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Rainbow Coalition (Fred Hampton)

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Rainbow Coalition
TypeCivil rights
HeadquartersChicago, Illinois
Fred Hampton
Key people
Fred Hampton
José Cha Cha Jiménez
William "Preacherman" Fesperman

The Rainbow Coalition was an anti-racist, working-class multicultural movement founded April 4, 1969, in Chicago, Illinois by Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, along with William "Preacherman" Fesperman of the Young Patriots Organization and José Cha Cha Jiménez, founder of the Young Lords. It was the first of several 20th-century black-led organizations to use the "rainbow coalition" concept.

Other prominent members of the Rainbow Coalition included Young Patriot members Jack "Junebug" Boykin, Bobby Joe Mcginnis, and Hy Thurman, as well as Field Marshall Bobby Lee of the Black Panthers.

The Rainbow Coalition's first alliance was between the Young Patriots and the Black Panthers by Bob Lee.[1] Hampton then incorporated the Young Lords. The Rainbow Coalition soon included various radical socialist community groups like the Lincoln Park Poor People's Coalition, and Rising Up Angry. The coalition was later joined nationwide by the Students for a Democratic Society ("SDS"), the Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement, and the Red Guard Party. In April 1969, Hampton called several press conferences to announce that this "Rainbow Coalition" had formed. The Rainbow Coalition engaged in joint action against poverty, corruption, racism, police brutality, and substandard housing. The participating groups supported each other at protests, strikes, and demonstrations where they had a common cause.

The coalition espoused an iteration of militancy that aimed to decrease urban unemployment, promote public education, and advance "class" solidarity. For instance, in a 1970 issue of The Patriot, the Young Patriots Organization called for nonviolent support of Bobby Seale (on trial), but also declared that "Guns in the Hands of the Police Represent Capitalism and Racism...Guns In the Hands of the People Represent Socialism and Solidarity."[2] Scholars distinguish this militancy from the direct action of "militant nonviolence" formulated by Martin Luther King, Jr., weeks before his assassination during the 1968 Poor People's Campaign, by Erik Erikson in Gandhi's Truth (1969), and by Coretta Scott King during the 1970 imprisonment of César Chávez. Elements of this alternate variant have, in turn, been found in doctrines of nonviolent extremism.[3][4][5]

The coalition eventually collapsed under duress from constant harassment by local and federal law enforcement, including the assassination of Hampton.[6]


Fred Hampton giving a speech at a rally in Grant Park, Chicago 1969

The 1960s was an era characterized by organization-driven social movements. Chicago was home to organizations like the Illinois Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, the Young Patriots, and later Rising Up Angry. These organizations all sought to address issues like discrimination in housing, health, and civil society at large. With the exception of RUA, these organizations all attempted to address these issues of class-based discrimination though it was explicitly through the lens of their organization's racial identification. The Rainbow Coalition was formed when Bob Lee, Field Marshall of the ILBPP, coincidentally spoke alongside the Young Patriots at a community event at the Church of Three Crosses in Chicago. At this event, Bob Lee witnessed arguments between upper-class and lower-class whites about police brutality and poverty. To Lee, this event presented a link between the struggle that poor whites and African Americans experienced. As a result, the Rainbow Coalition was formed to unite racial groups to fight against the underlying class-based systems they believed to be the cause of the discrimination they experienced. After this event, Fred Hampton grew the group to include the Young Lords, RUA, Chicagoan gangs, and other 'New Left' organizations in the Chicago area.[citation needed]

The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party was founded in 1968 by Fred Hampton and Bobby Rush, where Rush held the role of deputy minister of defense and Hampton served as deputy chairman.[7]

Following the conclusion of World War II, numerous Puerto Ricans relocated from the island to the U.S. mainland, notably to cities such as New York and Chicago, where they formed communities in areas like Lincoln Park and East Harlem. In these neighborhoods, Puerto Ricans encountered challenges including discrimination, police mistreatment, limited job and educational opportunities, and the effects of gentrification.[8] Inspired by the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Jose Jimenez established the Young Lords Organization in 1968. The Young Lords Organization was formed from a Puerto Rican Street Gang but evolved into a community-based organization that advocated for healthcare, education, housing, and employment for minorities.[8]

Amy Sonnie and James Tracy argue that membership in the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and then the Young Lords, declined after the formation of this particular Rainbow Coalition, stemming from internal debates in both organizations over an alliance with the Young Patriots Organization. Lee and Jiménez later recalled that "it was a necessary purging", especially after July 1969, when Hampton replaced "white man" with "capitalist" in the third point of the ILBPP Ten-Point Program.[9]

Formed in Chicago during the late 1960s, the Young Patriots emerged and was led by Appalachian migrants, predominantly from states like Kentucky and West Virginia. Their mission was to tackle the persistent issues of poverty, racism, and inequality plaguing impoverished white communities. Influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party, they advocated fervently for social justice, community empowerment, and solidarity across racial divides. Junebug Boykin, Bobby McGuiness, and Hy Thurman took notes from The Black Panther Party and The Young Lords Organization, entwining militant ideas and practices with community organizing and service programs.[10]

Emily Ann Wilson recently noted that, in the context of chattel slavery, the "Young Patriots acknowledged the role of the robber-baron-bourgeoisie in the enslavement of Black peoples and the theft of native land for capitalist expansion, and they also heavily emphasized their lack of control over their own destinies, but they failed to truly acknowledge the extent to which the white working class committed these crimes on the bourgeois’ behalf or even in an attempt to establish their own self-determination."[11] In her youth, YPO proponents informed historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz "that getting the poor white kids hooked up with Blacks and Puerto Ricans and Indians dissolved their racism."[12] In the YPO constellation of ideas, where class trumped race in all cases whatsoever, synchronicity and conceptual consistency had to be maintained between the late twentieth-century "struggle", the causes of the Civil War, "past white populist movements", and their modern display of the Confederate battle flag.[13]

