Growing Up Lumumba

Chokwe Antar Lumumba, 30, said negative publicity from his father’s controversial cases toughened the family for Chokwe Lumumba’s mayoral run.

Chokwe Antar Lumumba, 30, said negative publicity from his father’s controversial cases toughened the family for Chokwe Lumumba’s mayoral run. Photo by Trip Burns

On a flight from Detroit to Washington, D.C., in 1977, a young lawyer named Chokwe Lumumba saw something he'd never seen before: a flight-attendant crew consisting of three black women. Quiet, tall and self-confident, Lumumba wore a dashiki and high-water pants. Two of the women caught his eye, so he devised a plan to flirt with both of them. Lumumba asked both women for a cup of hot chocolate. One forgot his order; the attendant who remembered was a petite woman named Patricia Ann Burke.

Essence Magazine detailed the relationship, and its ups and downs, in 1992. Lumumba and Burke exchanged phone numbers, and soon, she moved from Minneapolis into his tiny Detroit apartment. In 1978, the couple had a daughter, Rukia. Lumumba had a son, Kambon, from a previous relationship.

Lumumba bonded with his little girl while his wife, who changed her name to Nubia, was working, crisscrossing the nation and the globe on the flight crew. The couple waited until Rukia was 2 to get married, Nubia told Essence. It was his second marriage. The first ended in the early '70s because, in part because in Lumumba's mind, fidelity was secondary to the movement.

"My politics were dictated by the climate and agenda of the '60s when the overriding objecting was the push for Black Power. Most black men received a heavy dose of the macho ethic in the process," Lumumba told Essence.

Years before he met Nubia and started a family, Lumumba dropped out of Wayne State University Law School in Detroit and moved to Jackson. In Mississippi, he was a Cabinet member in the Republic of New Afrika, which purchased land for a new black nation in the South. Lumumba was vice president of the provisional government of the RNA, which antagonized and was harassed by local police. The RNA's plans went up in smoke one morning in 1971, which the Jackson Police Department stormed the RNA's headquarters on Lynch Street. A shootout resulted in the death of a police officer and the arrests of 11 of Lumumba's comrades. Lumumba was not involved in the melee, but the high-testosterone environment attracted women to the intense personalities that were prerequisite for men in Black Nationalist movements.

Lumumba said the political climate of the time provided a rationale and a justification for his behavior. The movement came first—everything else, including family responsibilities, was secondary. When he became a husband and father for a second time, he told Nubia that she would have to get used to his cheating.

Despite her diminutive stature and her lack of familiarity with the movement, Nubia wasn't having that. She left. The couple reconciled, but Lumumba said he remained distant and unfocused on his marriage even though he stopped cheating. The couple had another separation, this one lasting for more than a year.

Around this time, Lumumba was representing defendants in the 1981 Brinks armored car robbery, organized by a group called the Black Liberation Army, and, later, a group of inmates accused of killing three guards at an Illinois prison. 
 On top of the high-stakes cases he handled, the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi had threatened Lumumba, and police officers had pointed loaded guns at his head.

None of that bothered him, but his crumbling marriage ate at him. Originally, he thought that having a wife and children was incongruous with freedom fighting, but he realized that a lot of men in the freedom movement had successful long-term marriages and were good dads. The most notable among these was his hero, Malcolm X.

Once he decided that his family was as worthy a cause to fight for as black liberation and human rights, Lumumba convinced Nubia to move to Jackson.

It was a hard sell for Nubia, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and had lived in northern cities her entire life. The move to Mississippi marked a turning point in the Lumumbas' relationship. Nubia no longer represented an obstacle to his personal, professional and political goals. She was his partner and closest confidant.

By the time they moved into a large ranch home with a pool in Jackson, they had a second child, a son named Chokwe Antar. When Chokwe Antar was little, he remembers sneaking into his parents' bedroom and lie on the floor and listen as they talked. Whenever Lumumba was considering taking on a big case, he and Nubia talked through it before discussing it with Chokwe Antar and Rukia.

