You want to know why people are scared of Chokwe Lumumba? Here's a good place to start.
The headline that appears on a story that the WAPT web site (www.wapt.com) reads, "Lumumba wants to remove Christopher Columbus from history books."
The headline is misleading at best.
I was at the debate last Friday night when Lumumba made the comment that we need to stop teaching our children that Christopher Columbus discovered American in 1492. "Columbus didn't discover America. America wasn't lost, Columbus was," Lumumba is correctly quoted in the story as saying.
What the story doesn't do is put the quote in context. The way it reads, you'd think Lumumba was asked about education and launched into a Christopher Columbus hate-a-thon. He was asked how we can keep students from dropping out of Jackson Public Schools, and he answered that maybe if our black youth was learning a little bit more about black culture and roots, they might be a little more interested in school and have a little bit more self-worth.
Besides, Lumumba is right about Columbus and the wording "Columbus discovered America." You can't be the first person to discover something that someone else has already found. Native Americans lived here before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean; therefore, he cannot be the first man to "discover" America. Even if you don't believe that African people from the northern part of the continent crossed the Atlantic before Columbus—and some do—you can't deny that Christopher Columbus was not the first man to set foot in the Americas.
But the story on WAPT gets worse. It clumsily tries to explain Lumumba's beliefs, saying that he believes "people from northern Africa had been traveling to the North American continent years before Columbus did in 1492," and my personal favorite line of the story: "In fact, a Google search by 16 WAPT News shows the discovery of America is a widely disputed one."
Well, at least you did your homework.
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Lumumba said the headline and the idea that he wants to remove Columbus from the history books is "disappointing."
"I never said that. ... What I was really saying is that we need to add the people who came before ... . I just want the history books to accurately reflect that Columbus opened the Western Hemisphere to Europe," he said. "He did not discover it." Lumumba said he has used that line hundreds of times over the years, and said it was curious that it was just getting publicity now.
The bigger issue is that here we are, two days after Lumumba won the primary runoff, and this is the headline on local news stations. The divisiveness hit Twitter and Facebook as soon as the race was called. It hit comment sections on web sites of the JFP and Clarion-Ledger shortly thereafter. Now it is in a headline on WAPT. Where will it be in a month? A year?
For his part, Lumumba said he's just going to do what he can to bridge the gap between residents, including those who worry that he will not represent them.
"We just have to be strong and make progress where we can," he said. "We are going to go ahead with some of our clean-up programs, and we'll extend invitations to the people from the areas of town which didn't necessarily agree with us during the campaign. When we start to have some success and start to make a difference, the genuine people will come around.
"You won't ever reach everybody, and with those people you won't reach, you just have to build a fortress and keep them from hurting the good work you're trying to do. We would never do anything retaliatory."
I'm almost afraid to blog this, for fear the next headline will be "Lumumba to build fortress."