A Short Biography of Lorenzo Komboa Ervin
Lorenzo Komboa Ervin was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1947. What he calls the "segregated South" of the 1950's and 60's was an environment of violence, racism, poverty and rejection. A youth street gang member, Ervin joined the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People when he was 12 years old, and took part in the 1960 sit-in protests which changed racial discrimination in public accommodation in the city and throughout the South. After being drafted, he served two years in the U.S. Army, where he became a Vietnam anti-war organiser, which resulted in his court-martial and dismissal by higher officials. Returning home, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1967 before it merged (temporarily) with the more militant Black Panther Party for Self Defence.
In the wake of the urban Black rebellions that rocked the USA after the assassination of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. in the Spring of 1968, an attempt was made to frame Ervin on weapons charges and for threatening the life of a local Klan leader. In order to escape prosecution on these charges, Ervin hijacked a plane to Cuba in February 1969. It was while in Cuba, and later in the then Republic of Czechoslovakia, that he first became disillusioned with state socialism, recognising it as dictatorship *period*, not as the "dictatorship of the proletariat", as many Communist governments claimed.
In 1969, Ervin was captured by the CIA while in Eastern Europe and brought back to the U.S. for trial. After a farce of a trial in a small town in Georgia, where he faced the death penalty before an all-White jury, judge , prosecutors, and defence attorneys, in 1970 he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Ervin remained politically active in prison where he was first introduced to the ideals of Anarchism by Anarchist political prisoner Martin Sostre. In 1979, Ervin wrote Anarchism and the Black Revolution and other pamphlets that are probably among some of the widely read writings on Anarchist theory. Anarchism and the Black Revolution is still popular, and has gone through several printings.
Ervin was also involved in many prison struggles, the early 1970s prison union organising campaigns and the Black prisoner movement or that period. Because of years of solitary confinement and prison mail censorship, his case was kept in obscurity, and it was not until he was one of the "Marion Brothels", a group of prisoners who became well known as they struggled against the first Control Unit at Marion Federal Penitentiary, that his case became a public concern. Ervin's own legal challenges and an international campaign eventually led to his release from prison after 15 years of incarceration.
Unlike many ex-prisoners, Ervin was politically active immediately upon his release. He worked for the Concerned Citizen for Justice (CCJ) in Chattanooga, a local civil rights group, and led a 10-year campaign against police brutality and Ku Klux Klan penetration of the police department, which resulted in the Chief of Police and the Police Commissioner resigning. This occurred after the CCJ hosted a long campaign of mass demonstrations and lawsuits over the deaths of numerous Black and poor people who were killed over the years by racist officers. As CCJ President and Legal Redress Chair, Ervin was also primarily responsible for the filing of a class action lawsuit by several Black organisations and the ACLU , which resulted in the restructuring of city government, and the election of several Black City Commissioners.
In 1987, Ervin helped organise a major mobilisation against the Klan that resulted in the Klan being run out of town. Also in 1987, Ervin was primarily responsible for the filing of a major civil rights lawsuit that successfully forced the city of Chattanooga to change its structure of governance on the basis that it systematically disempowered the Black community. In retaliation for his activism, the white power structure has sought to frame Ervin up on a number of charges, the last being his arrest on misdemeanour charges in the "Chattanooga 8" case. In that case, Ervin was arrested with several other activists in the Ad Hoc Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality (which succeeded the Concerned Citizens for Justice) for his participation in a demonstration against the failure of a grand jury to bring any criminal charges against policemen who choked a Black motorist, Larry Powell, to death in February 1993.
Mr. Ervin now lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and works with the SouthWest Michigan Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality, and the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organisers.
Since late 1993, Mr. Ervin has been on an North American and international speaking tour talking about his experiences to other community organisations, college students, and other interested persons. He has also been trying to build an anti-authoritarian network of community organisers, especially in black and poor neighbourhoods, which can serve as a new radical grassroots movement for social change.
He is available for speaking tours, for information about booking Mr. Ervin to speak at your institution, please contact:
Lorenzo Komboa Ervin
P.O. Box 19962
Kalamazoo, MI. 49006
e-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]