Lumumba's home life more closely resembled that of Cliff and Clair Huxtable than Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver.

Whenever conflicts arose, family meetings were called whether they were about neglected chores, Chokwe Antar's refusal to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, Rukia's missing curfew or a potentially controversial client Chokwe was taking that might draw negative publicity.

"That's my norm. It's not unusual to hear someone not agree with my father. It's not unusual to overhear a conversation where someone has some venomous words. It toughened my skin for something like a campaign," said Chokwe Antar, who served as spokesman for his father's winning run for Jackson mayor.

Mediating controversy inside and outside the Lumumba household became as routine as summer vacation planning. At school, fellow students, and even some teachers, openly expressed the contempt they held for their father and some of his clients to Chokwe Antar and Rukia.

"It was hard to hear people talk nasty about him and the things he was doing. That was very difficult," Rukia Lumumba said.

Otherwise, the Lumumbas say they had a normal upbringing. Nubia collected artwork and other furnishings for the home long before they decided to move to Mississippi. When they got situated in Jackson, the family introduced themselves to their new northwest Jackson neighbors on Halloween night.

Both parents were busy—Chokwe in court and Nubia flying four days a week, but Nubia managed the household.

"She was the backbone. She was the scheduler, the holiday planner," Rukia said of her mother.

"She was the social butterfly, too. My father is more of a quiet guy who likes basketball and really doesn't have to be around a lot of people. She was the ultimate networker and taught us how to be more like that and taught my father how to come out of his social shell."

Where Nubia was the family's iron-fisted leader, Chokwe was the democratic administrator.

"They were just fair, and they listened. They didn't tell you what to do. They told you why you needed to do it, and they listened when we had concerns or complaints. They made you feel like you had a voice," Rukia said.

Rukia and Chokwe Antar both attended historically black universities—Rukia attended Tougaloo College, and Chokwe Antar Tuskegee University in Alabama. And over the objections of their mother, both Lumumba children followed their father into the legal profession. Rukia received her law degree from Howard University in 2006 and is now the youth services director for the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Center for Community Alternatives. Chokwe Antar received his law degree from Thurgood Marshall Law School in Houston in 2008. He is the managing attorney for Freelon & Associates, where his father is senior partner.

Nubia, who passed away in 2003, thought her son, who enjoyed the finer things in life, should go into a more lucrative line of work than law.

Chokwe Antar, who enjoyed going to court with his father, said his father inspired him to practice law.

"One thing I would see as I got older was the many people who seemed to be shuffled in and out of the system, and it just didn't seem that everybody was guilty," Chokwe Antar says. "It occurred to me later on that sometimes people don't have the financial means to defend their innocence."

Even with their father occupying the mayor's office, the Lumumba children foresee no changes in their relationship with their father. Rukia, the mother of a 5-year-old, Qadir, said her father enjoys video chatting with his daughter and grandson.

The elder Lumumba also has a significant other, Gloria Elmore, who was featured in his campaign ads. Chokwe Antar, who will likely take over his father's law practice, said his father has always had a busy schedule, but the two always find time to bond—or commiserate over Detroit sports teams.

Besides, he said, "City Hall is right across the street from the courthouse."

See Also:

Making of a Mayor

Lumumba: Defining Success

The Lumumba Economy

Comments

AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

I appreciate the frankness of that. Having spoken to Chokwe Lumumba several times for Pacifica's KPFA and WBAI Radio, and the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper, I would never think to describe him as "macho." Warm, friendly, gracious, hugely intelligent but unpretentious, and charming in a manner I associate with the South, but macho? Not in the least. However, that part of this makes sense, given the times this family came together in.

I admire him for acknowledging that chapter of his past and ultimately making such a strong commitment to his family, well evidenced by the children following in his footsteps.

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AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

Ouch. I didn't really mean to stuff my own oversized picture in there. I just meant to drop it into the photo icon box next to the comment space. Can anyone help me fix that there, at the Jackson Free Press?