Rising Up Angry was formed in 1969 as a monthly newspaper with hopes of becoming a political organization.[14] Rising Up Angry wanted to unite white working-class youth with Latinos and African Americans to create a coalition and fight injustice side by side.[citation needed]   

“The Rainbow Coalition was about uniting communities so we could make revolutionary change.”[citation needed]   


The phrase "rainbow coalition" was co-opted over the years by Reverend Jesse Jackson, who eventually appropriated the name in forming his own, more moderate coalition, Rainbow/PUSH. Some scholars, including Peniel Joseph, assert that the original rainbow coalition concept was a precursor for the multicultural coalition that politicians like Barack Obama and Harold Washington used in their election campaigns. As Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington directly referenced and invoked the Rainbow Coalition in his creation of the Rainbow Cabinet. The Rainbow Cabinet was tasked with addressing cross-racial class-based issues, much like the Rainbow Coalition Washington's tenure in office was specifically referenced by Barack Obama as a point of inspiration. Additionally, David Axelrod a political consultant for Harold Washington aided the Obama campaign with strategies from the Washington campaign.

Jeffrey Haas, a lawyer who represented the BPP after Hampton's assassination, praised some of Hampton's politics, stating that his work in unifying movements is something one can learn from. However, Haas was critical of the way Hampton ran the BPP hierarchical organization. Haas praised the horizontal structure of Black Lives Matter stating: "They may also have picked up on the vulnerability of a hierarchal movement where you have one leader, which makes the movement very vulnerable if that leader is imprisoned, killed, or otherwise compromised. I think the fact that Black Lives Matter says, 'We're leader-full, not leaderless,' perhaps makes them less vulnerable to this kind of government assault."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Arguello, Martha M. (November 19, 2019). "We Joined Others Who Were Poor: the Young Lords, the Black Freedom Struggle, and the "Original" Rainbow Coalition". Journal of African American Studies. 23 (4): 435–454. doi:10.1007/s12111-019-09453-7. ISSN 1559-1646.
  2. ^ "One of Our Main Purposes is to Unify our Brothers and Sisters in the North with our Brothers and Sisters in the South" (PDF). The Patriot. 1 (1): 9. March 21, 1970.
  3. ^ Ott, Daniel J. (January 1, 2018). "Nonviolence and the Nightmare: King and Black Self-Defense". American Journal of Theology & Philosophy. 39 (1): 64–73. doi:10.5406/amerjtheophil.39.1.0064.
  4. ^ Luther King, Jr., Martin (April 1968). "Showdown for Non-Violence". Look Magazine. 32 (8): 23–47.
  5. ^ Scott King, Coretta (1971). "Jailhouse Speech" (PDF). El Macriado. 4 (12): 10–12.
  6. ^ McPherson, Craig (September 23, 2019). "You Can't Kill Chairman Fred: Examining the Life and Legacy of a Revolutionary". Journal of African American Studies. 23 (4): 276–298. doi:10.1007/s12111-019-09436-8. ISSN 1559-1646.
  7. ^ "The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party · The Assassination of Fred Hampton · Digital Chicago". digitalchicagohistory.org. Retrieved April 26, 2024.
  8. ^ a b Arguello, Martha M. (November 19, 2019). "We Joined Others Who Were Poor: the Young Lords, the Black Freedom Struggle, and the "Original" Rainbow Coalition". Journal of African American Studies. 23 (4): 435–454. doi:10.1007/s12111-019-09453-7. ISSN 1559-1646.
  9. ^ Sonnie, Amy; Tracy, James (2011). Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times. Brooklyn, N.Y: Melville House. p. 80. ISBN 9781935554660.
  10. ^ "The Young Patriots Organization: Power to the People". Young Patriots Organization and the original Rainbow Coalition. December 4, 2019. Retrieved May 2, 2024.
  11. ^ Wilson, Emily Ann (2022). "Redneck Revolutionaries: The Young Patriots and the Rainbow Coalition". Vulcan Historical Review. 26 (6): 22–32.
  12. ^ Sonnie, Amy; Tracy, James (2011). Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times. Brooklyn, N.Y: Melville House. p. xv. ISBN 9781935554660.
  13. ^ "One of Our Main Purposes is to Unify our Brothers and Sisters in the North with our Brothers and Sisters in the South" (PDF). The Patriot. 1 (1): 9. March 21, 1970.
  14. ^ "RISING UP ANGRY". RISING UP ANGRY. October 14, 2019. Retrieved May 2, 2024.
  • Hy Thurman, Revolutionary Hillbilly, Notes From The Struggle On The Edge Of The Rainbow, Regent Press Publishing, 2021
  • Pierce, Paulette. 1988. “The Roots of the Rainbow Coalition.” The Black Scholar, vol. 19, no. 2, 1988, pp. 2–16
  • Santisteban, Ray, director. The First Rainbow Coalition, 27 January 2020
  • López, Antonio R. “‘We Know What the Pigs Don’t Like’: The Formation and Solidarity of the Original Rainbow Coalition.” Journal of African American Studies
  • Jackson, Jesse. “THE RAINBOW COALITION IS HERE TO STAY.” The Black Scholar, vol. 15, no. 5, 1984, pp. 72–74. JSTOR, JSTOR 41067107. Accessed 29 March 2023.

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