Remembering Chokwe Lumumba
By Herb Boyd
Special to the Michigan Citizen
I first met Chokwe when he was an activist at Western Michigan University. He would often come to Wayne State where I was teaching to meet with other activists on campus. The late, radical attorney Kenny Cockrel was his idol and that may have been one of his reasons for later setting his goals on a law career.
During our rallies on campus, which seemed to happen almost daily, he was often among the speakers. I am not sure if he was at the founding meeting of the Republic of New Afrika that occurred on campus, but later he became a most energetic member; so much so within a couple of years he was among the group’s leadership.
He was a tall, strikingly handsome young man with a keen political sense, and when dressed in his customary dashiki, he moved across campus like an African warrior, ready to fight for a number of local, national and international causes, which he found time to do despite a heavy and embattled stint at the law school.
By then he had changed his name from Edwin Taliferro to Chokwe Lumumba. Chokwe, he told us, was for the people in Africa who valiantly resisted the advance of European domination and Lumumba for the fallen hero of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba. His life from that point forward would embody the spirit of his namesakes.
Fast forward to the 80s and 90s, I would occasionally hear about him and his fascinatingly productive legal career that was gradually morphing into a political one with aspirations for elected office.
In 2011, when he led the protest to get the Scott sisters out of prison — they had served 16 years for a crime they didn’t commit — it was the same old Chokwe I knew back in the day when he was on the frontline for a number of cases in Detroit concerning activists as well as representing members of the RNA and their battles against state repression, especially in Mississippi. The Scott sisters were released by Governor Barbour.
When I learned of his mayoral bid two years ago, I immediately joined the wave of enthusiasm he commanded and I was overjoyed by his victory last July.
I remember one day in the 70s, he came by my office at Wayne State and we talked about Pan-Africanism, the RNA, Brother Gaidi (Milton Henry); Brother Imari Obadele (Richard Henry); Kwadwo Akpan (Gerald Simmons) — who were alive then but are now all deceased. He was fully committed to the dream of carving out a nation in the country’s Black belt.
He got a little bit of the land he sought as mayor of Jackson, and we can only guess how much more he would have achieved given a few more wonderfully productive years.