Elbert “Big Man” Howard, a co-founder of the Black Panther Party who served as a newspaper editor and information officer—and was instrumental to the organization's social programs—died on Monday July 23 in Santa Rosa, Calif. He was 80.

Howard was one of the six people who founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland in October 1966, along with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. The political organization started out patrolling police for possible abuse against blacks.

Born in 1938, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Howard grew up amid a climate of acute racial violence; as a child, he saw one of his relatives being whipped by members of the Ku Klux Klan, reports Chris Smith of the Press Democrat.

With his military background, Howard was able to teach his fellow Panthers how to handle their weapons. At 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds, with a large afro and his signature dark glasses, he certainly cut an imposing figure—his nickname was “Big Man.”

Howard also edited the Panthers’ newspaper, which sold 200,000 copies a week at its height, and traveled to Europe and Asia to found Black Panther chapters there.  He was also an author, volunteer jazz disc jockey, lecturer and activist in Sonoma County, Calif., where he later made his home.

Howard is survived by his wife Carole Hyams. Howard's cause of death has not been revealed.

Charles W. Harrity/AP Photo

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MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Peter Simins/AP Photo