Former Black Panther dies in Cuba at 75
By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer
Fri Nov 17, 4:50 PM ET
HAVANA - 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
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
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
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 Cleaver.
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
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 Cuban
"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."
Peace & Blessings,