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Jean Seberg Took Her Life After She Was Pursued By The FBI For Donating To Black Panthers

littlethings.com logo littlethings.com 5/2/2022 Stephanie Kaloi (she/her/hers)

The story of Jean Seberg is one that is filled with hope, achievement, and a lot of sadness. Seberg's career began after her neighbor submitted her to a nationwide search for a star for the 1957 movie Saint Joan and ended in 1979 after Seberg took her own life.

What happened in between is scary, horrific, and downright difficult to understand. Here's the story of how and why J. Edgar Hoover's FBI relentlessly pursued a Hollywood actress and destroyed her career, reputation, and ultimately her life. © Provided by littlethings.com

Seberg had a lot of hope about her career trajectory while filming *Saint Joan*. Unfortunately, critics and audiences alike didn't enjoy the movie, a realization that Seberg said really hurt.

She explained, "I have two memories of Saint Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics. The latter hurt more. I was scared like a rabbit and it showed on the screen. It was not a good experience at all."

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Seberg went on to build a career in the French New Wave movement, most famously starring in *Breathless*. She was also married four times, to French director and writer Francois Moreuil; French diplomat, novelist, and intellectual Romain Gary; director Dennis Berry; and Algerian actor Ahmed Hasni. Seberg and Gary had two children together.

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In 1968, Seberg met Black Panther Party member Hakim Jamal on a flight from Paris. After landing, Seberg was seen giving Jamal a raised fist salute. J. Edgar Hoover began [monitoring the activities](https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/dec/05/how-hollywood-feted-the-black-power-movement-and-fell-foul-of-the-fbi) of the liberal actress, who reportedly donated $10,500 to the party after meeting Jamal.

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Seberg was known in particular for her support of Panther projects that benefitted children, including their free meal program, but in 1974 she told *The New York Times* that she wasn't as close to the organization as she had once been. She explained, "I had a very, very bad mental breakdown, and now I realise I wouldn’t want a person like me in a group I was a member of, as Groucho Marx would put it."

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FBI agents Jack Solomon and Carl Kowalski were in charge of the investigation into Seberg's Panthers-related activities. Seberg was one of the targets of COINTELPRO, a particularly aggressive program run by the FBI that allowed agents to defame and intimidate their subjects.

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Hoover allowed his team to start rumors that Seberg's 1970 pregnancy was the result of a relationship with a member of the Black Panthers and not her husband at the time. The FBI request read, "Bureau permission is required the publicize the pregnancy of Jean Seberg, well-known movie actress, by \[REDACTED\] Black Panther party, \[REDACTED\] by advising Hollywood Gossip columnists in the Los Angeles area of the situation. It is felt that the possible publication of Seberg’s plight could cause her embarrassment and cheapen her image with the general public."

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The rumors did much more than simply embarrass Seberg. Once the story began making the rounds in the press, Seberg ended up going into premature labor. Her baby died, and Seberg chose to have an open casket funeral to show the curious public that the baby was white, like herself and her husband.

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That impact on Seberg's emotional and mental well-being was too much. She [told *The New York Times*](https://www.nytimes.com/1974/06/16/archives/a-showbiz-saint-grows-up-or-whatever-happened-to-jean-seberg-jean.html), "I began cracking up then, without knowing it. I decided to bury my baby in my home town. I did the whole deal. We opened the coffin and took 180 photographs, and everybody in Marshalltown who was curious what color the baby was got a chance to check it out. A lot of them came to look."

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[Before Seberg's body](https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/12/9004756/jane-seberg-movie-true-story-black-panthers-fbi) was found wrapped up in a blanket in her own car, she had been reported missing for 10 days. A bottle of barbiturates was also found in the car alongside a note Seberg had penned before taking her own life.

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