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    1. #1
      Im The Truth's Avatar
      Im The Truth is offline Organizer

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      A Panther in Africa: Pete & Charlotte O'neal

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      A Panther in Africa
      By Philip Ngunjiri

      Three decades ago he was a streetwise urban revolutionary. In the late 1960s, Pete O'Neal was a high-profile political and civil rights activist, the founder of Kansas City's chapter of the Black Panther Party.

      "In my efforts to fight against the state-sponsored apartheid that existed at the time, I had leveled criminal charges against powerful officials in that city and as a result was targeted by the establishment," says O'Neal. As a result, he and his family left the US in a self-imposed exile, moving first to Algeria, then to Tanzania, where he has lived ever since.

      "When I reflect back on my life and the person I was before coming to Africa, it's almost as if I'm trying to recall a vague acquaintance," says the now gray-haired and opulently robed O'Neal, "someone who I barely knew a very long time ago."

      That younger African American man was captured in press photographs flashing a shotgun, an earring dangling from his ear and a black beret tilted at an angle atop his head. One of the most dynamic younger leaders of the party begun in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, O'Neal was charged with transporting a shotgun from Kansas City, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri — across the state line that divides the two cities. If he had gone to prison, O'Neal says, he would have faced politically motivated assassination. So he fled, 19-year-old wife Charlotte in tow, "seeking a safe haven" in Africa.

      The two made their way to Algeria, via Sweden, with fake passports, in 1970. They worked for two years with the international Black Panther Party there, which had been founded by Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. In 1972, they moved to Tanzania, building a homestead on the slopes of Mount Meru, in Isambeni, a rural village in the heart of the Wameru tribe's homeland. What both thought would be a temporary safe haven has turned into a lifelong and ongoing instruction in the real meaning of "quality of life." Since his arrival in Tanzania over 30 years ago, O'Neal rarely leaves his adapted village, which lies some 20 kilometers south of Arusha.

      "We found the safety we sought," O'Neal says, "and, unexpectedly we found a profound enlightenment that impacted deeply on our lives and our work."

      The young couple began living a lifestyle profoundly different from the one they had left. "We found rural family structures that by artificial Western standards, possess almost nothing," says O'Neal, "and yet they have family units that allow each member a true sense of responsibility and importance."

      The African mode of life — the way an African child could be trusted to watch over a family's cattle, its entire wealth — impressed and moved them. As Pete recalls: "A child, yet an important and essential spoke in the familial wheel. Every member of the family, from the youngest to the oldest, has a role to play, and from birth to death are embraced and supported by their kin."

      This kind of unconditional family unity, he adds is almost non-existent in many Western communities, and perhaps a reason for their social breakdowns: "I believe that unified families are building blocks for strong communities, and viable communities are essential for the development of nations!"

      The O'Neals wanted to give back to the community that had given them so much — they had chosen Tanzania for its progressive policies, its history as a haven for African American activists and revolutionaries of every breed (from Malcolm X to Che Guevara), as well as for its well-respected president, Julius Nyerere — and they have.

      O'Neal founded the United African American Community Center (UAACC), a non-profit community organization, for the purpose of providing programs and projects — including computer classes, English instruction, and arts and crafts — for the enrichment of local people, both urban and rural, and also to promote closer cultural ties to communities in America, with an emphasis on the African American community. The UAACC motto is "Sharing Knowledge through Community Development" and they clearly take this motto very seriously, offering teaching roles to Tanzanians, foreign residents and visitors from all walks of life.

      Although O'Neal arrived in Tanzania a political exile, he now says he realizes his political views were still unformed. It was while living in Tanzania that he explored his beliefs. "I was of course, opposed to racial discrimination and oppression," he says. "I did not have well defined ideas about socialism, but was more clear about being opposed to unbridled capitalism running amok."

      His new neighbors responded to his Black Panther affiliation in various ways. Most thoughtful people, particularly people of color, were sympathetic to the party's philosophies, even if some did not agree totally with its methods. They had, O'Neal says, "an admiration for young men and women who, under the most extreme circumstances, stood eyeball to eyeball with the most powerful nation force on the planet earth...and didn't blink! I'd like to think that was a reflection of the indomitable African warrior spirit in our genetic pool!"

      O'Neal says he'd love to see more African Americans living in Africa, especially if they are willing to lend their economic and political strength to aid in the development of African nations. "However," he says, "as much as it pains me to admit, I doubt that will happen to any significant extent until there is a major mind-set shift among many African Americans and continental Africans."

      Living in Africa, he says, first and foremost requires a commitment to participating in a very real sense in national development. Many African Americans, he says, won't be comfortable in Africa until they move away from "the shallow, materialistic goals and aspirations that we all were inculcated with by the larger society in America."

