You are likely to find him at home in his old chair in Tanzania, surrounded by over 20 children who call him “Babu,” meaning grandfather.
But the 76-year-old Pete O’Neal, whose body reportedly looks worn out and suffers ill-health is not related to any of the children as they are part of a non-profit community-based NGO he founded in 1991 to serve poor families and children around Imbaseni village.
O’Neal would love to go back and meet his family in the U.S. where he has lived nearly 50 years, but if he were to travel there, he would likely be arrested for a gun conviction which dates to when he led the Black Panthers during the 1960s in Kansas City.
He is currently thought to be the last black militant of the era still at war with the U.S. government.
O’Neal grew up during a period of riots, marches and police shootings in the U.S.
After the death of civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr., black nationalism started being felt all over, and two days after his assassination, the Black Panther party, which was formed in California as a militia group to protect African-Americans from police, started battling it out with the police in areas such as Oakland and Los Angeles.
Despite their charity services, the Black Panthers had then become notorious, armed and dressed in their characteristic black berets, leather jackets, and dark sunglasses, they marched into the California state capital.
On January 30, 1969, O’Neal, then 29, announced the formation of a Black Panther chapter for Kansas City right in the hallway on the fifth floor of Kansas City police headquarters.
With over 30 supporters looking on, and some police officers, he read a list of demands, which included an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of black people.
Several confrontations with the police and arrests of Panther members ensued in the following year. O’Neal who had then been feared and hated by many was disrupting how things were done in his community.
Media reports say he and his members once “crashed a church service, brawled at police headquarters and stormed a Senate subcommittee hearing in Washington.”
Then in 1969, O’Neal was found guilty of transporting a shotgun across the state line, from Kansas City, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri.
Even though he wasn’t found with the weapon, a picture of O’Neal with the shotgun in Missouri got him sentenced to four years in prison.
O’Neal appealed the decision, but when Fred Hampton, another effective Black Panther leader was assassinated in his bed in Chicago, O’Neal left the country in fear for his life.
With his wife, they first went to Sweden, then to Algeria and finally to Tanzania, where they have been since 1972.
The two have become an icon of service to the community, operating the United African Alliance Community Center and school for poor families and children.
Another ex-Panther, Elmer “Geronimo Ji Jaga” Pratt had joined them there, using his $4.5 million civil rights settlement for a wrongful conviction to help the people until he died from heart attack on June 2, 2011.
People from all over the world, including study-abroad groups from American schools, have since been visiting the community centre.
There were hopes that the previous Obama administration would pardon him and allow him to return to the land of his birth but this did not materialize.
O’Neal, whose story has been documented in a 2004 documentary, A Panther In Africa, may have to accept the fact that his life is now in Tanzania.
This is in spite of his hope to go back and visit the rest of his family, including his 95-year-old mother, Florene, who is now in a Kansas City nursing home and his children from his first marriage he has not seen for over 40 years now.
Watch the 2004 documentary of Black Panther’s Pete O’Neal below: