William Lee Brent

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Brent in his home in Havana (May 1996)

William Lee Brent (1931 – November 4, 2006) was a Black Panther Party member who hijacked a passenger jet to Cuba in 1969 and spent 37 years in exile in Cuba. [1]


Brent was born in Franklin, LA. His family moved to Oakland when he was 13. He was selling drugs and committing petty crimes by the time he was in junior high school. He enlisted in the Army by using a fake birth certificate when he was 17. He was discharged after only eight months. He served time in juvenile hall for stealing a bicycle. Then, in 1955, he was convicted of armed robbery and auto theft, and spent seven years in San Quentin State Prison.

In November 1968, Brent and two accomplices in a van marked "Black Panther Black Community News Service" robbed a gas station in San Francisco's Bayview district of $80. Police caught up to them on Seventh Street near the Hall of Justice, prompting a shootout. One of the officers, Lt. Dermott Creedon, was critically wounded. When Mr. Brent was arrested and identified as the triggerman, Cleaver kicked him out of the Panthers.[2]

Brent was with other Black Panther party members in 1969 when he robbed a gas station and then shot and wounded two police officers. After his arrest and release on bail, he stepped onto TWA Flight 154 from Oakland to Havana on June 17, 1969, held a .38-caliber revolver to the pilot's head and ordered pilots to take him to Cuba.[3]

Brent spent 22 months in an immigration jail in Cuba when he arrived but was released. He earned a Spanish literature degree from the University of Havana and taught English at various junior and senior high schools. He never became a Cuban citizen but married travel writer Jane McManus (ca. 1920 - 2005). They had met and married in Cuba. In a 1996 interview with Associated Press, he said he missed the United States and the American black community. But he was unwilling to return to the United States to face life imprisonment for air piracy and kidnapping. Around 1996, Times Books published his memoirs, Long Time Gone (ISBN 0-595-00288-9).[4]

Brent died in Cuba of pneumonia on November 4, 2006 at age 75.[5]


  1. ^ Lacey, Marc (May 12, 2007). "U.S. Fugitives Worry About a Cuba Without Castro". New York Times. "Another fugitive from a similar hijacking several years earlier, William Lee Brent, also died recently. He is buried in an unmarked grave in the pauper’s portion of Colón Cemetery, where eight coffins are stacked atop one another and then topped with concrete. Mr. Brent, who was 75, holds position No. 5." 
  2. ^ Peter Fimrite, William Lee Brent -- former Black Panther hijacked jet to Cuba, SF Chronicle, November 20, 2006
  3. ^ Jocelyn Y. Stewart, William Lee Brent, 75; Black Panther hijacked plane to Cuba, Nov 20, 2006 LA Times
  4. ^ "Havana Journal;25 Years an Exile: An Old Black Panther Sums Up". New York Times. April 9, 1996. 
  5. ^ Goodman, Amy (November 22, 2006). "William Lee Brent 1930-2006: A 1998 Conversation in Havana with the Former Black Panther on His Plane Hijacking, Life in Cuba and Much More". Democracy Now!.