      On the other hand, O'Neal says, continental Africans need to recognize and appreciate the deep ancestral bond that exists between them and Africans of the Diaspora, and must devise ways to facilitate their entry into African life in a way that distinguishes them from mere tourists.

      "These are difficult problems and there are no easy answers," O'Neal says, "but I believe solutions to them must be found before global Africans can move forward in a unified manner."

      Viewing American politics from afar, O'Neal says he's opposed to the actions of the current administration: "I am opposed to the American disregard of another nation's sovereignty, and I might add that is as well, in opposition to the United Nations and world opinion." He adds that he feels the administration's Iraq actions are motivated by "hidden agendas" that are economic in nature and have little to do with "introducing democracy."

      Still, he ways, "I would like to be very clear that I am horrified and outraged by terrorist attacks that mindlessly take the lives of innocent people in furtherance of their cause. I particularly take exception to Africa being used as a battlefield in that regard," he adds, referring to the damage East Africa has itself faced at the hands of the same groups that brought about the September 11 attacks.

      As for Africa's future, O'Neal would like to see some relief from exploitative globalization trade policies that he says have destroyed or laid waste to local economies. "I am also appalled at the crippling effect that debt repayment has had on developing nations in general, and African nations in particular." He favors debt forgiveness — and on the issue of reparations, he argues that "forgiveness alone won't do!"

      A healed man with deep and strong political convictions, O'Neal has his opinions about his former country and its future, but don't expect him back any time soon. He is still wanted for the crime he was charged with more than 30 years ago. He could face up to 15 years in prison if he ever set foot in the US again. He is currently engaged in a federal appeals case to overturn his conviction, but all his previous appeals were turned down (as he sees it, not because of their lack of merit but because of his fugitive status).

      And why would such a happy man want to come home, when his home is now on Mount Meru? O'Neal says he doesn't know much about the US anymore. "There are Tanzanians who know more about it than I do," he says. "What would I do if I went back to the States, anyway?"

      First published: October 29, 2003

      About the Author

      Philip Ngunjiri is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

      Documentary film about the O'Neals, titled A Panther in Africa
      "If the enemy is not doing anything against you, you are not doing anything"
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      "speak truth, do justice, be kind and do not do evil."
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      "Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular - but one must take it simply because it is right."
      --Dr. Martin L. King

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    2. #2
      Jacuma's Avatar
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      Lightbulb Tanzania, Africa: A Panther in Arusha

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      When the ngoma (talkingdrum) beat sounded, the two men opened the tap and let the freshwater fill a large gourd. The significance of the gesture, marking the inauguration of a community water project, was only outweighed by the significance of the meeting between these men, both of whom elderly men of a powerful stature – one with greying dreadlocks and the other with his head shaved bald.It had been more than 30 years since Pete O’Neal and Geronimo ji Jagga had last met, then as members of the Black Panther Party in the United States. Since those politically-charged days, when the Black Panthers took up arms to defend the rights of African-Americans, Jagga had been wrongly imprisoned for 26 years for a murder he did not commit; O’Neal had been exiled, living as a fugitive in Tanzania to this day. Both had been provocative leaders in the Black Panthers, O’Neal being the chairman of the party’s Kansas City chapter from 1968-70 and Jagga heading the chapter in Los Angeles. Last August, the former Black Panther leaders joined forces again and rejoiced with some 150 Tanzanians in celebration of a new water tap just outside O’Neal’s home in Imbaseni village near Arusha. Spouting water after a borehole was drilled, the tap will provide a reliable water supply to many families in the area who now have to walk several miles daily to meet their daily water needs. The site is also home to the United African-American Community Centre (UAACC), which O’Neal founded in 1990 and which offers a number of free arts, language and computer courses for Tanzanians in the area. O’Neal and company also engage in student exchanges, whereby Tanzanians go to the US for short education courses and young African-Americans come to Tanzania.

