Ex-Black Panther and hijacker refuged in France, dies at 68

Melvin and Jean McNair
Melvin and Jean McNair DR

Jean Mc Nair, a former member of the black rights radical group the Black Panthers, died on Friday in the north west town of Caen in Normandy, from a heart attack. Forty years ago, the American started her life in France with a jail sentence for hijacking. 


The incident that changed Jean Mc Nair's life took place in 1972 – when she and her husband Melvin, their two children and four other black Ameri­cans, hijacked a plane from Detroit to Miami with a view to getting to Africa to join a Black Panthers base.

They demanded a million dollar ransom and dropped off the passengers in Miami before ordering the pilot to fly them to Algeria.

Anger over treatment of Blacks in 1960s America and hostility to the Vietnam war, had pushed the Mc Nair's to seek a new life elsewhere.

However, they were arrested in France in 1976 and charged with air piracy by the US government, and could have faced the death penalty.

In the end, they were tried by a Paris criminal court and sentenced to 5 years in prison for him and 2 and a half years for her, but were later released on bail. The Americans had always pushed for their extradition, claiming the French were too lenient.

That never happened, and the Mc Nairs were able to live in exile relatively comfortably, moving to a working-class neighbourhood of Caen in the 1980s where they rebuilt their lives.

In 2012, their story was brought to light by a documentary, "Melvin et Jean, la révolte et l’exil" or "the revolt and exile", by Maia Weschler (What’s Up Films), recently shown on French television.


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