by Nayaba Arinde
On the day after the January 15th death of Viola Plummer, friends and family gathered at her Sista’s Place jazz and community venue in Bed-Stuy, to commune, reminisce, and share food prepared by Attorney Esmeralda Simmons and others. Tears were held, but barely. Toasts were made to bless her journey, as her favorite song The Commodores ‘Heroes’ played in the background. “Viola Plummer was the last of the five original core founders of the December 12th Movement: Sonny Abubadika Carson, Coltrane Chimurenga, Elombe Brath, and Father Lucas, they are all gone now,” activist Omowale Clay told Our Time Press.
A snowstorm swept through New York City on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 15th, 2024, as news broke of the passing of activist Viola Plummer, 86, co-founder of the Bed Stuy, Brooklyn-based civil and human rights organization, The December 12th Movement.
In the official announcement Tuesday evening, Attorney Roger Wareham of The Movement said, “It is with a heavy heart that we announce the Black Liberation Movement’s loss of Comrade Viola Plummer, Chairperson of the December 12th Movement. Funeral arrangements will be announced in the next few days.”
Preliminary funeral arrangements at press time have a private wake in Queens on Friday, January 26, 2024, and a public funeral at Rev. Herbert Daughtry’s House of the Lord Church (415 Atlantic Avenue, Downtown Brooklyn) at 5 pm on Saturday, January 27th, 2024.
Charles Barron, former Assemblyman/City Councilman, told Our Time Press. “My heart Is heavy, and my tears are soaking my soul! My beloved friend of over 40 years has gone.” With Viola Plummer passing on Dr. King’s national holiday, Charles Barron continued, “It is fitting that two people who loved our people will now be forever linked in history. My sister Viola Plummer was completely committed to our community.”
‘It snowed heavily because this is how the strong ones leave their mark,” said Divine Allah, Youth Minister of the New Black Panther Party. “She was a bold, fearless, uncompromising Black woman. She was our sister, mother, grandmother, and auntie – our Powerful Black Warrior Queen. We are already missing her. We are thankful that we knew her, though, and we are grateful that we were able to be led and taught by her.”
Rev. Herbert Daughtry told Our Time Press that he has had seven family members and friends pass away in the last two weeks, including; “John Flateau, Sekou Odinga, and now Viola Plummer. You called her the ‘Matriarch of the Movement. I’ve been in it 70 years,” the 93-year-old ‘People’s Pastor,’ declared, “and as far back as I can remember she was on the case; fire in her eyes, her strong voice, articulate, persuasive. A voice that makes an impact – slow, deliberate, forceful way of making a point, of arguing the case.”
Pensive, Rev Daughtry continued, “Yeah, we had some disagreements, but we always agreed on one thing–that we wanted to see our people free. That united us. People with whom you have these arguments, you sometimes get brought closer – like a committed husband and wife because you realize that the person’s passion is not about themselves, but about the movement.”
He reflected on the beginning stages of the “Black United Front in 1980, with over a thousand people gathered in Brooklyn Armoury – Sumpter Avenue [now known as Marcus Garvey Blvd.]. Can you imagine all these super-Black ranking radicals, revolutionary brothers and sisters – all you can name, they were all there, argued and argued..and Brother Jitu Weusi – he was the center of it, they held it together. But, finally, they got a temporary constitution. I was voted temporary chairman, “ and tasked to go all over the country to bring back “all the people who were most passionate about their argument, the ones who went away the angriest, we realized that if we couldn’t bring these people back we weren’t going to have a National Black United Front. If you can’t bring people together with different ideas involved, then you don’t have a National Black United Front.
But, Viola was special. December 12th.
We lose her ubiquitous presence. We lose her voice, her passion and vigor, and her articulation of the causes that Vi espoused. We miss her. She was always on the case. In the movies they had a saying that bravery means you ride to the sound of the gun, wherever the battle is.
Wherever the cannons are booming, that’s where you want to go. Viola would be present where the issues were. She would ride to the sound of people debating the issues, and be in the middle of it all. She was fearless, and forceful with fire in her eyes and fury in her voice, and an absolutely loyal comrade. I’m glad that she’s coming home in our church.
December 12th Movement’s usually jovial Omowale Clay was somewhat somber when he told Our Time Press, “Over the past 50 years of my life, I have had the privilege and honor to be tutored and learn and follow the lead of my comrade Sister Viola Plummer in struggling to make fundamental change in the quality of life for the people. My legacy to her is to continue the struggle.”
An activist from her teenage years, Mrs. Plummer became a stalwart of staunch grassroots community advocacy. She was known for her love for people, whether it was in Brooklyn from her headquarters at Sista’s Place, to anywhere in the USA where support was needed, or in the Caribbean or on the Continent of Africa when the call was raised. She organized thousands of meetings, protests, rallies, and community actions. She was forever on the front lines. The mainstream would cite her as being a member of the (ultimately acquitted) New York 8, who beat several conspiracy charges, including attempted government overthrow in 1985. Sis. Plummer stated at the time, “We are eight people who were doing nothing more than organizing and fighting for freedom.”
