"Attorney Herb Irvin's Open Letter to Jonathan Lee" by Politics Blog | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

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Attorney Herb Irvin's Open Letter to Jonathan Lee

This open letter to mayoral candidate Jonathan Lee just came via email. Here it is, verbatim:

Jonathan Lee Candidate for Mayor of Jackson Public Letter

Dear Mr. Lee:

After watching one of your recent campaign commercials in which you portrayed Chokwe Lumumba as radical and racist, I was compelled to offer you a different world view.

I am a native of Yazoo city, the hometown of Michael Espy and Haley Barbour, two of our state’s most recognized political figures. Like Mike and Haley, I am a product of the public schools system, a graduate of Yazoo City High School. My ACT scores ranked me in the top 10 percentile in the country, and I was fortunate to earn distinction as a National Merit Finalist and accordingly received numerous scholarship offers.

Sarah King, my black, Northwestern University-educated high school guidance counselor told me….”You need to matriculate at Williams College, where you will be nurtured and taught to be a critical thinker. With a Williams College education, you will be equipped to change the world when you return to Mississippi. ”

So, naturally I chose Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Mrs. King was right on point. Williams College satisfied my natural thirst for knowledge and enlightenment, but it also showed me how easily one can cast seeds of discord and destroy a community.

Williams had a total of 60 black students enrolled in all classes. All of the students, from every conceivable ethnicity, were the top students in their high schools. A staff person in the admissions office remarked in one of the dining halls that they were pleasantly surprised at how well the minority students were performing – – especially the “10 percenters”. What was a 10 percenter?!

Shortly after this statement resonated, the campus newspaper ran a story that said Williams College was participating in a social experiment known as “Affirmative Action” and had elected to admit 10% of the students who would not ordinarily qualify for admission to the college.

The college wanted to honor its moral obligation to society by giving underprivileged, socially disadvantaged students the opportunity to obtain a Williams college education, but the newspaper article made the “10 percenter” concept appear as something to be ashamed of instead of portraying it as the wonderful program that it was.

Almost immediately, all students were trying to determine who was a 10 percenter. Some of them would be mean-spirited and say things that were destructive. A few said things like, “we know Herb Irvin is a 10 percenter, because he is from Yahoo, Mississippi”! All of a sudden, the black students were no longer on academic parity. Because of this 10 percenter phrase, the black students’ academic ability and capacity were questioned by the non-black students and the faculty, as well as by their fellow black students.

Some of the best black students left before graduation, because they didn’t believe that they earned the right to be there.

Against the advice of my classmates and friends, I decided return to Mississippi with my great Williams education and my plans to change the quality of life for those less fortunate. I enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law. Ole Miss Law School was not a good academic or social environment for me or the total 20 black law students who were enrolled when I was a freshman.

After having endured an excruciating amount of mental anguish, just as I was about to graduate, there were major state and federal court decisions that ruled that many affirmative action programs were tantamount to reverse racial discrimination and would have to be dismantled.

Now with my grades at Ole Miss being average and with all of the law firms and recruiters granting interviews to only the top 10-15 percent of the graduating class, I was unable to develop any job prospects before graduation.

Fate would have it that Mike Espy was speaking at a law school forum, and I talked with him after the program and told him that I was about to graduate and had no idea where I was going to work. Mike told me that I was in luck, because he was an Assistant Secretary of State and his office was looking for two attorneys.

Mike asked me for a resume, and I was interviewed by Secretary of State, Ed Pittman, two weeks later. After the interview, Secretary Pittman stated that as impressive as I appeared, he wasn’t sure that he could give the job to a C+ law school graduate. He stated that a large number of law school graduates did not have jobs and that if anyone asked why he gave me the employment opportunity versus a white lawyer he wanted to be able to say that the black attorney had better grades.

Secretary Pittman had an epiphany and asked me to give him recommendations from my college professors and my high school teachers, information on Williams College, my National Merit distinction, a letter from Ole Miss Law School Registrar explaining grade inflation policy, etc. After taking about two weeks to compile the requested information, I was employed as Staff Attorney for the Secretary of State.

In January 1982, I was one of five black attorneys working in state government in Mississippi, with the exception of the state legislature. Constance Harvey was working in the governer’s office; Jane Jackson was working in the state legislature; Carmen Castilla was working in the Attorney General’s office; and Mike Espy and I were in the Secretary of State’s office. There may have been 10 other black clerical employees in the entire state government system.

Secretary Pittman placed me in the “Fishbowl” office in his suite in the Heber Ladner Building so that he could show the world that he had hired a black attorney. As State Treasurer, he had integrated that office; and now he had done a good job of integrating the Secretary of State’s office.

Approximately 6 months on the job, I was working at my desk in the Fishbowl, and this elderly white gentleman came into the office and to my doorway and stared at me. I spoke to him, and he stormed off yelling, “Ed, there’s a nigger in this office!” Secretary Pittman came running out to calm him down and said, “Heber, that is no nigger! That is Herb Irvin, and he is one of the best lawyers and one of the finest people that I know.”

Heber Lader responded, “ Ed, you have lost your damn mind! You are too radical to be in government.”

As Heber Lader, who had been Secretary of State for 32 years, left the building named in his honor, I suddenly had a different world view. Because Ed Pittman saw the value of fairness and diversity in the work-place, he was viewed a crazy and radical. Thank you, Ed Pittman, for your compassion, fairness and radical behavior you displayed in fashioning your own affirmative action plan!

When he was elected Attorney General, Ed Pittman continued his radical behavior and hired James Graves (Justice for US Court of Appeals); Robert Gibbs (former Hinds County Circuit Court Judge); Felicia Adams (US Attorney); and many other notable minority attorneys and staffers. These persons have made tremendous positive impacts in our state, and they will readily admit that their opportunities to serve resulted from the work and sacrifices of civil rights activists.

