Chokwe: Reflections on a Fallen Warrior

Chokwe Lumumba with his children Antar and Rukia.

Chokwe Lumumba with his children Antar and Rukia.

It is surreal.

Instead of welcoming the impending celebration of Chokwe Lumumba’s first year in office as mayor of Jackson, we are struggling to put his son into the mayor’s vacated seat. Chokwe Antar Lumumba was hastily drafted to run in a special election after his father’s shocking death on February 25.

Just over a month before Chokwe’s death, the Black Liberation Movement and the international progressive community was mourning the sudden death of Amiri Baraka. Renowned poet, playwright and activist, Baraka died of natural causes at 79 years old. I was still reeling from the death of my friend and mentor when the news of Chokwe came like a wound-up punch to the stomach. It has taken time to process it all.

I first met Chokwe sometime during the 1970s as the Black Liberation Movement struggled to regain its bearings after the insidious assaults from J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO. There would be numerous regional and national gatherings where our political paths would cross again. It was always about strategy and moving our struggle forward.

Our relationship was always one of unity-struggle-unity. These struggles only deepened our mutual respect for one another. There are several examples that come to mind; I’ll share a memorable one that I still get fondly reminded about from time to time.

The most public of these critiques happened when I moderated the panel on “Land, Power and Self-Determination” at the 1984 National Black United Front conference. As Brother Chokwe neared his time limit, I slipped him a card with remaining minutes—to no avail. I then handed him card that said there was zero time left. Chokwe continued on with his presentation, totally ignoring my attempts to bring him remarks to a close.

By now, I’m sure no one in the auditorium was listening to Chokwe as I placed all five feet and three inches next to his six and half foot frame. I stood beside him, making my presence known and felt. (Witnesses would later report that my nostrils were flaring.)

When Chokwe finally finished—20 minutes past his time—everyone in the room got a lesson in how not to disrespect the moderator, especially if she was a woman. I can say that the lesson was learned for the most part within NBUF and I never saw Chokwe exhibit that kind of flagrant individualism and sexist behavior again.

Ultimately, we knew our shared commitment to the movement was real and unshakable. Whenever one called the other to advance the political fight or to rally around an injustice, there was no guesswork here. We could count on each other being there for the fight.

I was nothing but honored to go to Jackson to work on Chokwe’s mayoral campaign. It was my duty to rally others to support the new vision for Jackson, Mississippi, to be a historic part of Jackson Rising.

Chokwe and I talked strategy and tactics most of the time but there were also times when he shared personal struggles as well. As a caring father, he was concerned that his children would be resentful towards him and the movement because of the amount of time he was away from them. He knew my training was in youth development and he solicited my advice about how to navigate parental responsibilities with his commitment to the liberation of his people.

Chokwe’s love for people and for the struggle were unwavering. There was no difference between his law practice and the struggle. For him, it was merely another battlefront. He was compassionate, thorough and determined in his fight for the rights and dignity of people whether he was in the courtroom or in the hood.

It is now up to us who believe in the strategic importance of organizing the South to continue the fight for the Jackson Plan, to continue the fight against white supremacy and oppression.

Antar Lumumba is running on the vision that has been meticulously and collectively crafted. Great strides have already been made in the short time his dad was at the helm. In the week before the April 8 election, his campaign needs our support. Visit the website to see how:

Let us honor the spirit of Chokwe Lumumba by committing ourselves to the implementation of the vision and to water the seeds already planted in Jackson.

One City! One Aim! One Destiny!

Jamala Rogers is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle.

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