By Kaillie Winston
Former Black Panther Charlotte O’Neal came to Ohio Wesleyan University to convey a message of self-determination and community control through her music and poetry.
In 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale established the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Oakland, California. The group defended minority groups from economic, social, and political inequality in America. BPP members aimed to raise equality by organizing committees and programs such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1967 and the Panther’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program in 1969.
The Black Panther Party deteriorated by 1980, but O’Neal still feels strongly about the values they stood for: peace and justice.
O’Neal, who refers to herself as “Mama Charlotte,” explained to a room of OWU students and faculty that the party primarily supported self-determination and community control in inner cities. If students learn to work together and set goals in the classroom, O’Neal said, they could prosper greatly.
“Mama Charlotte has many inspiring stories to tell about her journey and it is a great honor to have her at our school,” senior Taylor Rivkin said.
Additionally, O’Neal is a well-renowned musician and poet from Kansas City. During her time as a Black Panther, O’Neal wrote numerous poems about the struggles of minority oppression, protests, and peace for all. O’Neal continues to share her ideas today through artistic media.
O’Neal became interested in the BPP in the late 1960’s when she first saw founder and chairman Pete O’Neal speaking out about minority rights on television. She became an official member in the late 1969, after learning about the Panther’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program.
“When I discovered the Breakfast for School Children Program, it was over,” she said. “I signed on the dotted line.”
In this program, the BPP installed kitchens throughout America and fed more than 10,000 children each day before school.
The organization remained strong and started liberation movements with many other countries. For example, the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC), a Panther effort, aimed to help develop well-rounded communities in Tanzania.
O’Neal said many people wrongly assume that the BPP was a black supremacist organization.
“Many people read negative things about the Black Panther Party,” she said, “The black supremacist groups actually disliked us because we worked with everyone.”
“Mama Charlotte” and her husband Pete O’Neal moved to Tanzania in 1971, where they began UAACC in order to spread Black Panther ideals through school systems.
Just five years ago, Mr. and Mrs. O’Neal founded a children’s home in Tanzania, aimed at providing a loving and nurturing environment for orphans. Charlotte O’Neal focuses on artistic involvement and hopes that a proper education will help these children to go far in today’s world.
“If we can spread love and peace, the world will learn to tolerate one another, regardless of gender or race,” she said. “That’s all that matters.”