Elder Ronald and Roland Freeman, presente!


Lifelong freedom fighter and field secretary and founding member of the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party Ronald Elder Freeman made his transition on Oct. 8, 2014, after a long and valiant battle with cancer.

Listen to a special program on Elder Freeman, including the voices of his brother, Roland Freeman, and of Ericka Huggins, Willie “Sundiata” Tate and Harold Taylor. The tribute is produced by Walter Turner of Africa Today, Greg Bridges of Transitions on Traditions and Claude Marks of the Freedom Archives:

Cynthia-McKinney-Tour-w-Panthers-JR-at-Kaos-Network-LA-042313-by-JR-300x225, Elder Ronald and Roland Freeman, presente!, Culture Currents
A high point of Cynthia McKinney’s California tour came on April 23, 2013, at the Kaos Network on Leimert Boulevard in Los Angeles, when Kathleen Cleaver came with the Freeman brothers, Roland and Ronald, better known as Elder. They are standing on either side of Kathleen, Elder Freeman between Kathleen and Cynthia. Kathleen had come to California to raise money for Elder Freeman to travel to Cuba for cancer treatment, and her mission was accomplished. He would never make the trip, however, as his doctors said he was too sick. With the Panthers and KPFK broadcaster Dedan Kimathi, along with Minister of Information JR, host and organizer of the tour, it was a gathering of veterans of the struggle. – Photo: Block Report

Ironically, Elder Freeman’s brother, Roland Freeman – the two were born only a year apart and were, they say, as close as twins – died exactly a week after Elder, at New York’s La Guardia Airport as he was preparing to bring Elder’s ashes back to California. Roland, too, was a founding member of the Black Panther Party.

According to Jasmyne Cannick, Roland, like his brother, was “one of the few original L.A. Black Panthers who stayed involved with the movement until its end and lived to tell about it. He was a co-executive producer and subject of the award-winning documentary film “41st and Central: The Untold Story of the LA Black Panthers.”

Services will be held for Roland and Ronald on Friday, Oct. 31, 10 a.m., at the Angelus Funeral Home, 3875 South Crenshaw Blvd in Los Angeles. The repast will follow at the Regency West, 3339 West 43rd St. in Leimert Park.

Shortly before he died, Elder Freeman arranged with his longtime friend, The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, to record an interview that would serve as his “last testament.” Hundreds have listened to it on YouTube, at http://youtu.be/k4SfUpCf1BM, and now the Bay View has had it transcribed and will begin serializing it in December. In it, Freeman speaks on the founding of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles and on the assassinations of Bunchy Carter, Jon Huggins and George and Jonathan Jackson, among many other topics. Stay tuned!

by Wanda Sabir

This summer Elder Freeman, his wife Carmelita, grandson and good friend Sheba Makeda Haven and I got together for a late lunch at Shashamane in Oakland. Elder was getting ready to travel to visit family and friends in New York, Detroit, Los Angeles and hopefully to get to Cuba.

It was wonderful watching Elder and Sheba reflect on Black Panther history, some of it off the record even now. Laughing and smiling, the old friends stood on Elder’s porch in West Oakland chatting, as Sheba pulled out some of her handcrafted gifts for Elder and his grandson and Carmelita, whom we met later at the restaurant.

Geronimo-Day-Bobby-Hutton-Park-Elder-Freeman-071711-by-Malaika-web-200x300, Elder Ronald and Roland Freeman, presente!, Culture Currents
Elder Freeman speaks on Geronimo Day at Lil Bobby Hutton Park in West Oakland on July 17, 2011. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

I think Elder put his kufi on right away – one was too small – and when we got to the restaurant, his grandson looked really grand in his (smile). Carmelita liked her gift and we all liked the meal, which Elder, a true gentleman, paid for.

The owner of the restaurant came by to chat with us. It was my first time at the restaurant since my trip to Addis Ababa last summer. So we had an opportunity to catch up a bit. Later, when the meal came – I think Elder had chicken, maybe lamb – all was quiet. It was that good. Even the little one, who’d said he wasn’t hungry, enjoyed his shared meal with his grandparents.

The two, grandson and grandpa, went across the street to the drugstore and came back with a toy, clearly pleasing the youngster, who was skipping as Elder held his hand firmly while they crossed the busy intersection of 51st and Telegraph.

Everyone posed for photos in front of the restaurant, and I took photos of Carmelita and grandson as they walked back to her car and then we turned and walked back to mine.

Sheba and I dropped Elder off, who was unclear about when he was going to New York, the first stop in the trip. He and I spoke again before he left, when he returned from New York and LA and while I was in New York and he was in Oakland getting ready to travel. I was sorry our travels to the East Coast didn’t overlap. I was looking forward to a Garveyite tour with Elder Freeman.

When I learned of his crossing over or ascension, I was sorry but not surprised. He’d taken his life into his own hands. Instead of suffering through a treatment protocol which made him so sick he couldn’t eat, he opted to take medicine to help him manage the constant pain and make a farewell tour.

Roland-Freeman-300x178, Elder Ronald and Roland Freeman, presente!, Culture Currents
Roland Freeman

He had it all planned and traveled more in his final months than many travel in a lifetime (smile).

I was on the subway on my way to Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn when he and I spoke last. I was calling to see if he was back in New York. We had a nice talk. Elder sounded strong and happy. We were to speak again and just this week I was thinking that I needed to check in with him again.

As I lay in bed early Wednesday morning willing myself to get up and see the Red Moon, I looked over my shoulder and next to my bed was a lion – sitting looking at me calmly. I blinked and he was still there. No words passed between us. A string of dental floss connected us across the room; then all of a sudden the thread broke.

When I looked later, the string was on the night table where the lion had sat.

Hmm. Elder stopped by to say goodbye? His locks made him look like a lion, so I don’t think it was farfetched to imagine it was he. The time was about the time he was pronounced dead, according to Carmelita. The hospital called her and said it was 4:58 a.m. on Oct. 8.

I had Elder on my radio show more than once with his friend Sheba and alone. He participated in a tribute to Geronimo ji jaga and to Marcus Garvey. I broadcast the tribute to Geronimo this morning, Oct. 10, on the show: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2011/07/14/wandas-picks-special-broadcast-tribute-to-geronimo-ji-jaga. Elder is in the last part of the two-hour tribute. He and Kiilu close the show.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.