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Elbert “Big Man” Howard died in Santa Rosa at the age of 80 on July 23. The memorial service was held on Aug. 25. Howard was one of six founding members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. He was well known as one of the most instrumental members in many facets of organizing during his time with the party. The memorial was packed with original Panthers who shared candid stories of their time with Howard.
Poor is the word without the deeds ... poor the deeds without the WORD – ... During the time of Big Man his words were commitment to action ... his determination exposed the people’s cries we HEARD – ... Where the spectator merely shouts creates noise that static sound without rhythm or RHYME – ... Big Man stood front and center at the eye of the storm in the arena of struggle ... and intoned the poor and oppressed will rise time after time after TIME –
The 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party Conference, Oct. 20-23, held at the Oakland Museum of California and in Bobby Hutton Grove at deFremery Park, was a huge success. To see the Vanguards of the Revolution saluted in such elegant surroundings at the banquet Saturday evening was certainly a fitting tribute to the legacy their lives concretely represent. Hats off to the committee that organized the conference.
Congratulations to Mary and Willie Ratcliff and Muhammad al-Kareem for the People’s Liberation Movement as manifested for 40 years in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. Congratulations to the collective voices which have graced its pages over this history, especially ancestors such as Kevin Weston, and, to JR Valrey, much respect for envisioning such a wonderful tribute program on Feb. 21.
It is amazing how time flies whether one is moving or standing still. One looks up and sees, suddenly it seems, friends celebrating 70 and 75 or 80 or even 90-plus milestones. Wow! What a blessing that is. And while we also see the fullness of time’s passage in the lives of those who have decided to move on, too often we are caught by surprise, our mouths hung open, the words we could have said … deeds left undone.
The Black Panther Party newspaper was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1967. It became the No. 1 Black weekly newspaper in the country from 1968-1971, selling over 300,000 copies each week. Every Panther had to read and study the newspaper before selling it.
The Jericho Movement is stepping up its work to free political prisoners, especially those caught in FBI Director Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO web. Nineteen members of the Black Panther Party are in prison today. Collectively they have been incarcerated for 800 years. Jericho has long been a supporter of Nebraska’s political prisoners, Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa (né David Rice) and Ed Poindexter, known as the Omaha 2.
I was working at Central Headquarters of the Black Panther Party (BPP) when George Jackson was murdered by guards in San Quentin Prison in 1971. George Jackson was one of the leaders of the developing Prison Rights Movement at the time. He helped develop a new consciousness among prisoners based on political education, service to the community and the destruction of the evil capitalist system.
Her name was Yuri, a Japanese woman born in the United States. I hesitate to call her a Japanese-American, for to do so suggests she was a citizen. In light of how she, her family and her community were treated during World War II, especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, to call any of them citizens would be an exaggeration. Yuri Kochiyama, freedom fighter, after 93 summers, has become an ancestor.
Rickey Vincent’s new book, “Party Music,” about the Black Panther Party singing group The Lumpen is a great read. The revolutionary singing group was all about the ideology of the Black Panther Party in song and music. The Lumpen had a powerful show. They mixed the contemporary music of James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Motown and changed the lyrics to provide a positive message in their music.
By now millions of Americans have heard about COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO was the FBI’s evil and illegal system of spying, lying, telephone wire taps, frame-ups and assassination that violated the constitutional and human rights that they claim to uphold. I was recently asked, while doing a Black Panther Party historical tour in Oakland, how COINTELPRO affected me personally. Here is one of my stories.
Because of Andy Lopez’ killing, the main focus of many people I know is on youth executions at the hands of law enforcement. I see this in terms of a broader context, i.e. the long-range agendas of the right-wing Republican Party. The week-to-week shooting deaths of our Black, Brown and other youth by so-called law enforcement must be studied in the context of the systemic all-over picture. Clearly, there is a pattern and a plan there, if one would just look closely.
The award winning play, “The Mountaintop,” looks at the everyday divinity of ordinary folks and places Martin King right there with them. His greatness is not a greatness which is inaccessible or isolated. In the Lorraine Motel that night, King listens and even agrees at some point with the young maid, Camae, a Malcolm X radical in an apron.
From the powerful voice of Mumia Abu-Jamal opening the event to jazz rapper Do D.A.T.'s video-illuminated revelations on life in the hood, from beloved journalist Kevin Weston's story of his escape from death's door to renowned filmmaker Kevin Epps' telling about his first job delivering the Bay View, Black Media Appreciation Night at Yoshi's Nov. 26 saw stars like Panthers Big Man and Emory Douglas, Phavia Kujichagulia, Walter Turner, Donald Lacy, Wanda Sabir, Greg Bridges, JR Valrey and Dr. Willie Ratcliff place Black media on the front lines of the struggle for justice.
The fiery writing of JR Valrey began appearing in the Bay View a dozen years ago. JR made our original vision for the Bay View reality: to inspire Black youth to build a powerful Black community. As the Bay View’s associate editor and one of KPFA’s most popular programmers with his provocative Block Report Radio shows, JR and the youth who grew up on his empowering words and pictures are growing in influence, making a difference every day – and they’re just getting started.
A now famous quote from Ernesto Che Guevara says, “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” The legacy of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense has proven this repeatedly, even though the city in which the party was born continues to shower those who struggle within her boundaries with the most heinous disrespect.
This photo comes with a sad story. The child with the sign is Olga, Althea Francois’ daughter. This picture was taken by the FBI and sent to Althea’s parents. They told her parents that she was putting their grandchild in dangerous situations. This set off a chain of events that Althea wondered about for many years.
Brother Richard Aoki demonstrably and sincerely dedicated the vast majority of his life and his every living thought to achieve the overcoming of racism, poverty and inequality, without giving up. Richard was indeed exactly who he claimed to be, who is exactly what people back in the day of the struggle also knew him to be: a dedicated, brilliant revolutionary.
Aoki NEVER was an agent. The over-emphasis upon Aoki providing the Panthers their first firearms is sensationalist fodder. What is conveniently ignored is what he contributed most to the Panthers and to the legacy of the U.S. revolutionary movement: promoting revolutionary study, ideology and disciplined organization. That’s why he was field marshal – because the cat could organize and tolerated no indiscipline and lack of seriousness. To the end of his life, Aoki could go toe-to-toe with any intellectual, theorist or organizer on the complexities and challenges of revolutionary theory.
The wonderful people of Sonoma gave Big Man a surprise dinner to honor his 50th year of community service. Big Man’s and my connection is based in the Black Panther Party. Even in the BPP, we used to run together.