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Celebrating the Black Panthers - 47 years later

  • Mike Smith, left, one of the members of the Oakland Seven, talks with Elbert "Big Man" Howard, one of the original six members of the Black Panther Party, during the 47th anniversary celebration of the Black Panther Party founding, in Santa Rosa on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat) (ALVIN JORNADA/ PD)

Beatrice Sneed of Suisun rode a train, bus and cab to get to a Black Panther Party 47th anniversary celebration Thursday night in Santa Rosa.

A 71-year-old African-American woman who uses a wheeled walker to get around, Sneed said she was staying at a motel for the entire three-day event through Saturday at the Arlene Francis Center on Sixth Street.

"Because I love it," she said. "I love this kind of gathering."

Black Panther Party 47th Anniversary

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More than 50 people attended the opening night of the event, organized and hosted by Elbert "Big Man" Howard of Santa Rosa, one of the six founding members of the Black Panthers in Oakland in 1966.

"They got a bad rap," Sneed said, referring to the Panthers' highly publicized, gun-toting protest in the state Assembly chambers in Sacramento in 1967.

"A lot of people were afraid of them," she said. "We tend to be afraid of a lot of people but we're not afraid of the right people."

Howard, 75, a burly man dressed all in black, including a leather jacket, with a white mustache and goatee, told the crowd he was "overjoyed to see you all and have you see me. It's been quite a ride to arrive at this day, this time and this hour."

Howard, who was raised in segregated Chattanooga, Tenn., where Ku Klux Klan members whipped one of his relatives, met Panther co-founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland after serving four years in the Air Force.

"It was a dawning of new ideas," Howard said in a documentary screened Thursday, titled "Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers."

In person, Howard described the founding of the Panthers, following the death of black activist Malcolm X, as "a group of young guys that came together and just thought they could do something about the conditions that existed."

The Panthers, who became best known for confronting Oakland police on the streets, "created programs for the survival of mankind," Howard said.

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