After a short stint leading the international office of the Black Panthers in Algiers, they arrived in Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere, then one of the world's most prominent socialist leaders, promised him a haven. O’Neal, during a recent interview at his rural compound in Imbaseni, recalls: “They told me, don't get into any trouble, do something productive, and you're welcome to stay here."
As an exile in East Africa for the past 38 years, that’s what he has tried to do.
Arriving in Africa with two young children, O’Neal had to learn how to make his own bricks to build a home, farm, and survive next to a national park teeming with wild buffaloes, elephants, and – perhaps most dangerous of all – mosquitoes. By his count, he’s had malaria more than 15 times. Now 70 years old, he limps through his compound, recovering from recent surgery performed by a volunteer doctor.
It’s the hard life in Tanzania that took the edge out of his attitude, he says.
“I came here with practically no money,” he explains. “We had to learn how to work, how to farm, how to support ourselves. Here you either work or you fall through the cracks – Tanzania gives no quarter.”
In time, he tried to get back to the spirit of community service he first learned as a Black Panther, which he says was more important than the political violence in the 1960s and '70s for which the group is remembered.