Here is the story, Jonathan. You often talk about the second-generation business that you inherited from your father. I understand that Mississippi Products, Inc. got its start as a disadvantaged, disabled veteran business under the Small Business Administration’s affirmative action program. This so-called 8(a) program was created because of the demands and protests of civil rights activists, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Medgar Evers, and, yes--Chokwe Lumumba.

Because of Chokwe Lumumba, a 35 year old black male named Jonathan Lee has the opportunity to become mayor of the capital city of Mississippi. Who in my generation could have conceived of this possibility 20 years ago?

When I saw your campaign commercial that denigrates the sacrifices and life’s work that Mr. Lumumba gave in his efforts to give ALL people economic and social parity, and I recalled my life’s journey seeing social change unfold in this state; I thought it was time to give you my perspective of a different world view.

What you see and apparently most of your white supporters see as radical, militant behavior by Mr. Lumumba, many in my position see as compassion, courage, honesty, sacrifice, conviction, fairness, and love.

While you have talked about unifying the various communities in Jackson, your recent actions have had just the opposite effect. Few would have cared that you got most of your campaign money from Republicans or Aliens; but you decided to become a purveyor of hate and fear! You have created a campaign of whites vs. blacks, haves vs. have-nots, northeast Jackson vs. west Jackson.

Your campaign became mean-spirited and divisive. In one week, you have managed to set back race relations 20 years!

When the Editorial Staff of the Clarion Ledger said that you were naïve, they were not being disrespectful to you. It was this type of behavior about which they were concerned.

Consider the tremendous sacrifices that were made to allow your family access to the American Dream; consider the struggles that allow you to live in a neighborhood where you once would have been arrested for simply walking down the street; consider the path that gave you access to the opportunity to run for Mayor; and then carefully consider the motives of the people who are supporting you.

If you have the good fortune to become a public servant, I hope you develop this same type of “radical,” “militant” behavior that many of us call Leadership. Yes, Jonathan, mine is a different world view.

May God bless you and the people of Jackson, Mississippi!

Sincerely,

Herb Irvin

Comments

robbier 4 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, after the 9th anti-Lee entry, the JFP still "endorses" no one. At least be truthful. Sad.

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robbier 4 years, 5 months ago

2nd comment: Are y'all publishing everyone's articles/emails now? I mean Tom Head gets webspace, attorney's from Yazoo are getting webspace...I'm simply curious.

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donnaladd 4 years, 5 months ago

We're not endorsing, Robbier. And you guys crack me up when you refuse to even acknowledge the reporting we do that pisses off the other side. Whatever. You're so biased that you're hysterical.

As for publish everyone? Why, yes, anyone can have a blog on the site even as long as they follow the user agreement. And we publish YOUR comments, for God's sake, and what you do mostly is whine about what we publish instead of using your space to make your own arguments.

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robbier 4 years, 5 months ago

Are you equating my notes in the comment space with a "BREAKING NEWS" headline at the top of the page?

Also, my comments take 2x the time to show up as those who usually agree with you. But carry on the group think.

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tstauffer 4 years, 5 months ago

Amen, Donna. Bonus Points: Mr. Irvin and Tom Head used their real names.

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donnaladd 4 years, 5 months ago

Robbie, you have no idea how long anyone else's comments take to show up. Stop your whining. Seriously: Say something real and substantive.

Say something interesting enough, and we'll promote you to that "breaking" space at the top of the page. Imagine.

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robbier 4 years, 5 months ago

I'll start engaging you on debate when you start calling out candidates you support for moronic statements such as, "A vote for Lee is like opening the doors for the KKK" - Chokwe

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shbkyn 4 years, 5 months ago

Councilman Lumumba brought out in the debate, when people running for public office, accepts money from their backers, and their vote, these backers are wanting something in return, and what Mr. Lee's Republican backers want, will not be what the Democrates want. It creates a very serious problem for his base. I mean he came out the gate with a bad impression for voters.

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donnaladd 4 years, 5 months ago

Robbie, Robbie, Robbie ... First, we do not support Lee or Lumumba. We're Switzerland in this race, reporting the news as we find it or it comes to us, and allowing people such as you to give opinions about it.

As for the KKK statement, we heard that yesterday and tried to track it. So far, no one who is spreading that has given us a link to it or the forum it appeared it. A reverend who supports Lee said on Facebook that Lumumba didn't say it, but that a member of his "camp" did. We don't know which member or where, but we'll do a Factcheck on it as soon as we can get some facts. For now, you might remain skeptical about it if you don't know more than we know about it. If you do, please provide us the information. It not, you're spreading a rumor.

And I'm not asking you to debate; just to try posting something, anything that doesn't sound like all you're here for is to whine about other people saying substantive stuff. So far, you've offered nothing to convince me otherwise. I have high hopes for you, though.

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833maple 4 years, 5 months ago

Lee’s campaign has been misleading since Day one with the references to “Georgetown” and Lanier. It was very clear to some of us that this guy was trying to persuade certain segments of Jackson’s community that he was somehow or another connected to their struggle. Many of us saw through that and didn’t buy it. Why are you misrepresenting yourself? What do you hope to gain from that? Will it be the mayor’s office? I sure hope not.

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HIrvin 4 years, 5 months ago

The following prayer is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and was delivered to me 9 years ago by my daughter who was 11.

It touched my spirit in an indescribable way to hear a child recite these words!

As these elections are decided and the vile, divisive conduct and rhetoric continue to swirl, let each person who cares about human-kind commit to bettering the human condition.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.

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