collections and Senior Curator at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the following description is currently included alongside a photograph within the digital confines in one historical kiosk display:
"Mark Clark was a Defense Captain of the Black Panther Party. He was born and raised in Peoria, and attended Manual High School. In 1969, Clark started the first free breakfast program in Peoria for children; a program which spread across the country. Chicago police killed Clark and fellow party member, Fred Hampton, in December of 1969. Their deaths are seen as a landmark event in the Civil Rights movement."
At the web site for The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas (Lawrence Hill Books, 2009), a detailed account of the killings, lawyer-author Haas writes that he and his colleagues “ultimately exposed the conspiracy between FBI agents carrying out FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s secret and deadly Counterintelligence Program and the Chicago Police that led to Hampton’s assassination. Black Panther leader Mark Clark was also killed in the 1969 police raid on the Hampton house.”
So how did the Journal Star react to the killings back in the day? In its December 10, 1969 issue, less than a week after Clark's murder, the lead editorial claimed, “And it was finally put together under the Panther label by a coterie of articulate ex-convicts and jobless civil rights activists who duped a few young men who were not overly bright to sell their newspapers and play the cannon-fodder roles of tough-guy revolutionaries.”
With appalling gall, the editorial went on to posit that “Hate coupled with intimidation and demagoguery made the Panthers into a sort of black Ku Klux Klan. The white sheet was replaced with the black beret and jacket.”
Confidently asserting that “We doubt very much that anything resembling a murderous police conspiracy against the Panthers exists” the Journal Star also arrogantly maintained, “Just as intelligent whites refused to have anything to do with the Klan, intelligent blacks must refuse to tolerate or associate with the Panthers. The real sympathy that the Panthers need from black leaders of the day is the kind which attempts to protect these young men not from the police but from the idiotic Panther leadership which should not be allowed to continue to drive young men like Mark Clark to early graves.”
Indeed, the Journal Star was so secure in its, ahem, historical understanding and social sensitivities that it even titled this incredibly paternalistic editorial, “The Panthers Need Help.”
The reason for that delay? Again, incredibly, the Journal Star blamed the victim: “The slowness of Attorney General (John) Mitchell's response and the complete silence from the White House in regard to the Chicago affair is a discouraging commentary on how far the extremist tactics of the Black Panthers and other violent groups have set back black people in their quest for justice.”
That editorial confidently concluded, “We know justice will be done in Chicago . . . but it may be a little longer in the doing.”
In fact, no one was ever convicted in the deaths, and it took until 1983 that a $1.85M settlement was finally awarded to the raid survivors, families of Hampton and Clark, and their lawyers. A little longer, indeed.
So, after 43 years and counting, will a little editorial justice finally play in Peoria?
Back when it really mattered, the Journal Star not only didn't do its homework, it indulged in grotesque and detestable characterizations on a par with anything the Deep South could ever conjure up regarding Mark Clark and the Black Panthers.
Those deplorable editorials still speak for themselves through a yet-to-be-cleaned decades old textual bullhorn of hate and racism with a mouthpiece resting squarely on the doorsteps at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL. This cranky old river city is the home of Richard Pryor, Betty Friedan, Joe Girardi, Philip Jose Farmer, Ray LaHood, Jim Thome, Bob Michel, Dan Fogelberg, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, and Caterpillar Inc. to name a few notables.
But hey, don't take my word for it. My analysis, if not my exact choice of language, doesn't appear to be so wildly off the mark if you take into account at least one scholarly review on the subject:
“The Peoria Journal Star offered a conservative perspective in its coverage of the raid and the murders of Clark and Hampton which did not look favorably upon its native son.”
Authors Dr. Judson L. Jeffries, Professor and Director, Department of African American and African Studies, Community Extension Center, The Ohio State University and Dr. Omari L. Dyson, Assistant Professor of Education at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, came to this assessment in “Nobody Knows My Name:The Marginalization of Mark Clark in America's Collective Consciousness,” International Social Science Review (2010, Vol. 85, Nos. 3 & 4).
They conclude, in part, that, “In sum, the press's treatment of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mark Clark as an afterthought has undoubtedly contributed to his marginalization in America's collective consciousness – something that serious students of politics and history alike should find unsettling.”
Among the work's annotations, they added, “Clark's lack of national distinction should not detract from viewing him as an important figure in American history. He is important because he sacrificed his life so that others may live a better life. He is important just as hundreds of civil rights workers whose names were not household words were important, but whose work made a difference in people's lives.
More PJStar Mark Clark conundrum here...
More PJStar Mark Clark conundrum here...