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AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

P.S. I'm glad to see that the Jackson Free Press moderates comments, because the comment comments of one of the community newspapers in the Bay Area has been so overwhelmed by trolls that it's now about verbal bludgeoning more than anything else. It got so bad here this week that the issue of - to moderate or not to moderate - has been on my mind.

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tstauffer 1 year, 4 months ago

Thanks Ann. Not everyone appreciates that we moderate but, quick frankly, the people who don't like it are... pretty much by definition... trolls. :)

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AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

I appreciate it. This week I was one of several women first characterized as chicks then "ladies" - as in so-called ladies - and then accused of all being the same broad.

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AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

That was in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Just one moment of the unmoderated verbal bludgeoning that destroyed the space.

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AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

@tstauffer: I've been trying to figure out whether or not the Jackson Free Press endorsed Chokwe Lumumba and whether or not the Clarion Ledger endorsed Jonathan Lee. Considering the editorial content of the two papers, I would imagine so, but I haven't yet been able to find de facto endorsements published on either.

I'm glad that unmoderated Jackson Free Press trolling isn't going to become part of the story of Jackson Mayor Lumumba as chronicled here.

Not that it could be any worse than the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

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tstauffer 1 year, 4 months ago

Ann: Both the Clarion-Ledger and the Jackson Free Press endorsed the outgoing mayor, Harvey Johnson, leading up to the primary. The C-L endorsed Lee in the runoff; we declined to endorse in the runoff. (Edit: Donna actually talks about some of that in her editorial this week: http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2013/jun/19/hope-and-loving-mississippi/#h34726-p14.)

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AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

Very interesting, though I can't help saying I'm surprised that even the JFP was frightened "that Lumumba will go out on a limb for human rights--sometimes farther than makes us comfortable."

Are endorsements the decision of TFJ's editorial staff, or its publisher? In the flap about the SF Bay Guardian, where the executive editor was recently fired by the publisher, it came out that media mogul/publisher Todd Vogt had laid down the law about a particularly sensitive and significant endorsement . . . said "no newspaper of mine is endorsing. . . " (Never mind the local details . . . point is that the publisher laid down the law in a race of great importance to the local plutocracy.)

This was particularly significant because most people have long imagined that the Guardian's endorsements were those of its editorial staff.

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AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

I mean JFP. I got it right the first time.

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donnaladd 1 year, 4 months ago

Ann, our editorial board makes endorsement decisions: that's our publisher, me and three other editorial folks. And if you knew my life/business partner, Todd, as well as I do, you'd understand that we have nothing like that situation you describe here.

Todd and I both believe in balanced approaches, and we're also not socialists, to be frank. (We call ourselves "small-business free enterprisers" or "libertarians until it gets stupid or mean"--which is often does very quickly.)

One of the biggest problems we had with Lumumba, ideological uncertainly aside, was the fact that he didn't turn his campaign finance reports in until weeks late. One arrived at the city clerk's office on Election Day. This does not send a good message -- either about organization or taking public transparency seriously. I'm all for creative ideas to help make the playing ground more level in our city and to lift people out of poverty and to protect their rights, but ignoring laws set up to ensure public transparency is not the way to get my endorsement.

I said in my editor's note this week that I was concerned about how Lumumba would translate his activism of the past into governance of a capital city, which really nails why I wasn't comfortable endorsing him. I just don't know how he's going to be as mayor. I hope he's a good mayor, but he was a huge question mark for me.

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AnnGarrison 1 year, 4 months ago

The concern about the campaign finance statements is understandable, though I've seen a lot worse than weeks late.

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donnaladd 1 year, 4 months ago

It's hard to be worse than filing them on Election Day unless you don't file at all, or try not to, which we've seen as well.

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donnaladd 1 year, 4 months ago

Also, Ann, we've taken back "chicks" around here. We love it. We're about to do the 9th Annual JFP Chick Ball -- this year to fight sex trafficking. ;-)

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