      Through the UAACC, O’Neal headed the water project along with the support of Jagga’s Africa development group, the Kuji Foundation.
      "Everything we do here in Tanzania is a refined version of what we were doing in the late 1960s with the Panthers," O’Neal says. "Geronimo and I
      have been through a hell of a lot since those days. But that hasn’t deterred us from trying to impact individual lives and hope that we’re making some kind of contribution to the larger picture. "Besides reflecting a momentous period of American history, the story of Pete O’Neal recounts the relatively unknown history of African-Americans in Tanzania. On the eve of the Sixth Pan African Conference in Dar in 1974, the population of African-Americans residing in Tanzania was estimated at 700-800. The numbers would soon dwindle, however, after an incident that is known today as the Big Bust.Felix "Pete" O’Neal Jr was born in 1940 and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, on the city’s historic 12th Street, once home to many of the greatest blues and jazz artistes of all time such as Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Big Joe Turner and Mary Lou Williams. After becoming a self-professed "street hustler" as a young man, O’Neal turned his life around when he heard a speech by the founders of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, in Oakland, California. "Man, I can’t say this well enough: when I became a member of the Black Panther Party, it saved my life. I was on the edge of an abyss at that point. If I had fallen in, I would never have got out," O’Neal recalls "I am in debt to the revolutionary concept of the Panthers. I live that concept here in Tanzania. I need that belief structure to survive. And I'm not letting it go for you, for anybody else, for exile, for the police, for nothing. "Espousing a Marxist-Leninist philosophy and the need for revolution to end the persecution of African-Americans, the Black Panther Party had chapters in 48 states and won wide international support in the late 1960s. They also enacted several social programmes to help the poor and needy in their communities. The former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover, once labeled them "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States." Taking heed, the FBI initiated a now notorious campaign (cointelpro) to undermine the party through informants and covert, sometimes illegal, activities .In 1968, O’Neal became the head of the Black Panthers in Kansas City and quickly attracted the attention of the media and law enforcement officials with his controversial remarks and actions. To a national television audience, he once declared that he would like to "shoot his way into the House of Representatives" and "take the head" of a high-ranking politician. He also accused the Kansas City Police Chief at the time of funneling guns to right-wing organizations, and he later disrupted US Senate hearing over the matter, claiming the Senate committee had disregarded valid evidence that he had obtained. Shortly after the hearing, he was arrested for carrying an illegal shotgun across state lines and convicted and sentenced to four years in prison in 1970. While out on bail awaiting appeal, he overheard a police officer say that the only way O’Neal was going to leave prison was in a coffin, implying that the police could have him killed while in custody. O’Neal believed him and, along with his wife, fled to Algeria, via Sweden, with fake passports obtained from New York City Revolutionaries.

      *"Three weeks to the day after that hearing, they came back and got me. There’s no doubt in my mind that the government wanted me to go down after I raised hell at the Senate hearing," O’Neal says. "And what did they get me on? They got me on a gun charge that was so bogus that it was pathetic. "To this day, O’Neal maintains that he did not carry the shotgun across the state line that divides Kansas City between Kansas and Missouri. He says a friend of his had taken the gun from his house, crossed the line and was then arrested. "I said I didn’t carry that gun across state line. Man, I carried more guns across that state line than you can count. I have had police friends carry guns for me. You see, Kansas City is one town divided by a state line. The cops actually sold the gun and FBI had to get the gun from someone else, so they could arrest me! "Pete and Charlotte arrived in Dar in 1972, after spending two years in Algiers. At that time, Tanzania was a haven for African-American activists and revolutionaries of every breed – from Malcolm X to Che Guevera to Tanzania’s homegrown revolutionary, Mohammed Babu. Several other Black Panthers also visited or resided in the country. As freedom movements in Mozambique and all across Southern Africa, began to flare, Tanzania became a hub of Pan-African activity. O’Neal estimates that the African-American population peaked at around 800 or so in 1974. Since those heady days, O’Neal’s home near Arusha has also been a gathering point for African-Americans living or traveling in the country. "There was a huge population. It was amazing," O’Neal recalls. "There was an excitement here. There were so many African-Americans here and everybody had at least some kind of vague sense of revolution. They definitely felt Pan-Africanism. And everybody wanted to be a part. You had your cultural nationalists. You had your Pan-Africanists. Old Garveyites. Here’s a bit of trivia, too: There has always been a larger presence of African-Americans in Tanzania who are from around the Kansas City area, whether back in the day when there were 800, or today, when there are less than 50, because the Tanzania ambassador to the US went to the University of Kansas to make a speech in the 1960s, welcoming African-Americans to participate in nation-building at home. "In many ways, the departure of the African-American community from the nation coincides with the plummeting Tanzanian economy in the late 1970s. However, a single, little documented event, which has popularly become known as the Big Bust, sparked the exodus.

