Dorian Lynskey in The Guardian:
One day last December, Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets attended a gathering in Chicago to commemorate local Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, who was shot dead by the police 40 years earlier. There were about 30 people, including the widows of Hampton and fellow Panther Eldridge Cleaver, and former members of radical groups such as Weatherman. “We laughed and drank wine and talked about what we all had been through,” Hassan says. “I'm glad I made it. It was good to see a lot of those people still living, you know?”
They were survivors of a turbulent period. In 1968, just two years after Oakland residents Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panthers, FBI director J Edgar Hoover called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and set about spending millions of dollars to infiltrate, sabotage and divide it. By the mid 70s, it was in terminal decline, and Hampton was far from the only fatality.
The Panthers' legacy has been fiercely debated ever since. Some people claim the leadership, especially Newton, were their own worst enemies: paranoid hotheads prone to violence and cronyism. Others regard them as heroes who gave young African-Americans power and pride in the face of endemic racism, only to be brought down by Hoover's machinations.