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!