Politics occasionally produces heroes.
One of them has just died and I wanted to call attention to this man’s heroic deed.
His name was Jimmie Cokinos. He served as mayor of Beaumont, Texas in the late 1950s and later was elected as the first Republican to serve on the Jefferson County Commissioners Court.
I knew Cokinos pretty well owing to my time as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. He and I became good friends. He came from a large and boisterous family of brothers, which also comprised Pete, Andrew and Mike.
But I grew to respect Jimmie as well for what I learned about what he did while serving as Beaumont mayor.
Lamar State College sought to integrate its student enrollment in 1956. The White Citizens Council — a racist group active in the region — got wind of it. It started a demonstration to protest the enrolling of black students at Lamar. Cokinos, without approval of any of his city council colleague, acted as mayor and ordered the chief of police to break up the demonstration — which was threatening to turn into a riot.
The police chief did as he was told. The demonstration was quelled. The White Citizens Council responded by trying to firebomb Cokinos’s house; the effort failed. The racists then bombed the church Cokinios attended and a synagogue.
Cokinos stood firm.
It’s good to understand the racial divisions that exited in Beaumont at the time. They were quite noticeable when I arrived there in the spring of 1984. The city was divided deeply along racial lines, given that Beaumont’s culture is quite akin to the Deep South’s prevailing attitudes about black-white relations.
Jimmie Cokinos resisted a very strong tide in 1956. He didn’t have to do what he did. He acted heroically and his actions spoke volumes about the character of a man whose spirit and soul was far greater than his diminutive stature.
Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor.