JACKSON They came in suits, dresses, dashikis and tunics.
They wore an assortment of headwear, everything from riding caps to berets, kufis, hijab and headwraps.
They invoked Jesus Christ, Allah and the Yoruba orishas.
They came to remember and celebrate the life of Chokwe Lumumba, attorney, activist and the late mayor of Jackson.
The Jackson Convention Complex was packed this morning and afternoon for the memorial services for Lumumba, who died Feb. 25 at the age of 66.
Lumumba family members had promised the service would not be a somber affair and would feel more like a celebration, a promise that memorial organizers delivered on.
The service commenced at 11 a.m. with a processional of Lumumbas and Taliaferros— Lumumba's surname at birth—as the Mississippi Mass Choir sang and African drummers played.
Bishop Jeffery Stallworth, Lumumba's pastor at Word & Worship Church, told the audience at the start of the program: "I don't think you realize you're at a celebration." Willie Bell, whom Lumumba appointed as director of the Jackson public-works department, performed the song "Total Praise" with the Mass Choir.
The program last almost five hours and included several musical and poetry tributes.
Jackson State University professor C. Liegh McInnis recited an original poem he wrote titled "Free the Land Man," a reference to the phrase with which Lumumba often began speeches. McInnis described Lumumba as "our own Afro-American Robin Hood with MXG on his chest," referring to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, an organization Lumumba co-founded.
Members of the New Afrikan People's Organization, which Lumumba also founded, along with the MXGM, NAACP and Nation of Islam, representing Minister Louis Farrakhan, gave remembrances as well.
Dr. Safiya Omari, a former Jackson State University professor who managed Lumumba's campaign and worked in his administration as chief of staff, said Lumumba "not only wanted to build institutions, but to improve institutions to better serve the people."
"This man, that people thought was too divisive, was able to bring every segment of this city together," Omari told the crowd today.
Acting Mayor Charles Tillman, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson—who was formerly the mayor of Bolton, near where the Lumumba and the Republic of New Afrika wanted to start a new black-led state—and former Mississippi Gov. William Winter also spoke. Winter confessed that he had reservations about Lumumba's election as mayor last year.
"Based on the stereotypes this old white man had formed about (Lumumba), I thought that he would divide our city. I was wrong," Winter said.
"The strong leadership of Chokwe Lumumba has opened the door to a bright future for us," Winter added. He encouraged Jacksonians to honor Lumumba's memory "by moving through that door together."
Myrlie Evers, a civil rights icon and widow of slain Mississippi civil-rights hero Medgar Evers, said she was grateful for Lumumba and challenged attendees to continue his goal of "one city, one aim, one destiny," which has also become an unofficial motto for Jackson city government.
Bill Chandler, a veteran labor organizer and immigrant-rights advocate who has known Lumumba since the 1970s, said he moved to Mississippi for many of the same reasons Lumumba moved here from his native Detroit.
"To change America, we have to change the South. And to change the South, we have to change Mississippi," Chandler said.
Lumumba was eulogized by his children, Chokwe Antar of Jackson and Rukia, who lives in New York City.
"He was complex. He was a man who loved deeper than
we could comprehend," Rukia said in her remarks. "He knew that if he loved his people, he loved all people.”
Chokwe Antar, Lumumba's youngest child, whom family members and other longtime family friends often called "little Chokwe" during the memorial, delivered an impassioned eulogy to close the service.
"I am Chokwe Antar.—another Christian brother with an African name," he said, repeating a phrase his father used often during his 2013 mayoral race when opponents attempted to cast him as a Muslim.
Antar, whom many political insiders say may make a bid for his father's seat, described how parents met in the late '70s, when his mother, Nubia, was a flight attendant, and his father was traveling. He said his father's love of people brought him to Jackson.
"Love changed Jackson, Mississippi," Antar Lumumba said. "Chokwe Lumumba was love."
In closing, he added: "My father lives in the people's struggle, and he will never die. My father lives in me."