By Alan Bean
I didn’t know much about Chokwe Lumumba when I called him up five years ago. I gathered from his name that he was a Black nationalist. All I really knew was that he had served as defense counsel for Curtis Flowers, a man who has now stood trial an unprecedented three times for a crime he did not commit. I didn’t realize I was speaking to the future mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.
Lumumba died recently after serving only eight months in office, apparently of natural causes.
From reading the voluminous trial transcript of Curtis Flowers’ second trial, I knew Chokwe Lumumba was a passionate defender who took his work very seriously. In defending Mr. Flowers, he had crisscrossed the state, interviewing potential witnesses and re-interviewing the state’s hapless witnesses.
If anything, Chokwe appeared to be too invested in the case. As the trial drew to its close, Lumumba told the all-white jury that racial bias was blinding them to the obvious. When I read that rebuke I found myself wishing that he had kept his opinions to himself.
But Chokwe knew he could not vindicate his client at trial. Not in Gulfport, Mississippi. Not that day. All he could do was firm up the record so the appeals court could give his man a second chance. In that case, making direct reference to racial bias was a good plan. The inevitable guilty verdict was eventually reversed on the grounds of racial bias in jury selection.
Chockwe Lumumba was part of the second wave of civil rights activists who no longer saw full integration as realistic or even desirable. They spoke of creating a separate country, comprised largely of “Black Belt” counties in the South, where Black people could chart their own course free from the debilitating influence of White bigotry and racial resentment.
It is ironic, therefore, that a dedicated Black nationalist ended up as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, a city that was once at the very heart of the never-in-a-thousand-years struggle for White supremacy. Continue reading