Big Man in Japan



By Elbert "Big Man" Howard

As the Black Panther Party (BPP) developed in the Black Community of Oakland, it also became known across America and the world. As our impact became effective, we started to receive correspondence from countries around the world. Many groups such as student, labor, and political organizations sent letters of support and invitations to come and speak in their countries. One of our first invitations outside of the U.S. came from an international labor party in Montreal, Canada, as a Solidarity Group. Attending that meeting, in the winter of 1967, was then Chairman Bobby Seale, Chief of Staff David Hilliard, myself and a friend of the Panthers, Karen Wald.

In 1971, we received a request from a student group to have members of the BPP come to Japan and meet with many of their groups who were in protest; students, women, labor organizations, all who showed solidarity with the BPP. Roberta and I spent a month traveling throughout Japan.

From Japan I was directed to go to Europe, Sweden and Denmark and work with solidarity groups who worked as support groups of the BPP. I worked with the groups speaking, doing interviews with newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. They sold the BPP newspaper, buttons and other materials. With so many of our leadership then in jail or on trial, I was called back home to help with the editing of the newspaper.

After not too long a time, I was invited to come to Frankfurt, Germany to speak to a group on an Army Base there. The military closed the base down so that I could not speak. However, I went to the base and much to my surprise I was met by a group of GIís dressed out in Panther leather jackets and black berets. They had copies of the BPP newspapers. They took me to a club and we talked most of the night about the BPP and the struggle. That was solidarity we didnít know we had. I left Frankfurt and headed to Algeria where Eldridge Cleaver and other panthers from different parts of the U.S. were in exile. There was the Algiers branch of the BPP. I arrived in Algeria safely, and after hours of waiting to clear airport customs and police security, I was finally cleared and picked up by comrades.

After spending a few days visiting with the comrades and getting to know North Africa a little bit, I was invited to come back to Frankfurt to speak to a massive rally of people. However, I was warned that I would be deported, arrested, or whatever if I came back to speak. I talked it over with party leadership and they left the decision up to me. The people of Germany wanted me to come, so I took the position of "Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win". So, I flew to Frankfurt. My flight landed and was not allowed to dock. It was stopped on the taxiway, police agents boarded, grabbing at the first Black person they saw, who was a female GI. I got up and visibly protested. They then grabbed me and escorted me to a plane that was standing by to fly me out of the country. I was flown to Paris. After I was kidnapped the crowd waiting for me launched a full-scale riot.

Another supporter and dear friend, Ms. Ellen Wright, the widow of my idol Richard Wright, the famous Black author, met me in Paris. I spent a couple of days with Ms. Wright and then flew home. Then it was on to work to free Bobby, Ericka and all the Political Prisoners locked up in America. Working in solidarity made some of it happen.

All Power to the People!

Editorís Note: Elbert "Big Man" Howard was a member of the Black Panther Party from 1966-1974. He was the first BPP newspaper editor, the Deputy Minister of Information, Central Committee member, Member of the International Solidarity Committee, an organization spokesman, community organizer and program coordinator. Big Man was also a key organizer for Bobby Sealeís mayoral campaign in Oakland and provided outreach to celebrities seeking support for the Party.

On a personal note: Big Man was like a big brother to me. He took me under his wings and taught me many things. One of the many things I owe to Big Man is my appreciation for jazz. In my opinion, Big Man is one of the Giants of the Black Panther Party.

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