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The very beginnings  of Gray Panthers were very middle-class.  It was initially  the “Consultation of Older and Younger") Adults,  and  there were meetings in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC.

By the end of 1970 the group consisted of 50 retired men and women.

In 1971 they reached out to students at several Philadelphia area colleges (Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore) to dialog with them on areas of mutual concern: ending the war in Indo-China and resisting the draft.

They became intimately involved in the planning of the 1971 White House Conference on Aging, --a presidentially sponsored event composed of politically appointed delegates from throughout the country. 

Gray Panthers protested. The racial and social makeup of the delegation, they maintained, did not accurately reflect the diversity of the older population in this society.

"There was a lot of concern that the special needs of minority elders were not going to be represented at this conference, and that seemed a form of double discrimination.”

So the Gray Panthers began working with another new group, the National Caucus on the Black Aged, to plan what they called the ‘Black House' Conference on Aging, at the same time as the White House Conference also in Washington.

Within weeks, they put together a national planning meeting consisting of scores of mostly black gerontologists, social workers, and other senior advocates.

A  few weeks later, on November 13, 1971, they were able to hold a much larger meeting, more like a convention, with 700 black senior advocates to plan a response to the White House Conference later that month.

Leaders of the White House Conference contacted National Caucus on the Black Aged, and tried to get some of them to come,  the Caucus refused, saying the course of the White House Conference was already set to ignore minority issues, and the Caucus participation would only be tokenism.

The ended with a march on the White House demanding attention to the problems of black seniors at the White House Conference.  They also demanded a guaranteed income, more extensive Medicare coverage, removal of the income ceiling for some Social Security recipients, and an end to the war in VietNam.  The were met by mounted Park Police who forced them back, arresting the moderator of the conference, 72-year old Fannie Jefferson.

(Read more in the November 14, 1971 NY Times article, “Elderly Negroes Present Demands.”)

Much of this is taken from Temple University's archives on the Gray Panthers, particularly this page.

SF Gray Panthers,  1182 Market St,  Room 203,  San Francisco CA 94102
Phone: 415-552-8800, fax: 415-552-8801
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