We sat amongst thousands of people, almost all Black, some in dashikis or traditional African garb, others in their Sunday best. Throughout the service, the person to the left or right occasionally raised their fist, tears rolling down their face. They cheered for references to revolution from the stage. Speakers called on the crowd to join in chants of, “free the land, by any means necessary!” We hummed to freedom hymns, embraced one another, and cheered to denunciations of capitalism and white supremacy.
This was the memorial service of Chokwe Lumumba, the late mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. And these are the people of Jackson.
Standing in contrast to the swell of genuine popular sentiment was the all Black contingent of cops who carried in Chokwe’s casket, and the traditional military horn bugling that followed. After all, this was a state funeral, for a state official. Among the movement itself, this very scene was a note of controversy: did it bring legitimacy to the movement, or did it create confusion about friends and enemies (and dishonor a fallen comrade)?
Just imagine: the Mississippi state flag, which bears the ugly symbol of the confederacy, flying at half-mast for the death of a known Black revolutionary. Former Mississippi governor William Winter spoke about Chokwe at the memorial as a unifying character between the forces of Black liberation and white supremacy. Winter said that initially he “was afraid” of Chokwe’s election, but then he “was relieved” by Chokwe’s actions in office. It was a well-known game. This was a “Nelson Mandela-ization” of Chokwe, said a comrade in Jackson who opposed the inclusion of such figures in the memorial. Winter sought to assume the mantle of Chokwe and disappear his revolutionary contributions.
It was an amazing sight: the funeral of a popular Black revolutionary, who had briefly served as mayor of a state capital, in the heart of the deep South. Chokwe’s funeral captures the contradictions and turmoil developing in Jackson. And it’s no secret that these contradictions exist within the movement as well.
Jackson is a place of profound contradictions–waiting to explode.