      *On Friday, May 24, 1974, two young African-Americans passed through Dar port Customs with a six-tonne container full of machinery and various goods that had arrived on a ship from New York City .The two had intended to take the goods to Kirongwe village, Mara, as a part of a nation-building skills project. As Customs officials inspected the containers, however, they apparently discovered several guns and bullets that had not been declared on the manifest. According to the government-run Kiswahili daily newspaper, Uhuru, dated May 28, 1974, the Americans were immediately detained for interrogation."So here come Americans bringing in these things and bureaucrats and security officials immediately jumped to the conclusion that the African-Americans in Tanzania were a fifth column working for the CIA to overthrow the Tanzanian government!" O’Neal explains. "This seed of doubt was planted into the minds of a few people. It went way up to the top. And it became the idea that there could be an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean. So, they busted people. They started busting a lot of people. Just about every African-American was under house arrest or they were in jail and in detention. "O’Neal’s account of the events is supported by a book titled Guns and Gandhi in Africa by Bill Sutherland. An African-American and once a personal friend of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Sutherland had worked with the Tanzanian government since the mid-1960s, often acting as a liaison between the government and the African-American community in the country. As he tells it, he personally spoke with the president and the former vice-president Rashid Kawawa to try to resolve the situation. There was also an outcry in the US for the release of the prisoners. As June and July wore on, however, African-Americans continued to be incarcerated, placed under house arrest, shuffled and interrogated between prisons in Arusha and Dar ."If any African-American had a gun around, or even a walkie-talkie, they were imprisoned," Sutherland writes in the book. "It was quite a tragic moment. Tanzania had represented, for the African-American community, what Cuba represented for the left in general: a sign of hope and possibility. After these incidents, there was tremendous disillusionment. "After about four months, no further evidence was discovered to support the CIA collusion theory and all of the African-American prisoners were released, in part due to an effort by Kawawa. Nyerere never made any further comment on the incident, other than saying that he felt his security forces had overreacted. Sutherland points to the division within the Tanganyika African National Union(Tanu) at the time over the presence and nation-building work of African-Americans in the country.

      While Nyerere and several other politicians welcomed African-Americans, a number of Tanu officials were outwardly resentful of their work, believing it unbalanced the nation’s power structure.Other accounts maintain that certain Tanu officials orchestrated the Big Bust as a means of diverting attention away from the historic Sixth Pan African Congress, which began just three weeks after the first African-Americans were arrested at the port. One thing is definite: shortly after the Big Bust, many African-Americans started to leave the country ."Yeah, soon thereafter the exodus started," O’Neal says. "And you compact that situation with the war with Idi Amin and the falling economy; by the early 1980s, nearly everybody was ready to leave. "Back at the UAACC compound in Imbaseni village, O’Neal strolls past a mural of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Artwork and colorful murals decorate many of the walls in the small, sloping compound, some of them designed by the celebrated artist, Pete's wife Charlotte O’Neal. Old photos adorn other walls, including a couple of Pete and Charlotte wearing the Panther signature outfit of black leather jackets and gloves, sunglasses and berets and bearing rifles. "This is not the Tanzania of old. And revolutionary spirit, it no longer exists," O’Neal laments. "But I am hopeful that the foundation that was laid when that spirit was at its highest will serve Tanzania well. Although it’s changing, it is still an island of stability in a sea of turmoil. "Not only has O’Neal never stepped on a plane since he arrived in Tanzania in 1972, he rarely leaves Imbaseni village. "My longest journey is to Arusha town and back," he says. "I have been an isolationist in the extreme. I don't travel. I've become phobic. But that’s not because I'm not afraid of anyone bothering me. I don't think the US government is even thinking of me these days, pressing for extradition or anything. Nobody is looking to arrest me. More than likely, they are saying, ‘Please don't let this man back into the United States because it would be an embarrassment to put an old man like me in jail.’ And they would. "If O’Neal attempted to return to the US, he would be facing up to 15years in prison. He is currently engaged in a federal appeals case to over turn his conviction. In the past, a number of his appeals have been turned down, as he sees it not because of their lack of merit but because of his fugitive status. When his late father, Felix O’Neal Sr visited him in the late 1980s, he was held and interrogated upon his return to the US, because the FBI at first believed they had finally captured the Black Panther fugitive. In 1997, when Charlotte O’Neal’s mother passed away, agents flooded the Kansas City airport, anticipating Pete’s return. Can I see myself ever going back to Kansas City? I’ve asked myself that a thousand times. I don’t know how to answer. I can’t even envision it. To go back there now would be a culture shock that I don’t know if I could handle. Let’s get one thing straight: I am not sitting here planning to return to the US. I don’t know anything about the United States. There are Tanzanians that know more about it than I do. What would I do if I went back to the States? I am 62 years old. My life here has a meaning. There, I would go and probably hold on to Charlotte’s shirt tail all the time. "O’Neal remains determined to fight his conviction, contending that even if he never returns to the US, he wants to put right a wrong that was done to him. "The government lied, they connived, and they conspired, like they did to bring down so many of the Panthers. I am going to make them pay for it," he says. "I’m going to fight to the last day. And if I prevail, as believe I will, I am going to sue and make them pay. I am going to build some more water holes and do some more community projects around Arusha. "As with Geronimo ji Jagga, who finally walked out of prison in 1997after taking 26 years to overturn his FBI-framed murder conviction, a Panther’s revolutionary spirit never dies.

      Thirty eight years ago on 12/04/2009 the united snakes murdered Fred Hampton & Mark Clark, this date also marks the 6 year anniversary of the launching of this site in solidarity of these martyrs.

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      I saw this documentary a few months ago and I enjoyed every minute of it

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