>After a troubled upbringing, Mary Williams, 45, the daughter of Black Panthers, was adopted by Jane Fonda. She shares her journey in a new memoir.
What was growing up with the Panthers like?
People misunderstood: The party was actually a loving, empowering environment. The turning point was when my father went to jail and my mother had to raise six of us by herself. Alcoholism and abuse crept in.
At 11 you went to Fonda’s summer camp; five years later, after you were sexually assaulted, she took you in. What was Jane like as a mom?
Intense. If she asked, “How are you feeling?” she wanted a paragraph answer! In my family, being hit was the norm; in Jane’s family, nobody got cursed out.
You were estranged from your birth mom for years. And now?
As I entered my 40s, I started forgiving her. She still has substance-abuse issues; it’s not a fairy-tale ending. But I hope to get closer to her.
If not for Jane, what do you think would’ve become of you?
What happens to a lot of girls in my neighborhood. My only goals were to have a boyfriend to protect me and a baby to love me. Jane saved my life.