[Ppnews] Former Black Panther dies in Cuba
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Nov 18 12:31:43 EST 2006
Former Black Panther dies in Cuba at 75 By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press
Fri Nov 17, 4:50 PM ET
William Lee Brent, a Black Panther who hijacked a passenger jet to
communist Cuba in 1969 and spent 37 years in exile, has died on the
island, his sister said. He was 75.
Brent died Nov. 4 from bronchial pneumonia, Elouise Rawlins said in a
telephone interview from her home in Oakland, Calif.
Rawlins said she learned of her brother's death through telephone calls
and messages from friends and acquaintances, but has not received official
word from the U.S. or Cuban governments.
Rawlins said she had not seen her brother since he used a handgun to
hijack TWA Flight 154 from San Francisco to Havana on June 17, 1969, but
said they stayed in contact through e-mails and telephone calls.
"We didn't even know he was ill," Rawlins said. "I don't know about the
burial or anything just that he passed away."
The telephone rang unanswered Friday at Brent's Havana home, which he
shared with his wife, travel writer Jane McManus, until her death last
year. They had met and married in Cuba.
Brent lived a relatively isolated life during his nearly four decades in
Cuba, spending much of his time in his later years listening to his
beloved jazz music collection in his apartment.
In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, he said he missed the
United States and the American black community. But he was unwilling to
return home to face certain life imprisonment for aircraft piracy and
kidnapping, and had resigned himself to never seeing his country again.
"I miss my people, the struggle, the body language," Brent told the AP.
"The black community in Cuba is very different."
Still, he said he had no regrets about hijacking the plane. "I was a
soldier in the war for black liberation," he said.
A decade ago, Times Books published his memoirs, "Long Time Gone," which
told of his coming of age on Oakland's streets and of joining the Black
Panthers when he was 37, rising to become a bodyguard for leader Eldridge
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in October 1966 in
Oakland, by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. They called for an end to
police brutality in the black community, and carried guns as they
patrolled the city documenting police behavior.
In his book, Brent chronicled a July 1968 police shootout in which two
police officers were critically wounded. Cleaver ordered him kicked out of
the revolutionary group.
To avoid trial the following year, Brent used a .38-caliber handgun to
hijack the plane to Cuba, where he believed he would be treated
sympathetically as a militant black leftist. None of the 76 people aboard
the Boeing 707 was harmed.
He also told of stepping off the plane in Cuba to be immediately hustled
away by Cuban police.
Although never formally convicted, he spent 22 months in an immigration
jail while Cuban authorities tried to figure out what to do with him.
Eventually they let him stay to live out his exile.
Brent earned a Spanish literature degree from the University of Havana and
taught English at junior and senior high schools, but he never became a
"I am an American, an African-American, a black man," he said in the 1996
interview with the AP. "And my fight was always in the United States."
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