An introductory to this story is necessary. Wanda Coleman was an acclaimed Black poet and author from Watts in the South Central area of Los Angeles. She was married to a white man named Charlie Coleman with whom she had two children. During the summer of 1968 Wanda and Charlie with their kids regularly went to Griffith Park in LA. It was there that Wanda and Charlie Coleman met Charles Manson and a few of the girls.
This is an excerpt from a chapbook titled love-ins with Nietzsche published in 2000. Coleman interspersed her memoir with quotes by Nietzsche whose work she was introduced to by a high school teacher. She had a unique ability to extract the essence of Nietzsche's writings and adapt them to her own circumstances. Nietzsche certainly wasn't writing to an audience of young black women of the '60's.
I found Coleman's story to be an interesting asterisk in the Manson saga especially as it relates to Manson's views on Blacks. Coleman refers to her husband as Charlie in this narrative and to Manson as Charles except in one instance which is fairly apparent.
"Reports about gatherings of 'the beautiful people' in local parks were on the grapevine- feeding the poor and sharing songs at be-ins and love-ins. Eagerly, we joined the throng, acutely aware that our double lives had doubled again. We soon had two children, a boy and a girl. Often we packed a lunch and Thermos to spend mornings and afternoons among 'the flower children,' picnicking and dancing to conga drum music, ogling trinkets for sale, collecting leaflets- basking in a sandalwood-scented atmosphere of unbridled peace, love and sexual freedom. The evening and night of the same day, we might find ourselves in the backroom of a community center, abandoned building or church debating the merits of sit-ins, boycotts and armed struggle, wondering who was the counterintelligence snitch. Charlie loved the excitement and danger. I sat owl-eyed and silent, keeping my cynicism- on both extremes- to myself. Nearly four years would pass before our two disparate worlds would merge during the Griffith Park love-ins of summer 1968.
Charlie had promised to help a peace charity set up their tables to hand out free food. We packed up our babies, double stroller and diaper bag, and went into our larder for a jar of Skippy's peanut butter and strawberry preserves to donate. It was early when we arrived, the area was deserted. My habit was to anchor myself to our blanket with my book, playing with the children while they crawled and toddled, keeping one eye on the oversized guitar case. Charlie had added a 12-string to his collection. His habit was to roam, strapped with the lighter acoustical guitar, mouth harp in a pocket or neck brace.
The park filed with a vast assortment of people, but Charlie gravitated to musicians, spending most of his time with the conga drummers. If he liked someone, he brought them to meet me, or moved us to their spot. this particular Saturday morning, only the families were there, tents up, homemade standards flying. There were ten to a dozen of them. He rarely visited the families. They struck him as strange. But once the tables had been set up, Charlie found nothing to do. The conga drummers hadn't arrived, and the crowd was disappointingly sparse.
"Curiosity ain't killed this cat," he'd say as he kissed me good-bye before wandering the park. "I got nine lives and always landed on my feet."
He returned a couple of hours later, ecstatic, urging me to hurry, pack up the babies and the 12-string. He had discovered a kindred spirit. The man led a family that was virtually all female. He was also a songwriter and was trying to learn how to play the guitar well enough to perform his own music. He was looking for someone tolerant enough to jam with him. Not only that, he like to 'debate politics,' enjoying talk hard and fast. They liked one another instantly. the man was short, White and 'a righteous brother.' Best of all they were both named Charlie. Blushing, he confessed they had shared the peace pipe.
We walked to the tent. My Charlie introduced us. Manson's eyes glittered when he looked up at me. I was not what he expected. I was darker than assumed, a full head taller and outweighed him by eighty pounds. Charles was not the type Charlie was usually drawn to. His angular face and sable shoulder-length hair, gave him the look of a shrunken, wily-eyed Christ. We shook hands, his bony grip firm. We went outside and Charles helped us set our belongings near the tent. The girls were 'off and around,' and the two Charlie's wasted no time resuming their talk. I was not able to sit idly by and listen. I joined in, keeping one eye on the children, breaking from the conversation only to feed them and change diapers. We chewed over such issues as the Warren Commission report on the death of JFK, voters rights, Mao, Castro and Che. When the talk turned to music, I excused myself while the two Charlie's studied lead sheets.
As our afternoon wound to a close, Charles noticed I was carrying my volume of Nietzsche and asked if he could see it. He thumbed through it and asked if he could borrow it. I made him swear an oath to give it back. He kept his word. But when he returned it two weekends later, he had questions. Didn't I realize that what Nietzsche wrote wasn't intended for the likes of me? Especially the part about a race of supermen? As a Negro wasn't I offended by Nietzsche? My Charlie chimed in. And it wasn't long before we got around to one of the two Charlie's favorite topics, if for different reasons- race war.
I eloquently parroted the going militant rhetoric. This amused Charles. He asserted he wasn't a racist, but a realist, and bluntly dismissed my arguments for Black revolution as ludicrous. Charlie idolized John Brown, the song and the man. His contribution to the argument centered around Brown's attack on Harper's Ferry- that Whites could and would one day lead Blacks into armed struggle, that struggle would be integrated. Charles Manson turned his illustration around as evidence for his assertion that legions of Blacks did not rise up to join Brown because they couldn't. Negroes had been whipped, co-opted and cowed by slavery. Blacks would never rise up against Whites, if history were any witness. They loved Whites too much. Denmark Vesey was the exception, not the rule. Manson maintained that if any cultural revolution- or revolution of any kind- was to take place in the U.S., only Whites could defeat Whites because Blacks- if Martin Luther King were any example- did not have the guts or the intelligence to lead either an armed or organized resistance. Whites would have to do it for them.
I immediately dropped my third of the argument, took my Nietzsche and retired to the blanket with the babies. Early in our encounter, Charles had suggested that I check out his women. Two of the dazed-eyed naiads took me by the arm and led me to the women's quarters. Curious, I made an attempt. they liked playing with our kids. But I could not connect. We had nothing in common. Their sole interest was their reverence for their Charlie. They spent hours discussing his needs, wants and lessons. Otherwise, they seemed spaced out, or high- flitting about without ambition or purpose. I had no experience with the drug culture and no way of understanding who they were.
Charles repeatedly invited us to visit Spahn Movie Ranch. Things were extremely tough for us. Life was love-filled but terrible. Charlie couldn't get a decent job to keep one and I couldn't get work because of my inexperience, pregnancies and color. We lived on public assistance, between any odd job he could get. We drove old clunkers for as long as we could keep them running. We always needed money, and Manson was eager to involve Charlie in a couple of schemes. One Saturday morning, Charlie accepted Manson's offer and went out to Chatsworth. I stayed with the children, fingers crossed.
Charlie was gone virtually the entire day and returned after sunset without a dime. I had been worried. When he came in he looked haggard, hands in his pockets. He stood in the doorway, in his denim jacket and jeans, lamb's wool cap tilted slightly forward on his forehead. I was eager to hear the news. What kind of job was it?
"Sweetheart," he said solemnly. "Those are some baaad people."
The 'job' had involved auto theft.
Charlie was proud of his outlaw status as a renegade civil rights worker. But he was not a criminal. He had walked away from Charles Manson without ever looking back. He was twenty-six, going on twenty-seven and I was twenty-one. Within the year, our relationship, too, would end."
"There are the terrible ones who carry about in themselves the beast of prey, and have no choice except lusts or self-laceration. And even their lusts are self-lacerations"- Nietzsche.