On This Safari, the Exotic Lure Is the American Black Panther
Aging Fugitive Draws Visitors to Africa; Two Views: 'Criminal' or
APRIL 13, 2010
By ALEX P. KELLOGG
IMBASENI, TanzaniaVisitors come to this part of the world to watch
wild animals roam the Serengeti, or glimpse the peaks of Kilimanjaro.
Others come to visit another rarity: the American Black Panther.
For nearly four decades, Imbaseni has been home to two former
American revolutionaries: Felix Lindsey O'Neal Jr., better known as
Pete O'Neal, 69 years old, and his wife, Charlotte, 59. Mr. O'Neal is
a fugitive from justice, having fled the U.S. in 1970 after a felony
gun conviction. The couple are among the few surviving leaders of a
radical movement that marked a tumultuous period in American history.
In 1968, Mr. O'Neal founded the Kansas City chapter of the Black
Panther Party, remembered for its provocative black power message,
its violent clashes with the police and its distinct uniformsblack
leather jackets, sunglasses and berets.
While Mrs. O'Neal, a recognized artist, visits the U.S. periodically,
and their two grown, Tanzanian-born children now live in America, Mr.
O'Neal has never returned. A warrant for his arrest from December
1970 remains outstanding. A request to renew his U.S. passport
several years ago was denied.
So people come to him. At their lush green 4.5-acre commune here, a
45-minute drive from the tourist hub of Arusha, the O'Neals host a
steady stream of visitorsstudents, volunteers, admirers and the
occasional celebrityseeking to understand the peculiar history of
radical black activism before it fades from memory. For the O'Neals,
every visit is an opportunity to try to repair the controversial
legacy of the Black Panthers.
"It's remote enough in history that many learn the whole story
there," says A.T. Miller, a University of Michigan faculty member who
takes students on visits to the O'Neals.
Last year, more than 10 groups visited, mostly from U.S.
universities. In the past, the pair has also hosted troubled teens
from Kansas City, some of whom grew up not far from Mr. O'Neal's old
hangouts. Sean Penn and Jude Law have dropped by as well.
Before he visited the O'Neals, Joshua Jenkins, a 22-year-old senior
at the University of North Carolina, knew little about the Black
Panthers, except that they "were the ones with the guns." But after
spending several weeks with the couple, he felt he was listening to
history firsthand. "Their story is so unique that I kind of had to
tell everybody about it," he said. "They're like very cool grandparents."
Mr. O'Neal's tranquil exile doesn't sit well with everyone.
"People who are making a pilgrimage to visit a fugitive Panther in
Africa are on a dangerous path," says David Horowitz, a conservative
commentator who was once active with the Black Panther Party.
Visitors should know that the party ran drugs and even killed people
in the name of revolution, he said. Instead, they are being
"indoctrinated" into Mr. O'Neal's version of what happened.
Mr. Horowitz thinks Mr. O'Neal should go home and face justice. "If
he were honest, he would say he is a criminal," he says.
Mr. O'Neal says he doesn't consider himself a fugitive but rather to
be in "political exile." He insists he isn't guilty of the 1970
conviction for transporting a shotgun across state lines between the
two Kansas Cities.
He says the charges were "trumped up" to curtail his activism. Once
hopeful that multiple appeals would vindicate him, he's now resigned
to the fact that he'll likely never return to the U.S.
At times, Mr. O'Neal's visitors can be critical. "They are
supportersnot of my politics or my political inclinationsbut of the
work that we're doing," says Mr. O'Neal. Last month, the O'Neals
hosted roughly 15 study-abroad students and a pair of Baptists from
Mr. O'Neal's hometown, Kansas City, Mo.
While the Black Panthers are notorious for their militant black
nationalist views and armed protests, the organization also promoted
social projects, such as free breakfasts for children and free health clinics.
The O'Neals say they have tried to realize that vision in Imbaseni.
Their sprawling compound, called the United African Alliance
Community Center, includes boarding houses, classrooms, a computer
lab and a basketball court. They support a staff of about 15
volunteers. About 250 people, mostly young adults, will be tutored
there this year in the arts and computers.
Early on, the pair raised pigs and farmed land, earning money by
selling barbecue sauce and sausages locally. After soliciting
donations from supporters, they helped build the village's only
elementary school in the early 1990s, which they say about 1,000
children attend every year. Later, they spearheaded the building of
the village's only well.
"This is our socialist model in miniature," says Mr. O'Neal, who has
twisted his afro of the 1960s into dreadlocks.
Mr. O'Neal admits to a checkered past: high-school dropout, Navy
reject, petty thief and drug abuser. Reading "The Autobiography of
Malcolm X" turned him on to black nationalism, and he signed on with
the fast-growing Black Panther Party in 1968. His Kansas City chapter
operated as a small militia, patrolling streets and challenging the police.
