This is the second in a series of articles featuring Thomas Wenglinski and his new album, Adjustments Made, focusing on one of the tunes in particular, A Rainbow for Fred.
(Full disclosure: I’m the Mom of this talented and passionate young musician, who is in grad school on a fellowship at the University of Miami, studying studio jazz writing. More at the end of the article.)
In Memory of Fred Hampton
“The song A Rainbow for Fred was inspired by the 50th anniversary of Fred Hampton’s assassination by the FBI,” says Thomas Wenglinski of a lilting and yet pensive instrumental on his new album, Adjustments Made. The song lingers with you long after the last note fades, much like the legacy of the activist, who was killed in 1969.
“He was shot in his sleep by police who were doing a raid of his apartment,” says Wenglinski. “He was a young organizer in the Black Panthers and was only 21 when he died. But he left a very profound legacy: he started the Rainbow Coalition, and a lot of political historians argue that it was the beginnings of this coalition that eventually enabled someone like Barack Obama to ascend to the presidency. So it was a profoundly influential movement in politics and in culture.”
An Assassination and a Cover-up
Fred Hampton’s death was orchestrated by the FBI and Chicago Police, and was, predictably, covered up. A recent article in Forbes called Hampton’s murder “the first truly high-profile case of police brutality in American history,” not because it was actually the first, but because citizen filmmakers were able to catch evidence on film and bring it to light. While the FBI had deemed Hampton a “radical threat,” he actually promoted social change through community organizing and non-violent activism. In 1982, a civil rights lawsuit was settled, with the City of Chicago, Cook County and US government making a $1.85 million settlement on 9 plaintiffs, and now Hampton’s death is widely referred to as an assassination.
Half a century later, this all caught Wenglinski’s attention. Passionate about social justice, Wenglinski was moved to write the tune on December 4th, 2019, the 50th anniversary of Hampton’s murder. “I was thinking about it so much that day, that his legacy was that strong even though he was shot in his sleep when he was only 21 years old. Some of the time, I write something and attribute it to a certain inspiration after the fact, but that was one instance where it was very clearly in my mind as I was writing.”
At 22, Wenglinski is only a little older than Hampton had been when he died. As a young white man from the South, I wondered how he first learned about Fred Hampton, because it certainly isn’t taught in Texas schools. “Just from researching online and reading about the civil rights movement of the 60s and the Black Panthers. I was also reading about different scholars such as Noam Chomsky, and what they all had to say about his organizing efforts.”
He goes on: “He truly led a very multicultural coalition, hence the name Rainbow. Just reading the cold hard facts about his death made it immediately stink to high heaven that he was killed at such a young age in an act of hostile political violence. So I just felt very intrigued about the fact that despite everyone’s best efforts to shut him up, apparently something about his idea worked, because here we are still talking about him.”
We talked about how it’s hard to believe that 50 years later, we still don’t have social justice and face many of the same issues, brought to light by the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath. “At the time of writing, I had no idea that things would blow up in such a visceral way as they have the past couple of months, which only brings more relevance to the legacy of Fred Hampton,” said Wenglinski.
Silent No More
I told him that I felt proud last December when he told me about the song and its inspiration, but a little ashamed that I didn’t know who Fred Hampton was before he wrote the tune.
“I don’t think it’s worthy of shame – I would argue most well-educated people don’t know about him, not through any fault of their own. Obviously there was a very intentional effort to see to it that that was the case, by way of their assassination.”
He’s right. Fred Hampton’s assassination was an effort to silence a voice advocating for freedom and justice for everyone. We reflected together that silence is one of reasons we’re still where we are. Too many people have been silenced, and too many people have remained silent. Silence has allowed many people, people like me, to blithely and ignorantly think things were better than they are. But they’re not.
And now, no one is being silent, and that’s an uncomfortable and fabulous step toward what Fred Hampton was trying to achieve. “I hope we’re able to see the actual benefits of this (current activism and awareness) without too much more human loss,” said Wenglinski.
Achieving social justice without ANY more human loss… that would be a real rainbow for Fred.
Perhaps this tune is an anthem for social justice.
That’s all for this second installation of the series. The next article will focus on the recording process.
The genesis of the article can be found in this post from earlier this month.
Adjustments Made Can Be Yours Right Now!
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