A Nation of Law?

“A Nation of Law?” (1990) is the twelfth episode of Eyes on the Prize. The episode covers the years 1968-71. As Mark Anthony Neal states, “There may be no period in twentieth-century America that witnessed more state-sanctioned repression against African Americans…” (55).

The Eyes on the Prize web site offers a useful summary of  the episode:

Black activism is increasingly met with a sometimes violent and unethical response from local and federal law enforcement agencies. In Chicago, two Black Panther Party leaders are killed in a pre-dawn raid by police acting on information supplied by an FBI informant. In the wake of President Nixon’s call to “law and order,” stepped-up arrests push the already poor conditions at New York’s Attica State Prison to the limit. A five-day inmate takeover calling the public’s attention to the conditions leaves 43 men dead: four killed by inmates, 39 by police.

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes direct reference to the Chicago police raid: “I was haunted by the shadow of my father’s generation, by Fred Hampton and Mark Clark” (39).


After completing this assignment, students should be able to

  • Identify Fred Hampton and discuss his importance within his community.
  • Identify the reasons that the FBI and Chicago police viewed the BPP as dangerous.
  • Discuss the means used to infiltrate and gather intelligence about the Chicago BPP.
  • Discuss the conflicting accounts of the police raid.
  • Identify the goals and outcomes of the prisoner takeover of Attica State Prison.
  • Discuss the conflicting accounts of the actions used to break the Attica takeover.


If the direct link to Films on Demand doesn’t work, follow Galileo > Browse by Type > Multimedia > Films on Demand. Once there, search for “A Nation of Law.”

(To log into Galileo from off campus, you’ll need this semester’s password, which I sent to your CSU email and which you can access directly through the library’s web site.


“From Protest to Climax…to Protest?”

Our assignments since the last discussion have focused on three main themes:

  • Black Pride (“Ain’t Gonna Shuffle”)
  • Repression of activists by governmental agencies (“A Nation of Law?”)
  • The responses of musicians and the industry to activism and to repression (“From Protest to Climax”)

Please use this discussion to connect one or more of these themes to the present day, as you see it. For example, do you see renewed pride in your neighborhood? Renewed activism? A renewed interest and willingness to speak out among popular artists?

Remember to speak your truth: link our class texts to your neighborhood, your family, people you know or have encountered, etc. This is always better than generalized references to “those people,” since this kind of talk often tips into stereotypes and is usually unhelpful.