February 1969: Pete O’Neal talks about the formation of the Kansas City chapter of the Black Panther Party.
“Charlotte Hill O’Neal is known by several names. Residents of the Arusha region of northern Tanzania, where she has lived for decades, call her Mama C as Charlotte is difficult for Tanzanians to pronounce. Others call her Mama Africa because of the scarification on her cheeks and the ring piercing her nose, and because she encourages the local youth to be proud of their culture and heritage. Her Orisha spiritual name is Osotunde Fasuyi. She was initiated several years ago as a priestess in the Yoruba belief system, which originated about 10 000 years ago in present-day Nigeria. Enslaved Africans brought it to the Americas and the Caribbean, where it syncretised with other belief systems and is now practised throughout these areas. Charlotte is bedecked in jewellery and beads. Some items represent Orisha deities and others are traditional Maasai beadwork. She is a former member of the Black Panther Party, who fled the United States with her husband Pete O’Neal half a century ago. Charlotte speaks Swahili with a Midwest drawl and her skin is decorated with tattoos: a black panther on her left shoulder and Sankofa, a symbol the Akan people of Ghana use to represent the importance of gaining knowledge and wisdom from the past, on her arm. African instruments, including the stringed nyatiti traditionally played by the Luo of present-day Kenya, replace the gun once strapped across her body. Charlotte, 69, and Pete, 80, have lived in Tanzania since 1972, when local authorities targeted Pete because of his activities as chairperson of the Kansas City chapter of the Panthers. They run the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) in Imbaseni village outside Arusha city, where murals of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, along with other icons of the black power and civil rights movement, are splashed on to the walls. Charlotte and Pete’s story intertwines with the revolutionary spirit of thousands of young African-American men and women who attempted to stand up to injustice and change the world, but were met with prison sentences, assassinations and government repression. …”
Part one | A Black Panther love story
Long Read | Part two: A Black Panther love story
W – Charlotte Hill O’Neal
W – Pete O’Neal