In a black-and-white portrait at his home, Mr. O'Neal brandishes a
shotgun, in a trademark Panther pose, but incendiary rhetoric was his
weapon of choice. He declared on national TV that he would "shoot his
way into the House of Representatives" and "take the head" of an
The Kansas City chapter wasn't considered as dangerous as some of its
counterparts. "O'Neal kept a lid on any violence," Clarence Kelley,
the late Kansas City police chief who became director of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation in the 1970s, told the Kansas City Star in
1987. "They made an awful lot of noise. But I don't recall anything
In Oakland, Los Angeles and other cities, however, Panthers were
engaging in deadly shootouts with police or rival groups.
After Mr. O'Neal's conviction on the gun charge, he was let out on
bail while he appealed his four-year prison sentence. He and his
wife, a young Panthers member who was just out of high school, fled
the country, first to Sweden, then Algeria, Mr. O'Neal said, joining
other fugitive Panthers such as the late Eldridge Cleaver. The
O'Neals ultimately settled in Tanzania in 1972.
Although it's 40 years since his conviction, the U.S. hasn't
necessarily given up on capturing Mr. O'Neal. Jeff Carter, a
spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, wouldn't comment directly on
the status of Mr. O'Neal's case. However, "when the opportunity
presents itself to capture a fugitive, we will capture him," Mr.
Carter said. "Look how long it took to get Roman Polanski."
Exiled Black Panthers Living Out The Legacy
April 13, 2010
By Eryn-Ashlei Bailey
The Black Panther legacy lives on Imbaseni, Tanzania. An article
today in the Wall Street Journal, discusses the work of two proud
Panthers, Pete O'Neal and his wife Charlotte. The couple hosts
students and volunteers at their home in Tanzania. People who visit
the couple are those who are "seeking to understand the peculiar
history of radical black activism before it fades from memory. For
the O'Neal's, every visit is an opportunity to try to repair the
controversial legacy of the Black Panthers." On O'Neal's compound,
called the United African Alliance Community Center, the socialist
model remains intact. The O'Neal's founded the villages' only
elementary school in the 1990's and the building of the first well in
Imbaseni. The school is complete with classrooms, rooming quarters,
computers, and a basketball court. One can argue that students at the
O'Neal compound receive better education than some students in the
States. Efforts like the Emmet Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act
of 2007 aim to bring justice to families and injustices during the
Civil Rights Era of the 1960's. How can similar efforts like the
O'Neal's and the Emmet Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007
work together to preserve and protect black culture in the United States?
Yesterday, I wrote about how Gov. Bob McGonnell tried to omit slavery
from his Confederate History Month proclamation. Aside from being
belligerently inconsiderate, McGonnell's actions are the exact reason
why the work of Pete and Charlotte O'Neal is of the utmost
importance. Without their first hand testimonies, the times and
trials of the Black Panther Party will be lost. With systematized
efforts to eradicate black history from the national consciousness,
the O'Neal's work is crucial.
The Black Panther Party is unfortunately remembered as a violent
group of militant blacks that ran drugs, perpetuated violence, and
created political unrest in the country. Little to nothing is known
and about their successful work in instituting medical centers and
free breakfast programs for children across the country. The Black
Panthers were indeed grassroots to the core. The article in the Wall
Street Journal clarifies that Pete O'Neal, as head of the Kansas
City, MO group of the Black Panther Party, was not violent. For Pete
O'Neal "incendiary rhetoric was his weapon of choice". Prominent in
O'Neal's story is Clarence Kelly. Kelly was once the chief of police
in Kansas City when O'Neal was a Panther. Kelly then became the
director of the FBI in the 1970's. Kelly said that: "They (the Kansas
City Panthers) made an awful lot of noise. But I don't recall
anything too forceful." However, the interference of the FBI and the
Black Panther Party led to the Panther's bifurcation in 1972. The
split left members of the party following Eldridge Cleaver who was
then a political exile in Algeria or Huey P. Newton in the United
States. After the split of the Black Panther Party, members who
affiliated themselves with Cleaver became known as the Black
Liberation Army. Remaining Panthers include Assata Shakur who is
still in political exile in Cuba.
The Black Panthers were literally black listed by FBI Director J.
Edgar Hoover as a "Black Nationalist Hate Group". Sentiments towards
the Black Panthers remain foul although accounts of their work is
very understudied. In fact, the warrant for Pete O'Neal's arrest in
Kansas City, MO still stands. He claims that the charges of
transporting a gun across state lines is false. The U.S. Marshals
Services are still looking to capture O'Neal should he return to the U.S.
The Emmet Till Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 aims to review,
investigate, and asses for prosecution cases of homicide against
African-American from 1964-1969. I'm curious if investigators of this
initiative will prosecute F.B.I. agents who launched chemical
warfare, covert operatives, and assassinations against key Black
Panther Party Members including Fred Hampton. The Act is limited as
it only investigates crimes that resulted in murder and that are
unsealed by the F.B.I. The civil liberties of Black Panthers such as
Assata Shakur, Pete O'Neal and Charlotte O'Neal were clearly
obstructed. What methods or systems are being implemented to rectify
the defamation and destruction of their lives?
If you would like to see a documentary about Pete O'Neil's school in
Tanzania click this link: