A Freedom Fighter Goes Home: Reflections on Mayor Chokwe’s Lumumba’s Funeral
by Asha Bandele and Dr. Akinyele Umoja
It was a home-going befitting an African warrior of the first order.
In the days following February 25th, when we learned that our comrade, leader, brother, Baba—friend—had suddenly made his transition, the men and women of the New Afrikan nation, in all of our sorrow and pain, came together under the leadership of the honorable Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s children and family. The With Rukia and Chokwe Antar (children of our new Ancestor), guiding the ship, New Afrikans from across the territories—Atlanta, North Carolina, and Louisiana, but also Oakland, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Memphis, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Miami, Saint Louis, Memphis, and Greensboro and Raleigh (North Carolina) and came to Jackson to begin helping pull together a service that set before the world the story of man whose life-vision and life-work transformed both individually and collectively, leaving as his legacy what ethical, revolutionary, African-centered, committed and compassionate leadership looks like—which is to say, New Afrikan leadership.
The service, in which more than 3,000 were in attendance, was held on Saturday, March 8th from 11 a.m. until internment, at roughly 4 p.m. Black Liberation Movement was represented at the service by a variety of activist formations including the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, the National Black United Front, the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika, the Institute of the Black World, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, the Nation of Islam, the National Jericho Movement, the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, the December 12th Movement, and the NAACP. The memorial was steered by the wise hands of Chokwe’s minister from Jackson’s Word and Worship Church, the Bishop Jeffrey Stallworth, and NAPO’s Rev. Makungu Akinyela of Pleasant Hill Victory A.M.E. Church in College Park, GA . And we were edified by the soul-embracing music of the Mississippi Mass Choir.
But what made Chokwe’s home-going revolutionary was the way in which it brought together men and women who but for our warrior, would likely never have been in the same room together. Chokwe was carried into the Jackson Convention Center by the Jackson Police Department, once known more for its persecution than its protection. But the day before, at the public viewing, Assistant Police Chief Lee Vance promised that on his watch, the men and women of the JPD would honor their mayor. Indeed, they did.
Chokwe’s and the family’s entrance to the Jackson Convention Center was followed by a masterful Libation in which Dr. Akinyele Umoja, in offering Libation, provided a calling on and calling together of Spirit of all the members, now ancestors, of Chokwe’s family, to welcome their son. The founding members of NAPO offered the family the Spices of Life, explaining with each element, from the salt to the palm oil, how each represented the qualities of the full life of their father, GrandBaba, brother and uncle. And there was more.
Mrs. Myrlie Evers Williams talked about a man who helped bring her husband’s killers to justice; the acting mayor, Charles Tillman, talked about a wise man who did more in 8 months than others had done in 8 years; former Mississippi Governor, William Winter admonished his own pre-election position, that Chokwe would divide the city. “I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Winter said. National Conference of Black Lawyers president Adjoa Aiyetoro spoke of the People’s Attorney. Members of MXGM said Asante Sana, Baba, thank you so very much; and they were followed by a sea of New Afrikan women in white, led by Chokwe’s comrades of NAPO’s New Afrikan Women’s Task Force Their breathtaking, intergenerational and majestic processional numbered near 100. The women blessed the altar and Chokwe’s Spirit; and they were followed by Cassandra Wilson, who blessed us with her soul-deep rendition of “Roll, Jordan, Roll.”
And despite the mighty loss we are all still grappling with, it was in no uncertain terms, a celebration of life. Perhaps at no moment was that made more clear than when the group, Triumph, led those gathered a sing along of Chokwe’s favorite song, “My Girl.” Everyone danced. And our dance was followed by African dancers, including several on stilts and in African masks who brought us all to a place of joy so we could remember and honor the joy our brother and Baba brought to so many by providing the avenue to freedom. The Scott Sisters, who made the long drive from Pensacola, Florida, said simply, “He was like a father to us. Don’t know what we gon’ do with our Chokwe. We kinda afraid to even be in Mississippi without him.”
Yet if they were afraid on the drive to Mississippi, surely some of their fears were allayed when Rukia and Chokwe Antar rose, after nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters offered us the Detroit beginnings of a revolutionary. Rukia and Antar both held to the light the love that was their father, a love that was made ever better by his beloved wife Nubia, who became an ancestor in June of 2003. It was a love that lived on past death, as Chokwe’s Spirit does.
If we didn’t believe it there, in that moment, then surely we knew as we followed the processional whose end one could not see with the naked eye. All through the streets of Jackson, young and old, the high and the humble, stood with the fists in the air. Some shouted, “Free the land.” Some cried. All honored a man who had so honored them. The fire department flew our Red, Black, and Green flag and even the 21-gun salute and playing of Taps seemed to come from the Motherland that Saturday afternoon in Mississippi. We laid Chokwe’s body to rest alongside his beloved Nubia while the last lines of Antar’s eulogy looped in the heads of so many of us gathered.
“My father is not dead!” Antar declared. “My father is not dead! He lives in the people’s struggle!”
It is now our job to make real those words.
Free the land! Free the land! Free the land!
By Any Means Necessary!