Taking on big topics was her favorite space, like arguing against racism at the United Nations, fighting for the people of Zimbabwe, Haiti, South Africa, or Venezuela, and getting into the details and minutiae of law and politics at the State Capitol in Albany or City Hall in New York City, as chief-of-staff for both Assembly/City Councilmembers Inez and Charles Barron.
“Inez and I are deeply saddened by the transitioning of our dear friend, Sister Viola Plummer. Our relationship with her spans more than four decades of battling on issues impacting the Black communities here in New York, in states across the nation, and in countries across the world. Viola Plummer was a forthright, unyielding, undeterred, bold, outspoken, unequivocating warrior-leader who stood flat-footed and did not retreat. Her strident voice was a clarion call that challenged and motivated our people to get involved and take a stand. She thought no issue was too big, too strongly entrenched, or insurmountable.”
And then there she was fighting overt racism in housing, education, and police brutality, and against drugs, gun violence, gentrification, and poverty alongside colleagues Sonny Abubadika Carson, Elombe Brath, Coltrane Chimurenga, the Barrons, and Father Lucas – Viola Plummer had an impact. All the while she stood on the Harriet Ross Tubman stance of “‘I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves,’ what change we could have if we all united in great numbers.”
“I didn’t just want to be a witness,” she once said. “I wanted to be a part of the movement.” She was a local, national, and international leader on so many issues over her 50 years of people-centered activism. She left an indelible mark.
Perhaps the last victory she saw was the signing of the Reparations Bill last month, when New York State finally agreed to at least look into the demands she, the December 12th Movement, N’Cobra, Institute of the Black World, and the NAACP, and others had been making for decades to look into the impact of slavery on the Black people in New York.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of a great Movement Matriarch Viola Plummer, co-founder of the December 12th Movement,” State Senator Cordell Cleare told Our Time Press. “Viola Plummer was a community organizer for the majority of her 86 years of life. With her no-nonsense approach to advocacy, Viola was a fighter until the very end. My sincerest condolences to her family, friends, and everyone who knew her at home and abroad.”
A flurry of phone calls. There were tears. And wailing.
“We just love her,” said A.T. Mitchell, community organizer and CEO of Man Up! Inc. “Her legacy will live on through all of us who she embraced and showed the way of dedication to our people. If Sister Vi loved you, she showed you. And we will continue her work, I promise you.”
Colette Pean, a member of the December 12th Movement, told Our Time Press that Viola “was a trained teacher of elementary school and college, and she taught throughout her life. In her work, teaching was an important part of it. She taught people how to be better revolutionaries and to struggle for self-determination of the people. She traveled widely, including Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Namibia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and China – in support of liberation struggles.’
Retired East New York electeds Charles and Inez Barron reflected to Our Time Press, “She was not fearful, could not be intimidated, and refused to be silent. The countless battles that she waged on behalf of Black people are innumerable. Her legacy is broad and deep. Her leadership effectiveness is a model to be emulated, and her accomplishments are testimony to her mantra, ‘Do the work.’ We will miss our dear friend, but we are pleased to join the many voices who pay tribute to her life and her work. To our beloved comrade and “real” close friend, our hearts are heavy, and tears are soaking our souls. We’re going to miss you, Vi! Rest in peace and power, our sister, for a job well done. Viola, we love you forever.”
The People’s Republic of Brooklyn is in mourning of her passing, especially as it happened just one day after the Janazah and burial of political prisoner advocate Sekou Odinga, 79. There had been a decades-long concerted community campaign to release the former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member from prison after 33 years in prison.
Atty. Roger Wareham, December 12th Movement International Secretariat, told Our Time Press that he met Viola in 1974. He knew her for half a century. “50 years of struggle and love, and ups and downs, almost a lifetime in jail with the New York 8, and the December 12th Movement. Long live Viola Plummer. She’s alive as long as she is alive in our memories.”
The international lawyer said that to him, the pint-sized dynamic woman who was Viola Plummer symbolized “Resistance, revolution, never give up, commitment, love for her people, patience in terms of real faith in people, that they will make a revolution to change our conditions.”
“Viola Plummer is EVERY WOMAN,” cultural activist and mega clothing designer Brenda Brunson-Bey told Our Time Press. “She was kind when needed. Generous when something was asked for. Dedicated when called on. Committed when she believed in something. Strong when she had to face obstacles. Devoted to our culture through music and art. Loving to all of us, all the time. I strive to be like HER…Every Woman. Sister Viola, rest in Peace and Empowerment.”
“Mama Viola was fighting on the battlefield for Black people long before most of us got there and kept fighting long after some of us left,” said activist Bomani Mayasa of the United Front. “She was a true warrior. She taught this young warrior how to struggle. Long live Mama Viola Plummer.”
(Nayaba Arinde, a friend of Sister Plummer, is editor-at-large for Our Time Press.)