I first met Chokwe Lumumba in 1978. I came to Detroit for a planning meeting for a 1979 march to the United Nations demanding human rights for the Black nation in the United States. I was a member of the Afrikan People’s Party (APP) and Chokwe was a Vice-President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (PGRNA). The APP and the PGRNA were partners in the National Black Human Rights Coalition that was planning the November 5, 1979 march to the UN. Chokwe was a recognized national movement spokesperson, activist, and successful lawyer. I was just a young “movement” brother and college student. He invited me to his law office and hosted me like an old friend and comrade. Chokwe asked questions about my political work in Los Angeles and discussed my perspective on things. He seemed to genuinely value what I had to say.
Chokwe and I would become close comrades. Along with other former members of the APP, PGRNA, House of Umoja and the Black Panther Party, we were co-founders of the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM). Our households became close as his wife, Nubia, and my spouse Aminata also became friends. We talked intimately about personal issues, the movement, and always about sports, particularly basketball.
In over four decades of activism and researching our people’s history, Chokwe Lumumba was one of the most talented, dedicated, and sincere people and revolutionaries that I have known. He was born Edwin Taliaferro in the city of Detroit on August 2, 1947. His commitment and love for our people as an adult is attributed to loving parents, Lucien and Priscilla Taliaferro, who supported the Civil Rights Movement. Edwin was called to Black Power activism as young student athlete at Michigan’s Kalamazoo College. His elder brother Reggie first joined the PGRNA and pledged his allegiance to New Afrika-the Black Nation in North America in 1969. Edwin would soon follow and adopt the name “Chokwe” (hunter) and “Lumumba” (gifted).
The PGRNA believed that Afrikan people in North America needed land to form an independent nation-state so that we could fulfill our potential as human beings. The territory identified by the PGRNA included the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. The PGRNA called the Black majority counties in western Mississippi the Kush district. The PGRNA planned to build schools, medical clinics, and economic cooperatives and also mobilize its residents to vote for independence in a UN supervised plebiscite (election) to determine the will of Black people in the Kush District for nationhood.
Chokwe came to Mississippi in 1971 when the PGRNA made an agreement to purchase land in Hinds County, Mississippi and organized a Land Celebration Day to note the eminent purchase. As the PGRNA assembled to proceed to their celebration the perimeter security informed them that contingent of local police, Klansmen, and other white supremacists formed a blockade near the only exit where the New Afrikans had gathered to intimidate them and prevent the Black nationalists from having their Land Celebration. As a leader of the security force, Chokwe was in the first car of the caravan headed to the event. He often reflected how the white blockade, “opened like the Red Sea” when faced by a caravan organized, determined, and armed Blacks. He would return later that year after his fellow PGRNA workers survived a pre-dawn raid by the FBI and Jackson police on their Jackson, MS residence. Eleven PGRNA workers, known of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) 11 were arrested and charged with felonies as a result of them defending themselves from the FBI and police assault.
The legal ordeal of the RNA 11 motivated Chokwe to complete law school at Wayne State University. After graduating from law school and passing the Michigan Bar, he successfully sued Wayne State for discriminatory practices against students of African descent. I am sure his teachers believed he learned too well! Chokwe Lumumba will be remembered as the “people’s attorney” for his service to political prisoners and those falsely accused. A former athlete, Chokwe took his athletic determination and work ethic to the courtroom. I will never forget visiting him when he represented Dr. Mutulu Shakur to fight conspiracy charges that criminalized the Black Liberation movement. Several evenings I found Chokwe had fallen asleep at his desk preparing for trial. Chokwe often commented that Malcolm X was discouraged from pursuing a legal career by his racist junior high school teacher. Chokwe was dedicated to be the lawyer that Malcolm would have become. Surely Chokwe took Malcolm X into the courtroom.
Chokwe also took Malcolm’s principles into electoral politics. He ran for Jackson, MS City Council in 2009. His campaign slogan was, “The People Will Decide,” which he and the MXGM put into practice by organizing a People’s Assembly in his ward to create his platform. Chokwe was elected City Councilman on Malcolm’s birthday May 19th with 63% of the vote. The Ward 2 People’s Assembly continued to function after his inauguration and was organized into task forces around education, health, the environment, youth development, economic development, and other local issues. Chokwe received direction from the People’s Assembly in his policy decisions on the City Council. The same model was employed in his successful run for Mayor in 2013. I was with him when he received the election results. My book We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement had just been published. Chokwe turned to me and said, “Looks like you need to write a new chapter to your book.” My response was, “Brother, this deserves its own book!”
Chokwe Lumumba made his journey to the Ancestors on February 25, 2014. In the Yoruba sacred literature ODU IFA, it is stated that, “human being can become Orisha” meaning that an Ancestor can become a powerful force to work on behalf of its people. Surely Malcolm, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, and Ida B. Wells have become inspiration Ancestors for our people. Chokwe Lumumba will be invoked as we fight in the courtroom, fight for progressive representation of our people in electoral politics, and fight for human rights and self-determination for our New Afrikan/ Black nation. Ashe!!!