Original Black Panther party members gathered in honor of the history and life of one of their founding members at Lil Bobby Hutton Park, also known as Defremery Park in West Oakland, CA.
Elbert “Big Man” Howard died in Santa Rosa at the age of 80 on July 23. The memorial service was held on August 25.
Howard was one of six founding members of the Black Panther Party of Self Defense. He was well known as 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. One of the most mentioned accomplishments of Howard’s was writing for the Black Panther Newspaper and traveling internationally to represent the Panther Party.
According to former Black Panther Communications Secretary Kathleen Cleaver, Howard went under the pen name “Brother Dynomite” while he was an editor of the newspaper.
Cleaver, who traveled all the way from Atlanta, Georgia to attend the memorial service described the character of Howard as not a soldier, but a gentle yet powerful passionate man. She described him as a true leader.
“One of the things about our brother Big Man, he had a big heart. He had big ideas. He was extremely honest. He was devoted. And I would like to say he represented the soul of the Black Panther Party.” Cleaver said.
Howard was an international spokesman for the party. Several speakers at the memorial service had stories reflecting on his trip to Japan. Roberta Alexander was one of the party members accompanying Howard on the trip to Japan explaining the difficulties of traveling abroad and organizing.
When speaking on Howard’s character, Alexander said, “We called him Big Man because he was big in stature but he was big in his heart, his soul, and his commitment to the fight for justice in our communities and in the world.”
Original Black Panther member and leader Ericka Huggins recalled Howard coming to guarding her after acquitted of conspiracy murder charges in 1971. Huggins said she did not know Howard that well at the time. When reminiscing on her release, Huggins said Howard reached for her arm. She recalled his gentle eyes and felt safe.
“I was just aware of being so protected…so held…so loved. How is it that love works in people that don’t even know each other? It’s because it’s bigger than our little minds and the shallowness of our thinking,” Huggins said.
Among other noted announcements during Big Man’s memorial service, host Billy X Jennings read of a proclamation from the city of Oakland officially proclaiming August 25, 2018, Elbert “Big Man” Howard day.
According to KQED, Howard left the Black Panther Party in 1974 to live a normal life. He moved to Tennessee after leaving the party and rarely talked about his life as a Panther.
Howard’s daughter Tynisa Howard Wilson said at the memorial she grew up not knowing much about her father’s Panther past and did not realize how important he was in the movement until he was searching for photos for a 35th BPP anniversary.
Howard was married to his wife, Carole Hyams, a woman he had known during his times as a Black Panther but did not marry until 2005. At the memorial service, Hyams said her late husband would have loved the memorial service.
“His favorite thing, being the center of attention, and being the reason for bringing all the comrades back together,” Hyams said.
Speakers at the memorial read poetry sang songs and recanted stories of Howard with one recurred theme. They wanted him to be remembered for more than the black and white image often displayed of him in a leather jacket with a gun. He was a man who loved jazz, was gentle and protective towards his friends and family, and a fierce warrior against those who imposed a threat to his community.
Many speakers mentioned the with the current political climate, the fight for liberation is still necessary. The fight for justice and peace will continue in Howard’s memory and the history he made.
Elbert “Big Man” Howard lived a full life from January 5, 1938, to July 23, 2018. May he rest in peace while his legacy lives on.