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The Making of a White Liberal: Part Four

By the early 1960s Jean was living with Romain Gary in France. He had given up his diplomatic position due to the scandal involving his love affair with Jean and turned to writing novels. 1 Diego, their secret child, would be raised by a nanny in Spain for most of his early life. 2

Although Jean's new life in France would lead to greater film success than she had in America, she nonetheless felt as out of place in France as she did in Marshalltown. "It annoys me when a Frenchman comes up and says, "oh, you're so unexpectedly Parisian' He means to compliment me, but I can't help snapping: 'I'm an American - Iowa American.' I can't imagine pretending to myself that I am anything but American.' 3

Jean would maintain contact with her family in Iowa despite living in France. On her trips back to the United States in the mid-sixties she was exposed to the growing counter-culture. "[Things] are beginning to happen here. Bob Dylan - a real poet - is somewhat the symbol of the rising generation looking for new values," Jean said. "As for the Vietnamese war, one finds it's acceptable for young men who want to avoid [the draft], some of them from highly patriotic families of the Midwest. The beatniks have almost become respectable. Ginsberg is giving lectures at American universities. It's undeniable: America is waking up." Two years later she said, "If I had lived in South America I would have fought with Che."4

In 1968 Jean was in Washington D.C. for the filming of Pendulum. On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The blacks immediately rioted in the capitol and around the nation. "Filming there was dangerous in a way," the director recalled. "We had a lot of extras dressed in police uniforms for a scene. We had to call off the shooting because when those extras were walking back to wardrobe, they were attacked by black youths." Jean would lay the blame on Whites in a letter to her friend Vony Becker, "The indifference of the White population is almost total. Instead of improving conditions in the ghetto, they are buying arms to defend themselves. You get the impression of being in a profoundly sick country which doesn't believe in its illness."5

In October of 1968, Jean met Hakim Jamal on a plane trip to Los Angeles. He was born in Boston's black ghetto in 1931 with the name Allen Donaldson. "Jamal" was a former criminal, alcoholic, and heroin addict. He had cleaned up his image and started a family, and he also now sported a beard and African 'kofia' hat. He was involved with the Black Muslim movement and held Malcolm X in high esteem.6

Hakim Jamal would eventually become one of Jean's lovers and political contacts. Frequently he would ask for money. It was also through him that Jean would become involved with the Black Panther Party. Although Jean later claimed that she took two black nationalists as lovers, their real attachment was to her money.7

A mere cursory glance reveals the extent of her contributions to the Black Nationalist movement. She made a financial donation to the Black Panther's free breakfast program in 1968.8 Later she began giving money to the party in incremental amounts of several thousand dollars at a time.9 Jean even paid for Hakim Jamal's overdue membership fees in the Typographical Union in Los Angeles. She paid the fees by personal check, amounting to over $200.10 In another instance she gave the Jamal family a personal check for $5,000. By 1969 the FBI estimated that Jean had contributed at least $10,500 to the Black Panther Party.11 This is likely much less than the true amount of her contributions. Jean often gave cash and did not openly admit to giving money for fear of losing her career prospects.12

But the recipients of Jean's generosity gave her little but ingratitude. Hakim Jamal's wife Dorothy said that, "Jean was always renting cars for the Panthers, who generally tore them up." In one instance Jean received a phone call from Hakim and she was reduced to tears. Her friend, actress Maureen Stapleton, took the phone and interrupted Jamal, "You're a sonofabitch. Jean is working her ass off for you people, and you don't appreciate it."13

In January of 1970 Jean was filming Macho Callahan in Mexico. It was there that she had a affair with Carlos Navarra, a radical activist. She soon realized she was pregnant, and although she was still married to Romain Gary, they had been separated for some time. When she returned to France after fiming she began to reconcile with Gary and he would claim the unborn child as his own.14

However, due to Jean's connection with the Black Panthers and other radical Black Nationalist groups, the FBI had begun to monitor her activities. They recorded a phone conversation she had with several Panthers that seemed to indicate, falsely, that one of them was the father of her unborn child. The FBI then decided to leak this information to the press in hopes of turning public opinion against Jean Seberg.15

On August 19, 1970 Newsweek published the rumor and a day later the delivery of Jean's second child, Nina, had begun. The delivery was premature and the child died in the hospital. After the delivery several of her Black Panther "friends" came to her bedside and tried to take her credit cards and money.16 Romain Gary would later claim the Newsweek article was directly responsible for the death of the child, and would make this part of his libel suit. Jean's increasingly wild lifestyle and her overdose of sleeping pills on August 7 may have had more to do with it.17

The funeral for baby Nina was held in Marshalltown. Jean confided in Rabbi Sol Serber during her return. "She was unhappy and disturbed. She felt that she had let her parents down. She knew all the gossip going around, and she was afraid it would hurt them," he said.18 While in Marshalltown Jean also purchased a two-story, five-bedroom house in town to house black athletes attending the local community college. The people of Marshalltown initially showed enthusiasm for the idea, donating sheets, beds, and furniture, but there were soon complaints of loud music and parties.19 Many years later Jean was having financial difficulties and could no longer afford to keep the house. She would entrust Rabbi Serber with its sale.20

Jean would eventually have less and less to do with the Black Nationalist movement, especially after the death of Hakim Jamal in 1973. One of Hakim Jamal's White lovers was Gale Ann Benson, the daughter of a British politician. She came to absolutely worship Jamal and changed her own name to 'Hale Kimga', an anagram of Hakim and Gale. They traveled to the Black Nationalist commune in Trinidad, organized by Michael X, a Black Nationalist from Great Britain. While Jamal was away, Michael X and several others stabbed her and buried her in a pit. The reasons for her murder are not as clear as the death of Hakim Jamal, who was claimed by some to have been killed for taking a White 'wife'.21 22

Continue to Part Five.

1. McGee, p.101
2. Ibid., p.107
3. Ibid., p.122
4. Ibid., p.140
5. Ibid., p.155
6. Ibid., p.174
7. Richards, p.220
8. McGee, p.176
9. Ibid., p.177
10. Ibid., p.179
11. Ibid., p.187
12. Ibid., p.186
13. Ibid., p.183
14. Richards, p.232
15. Ibid., p.235
16. McGee, p.206
17. Richards, p.245
18. McGee, p.211
19. Ibid., p.213
20. Ibid., p262
21. 'Buried alive...'
22. Richards, p.303