Black Radical Mayor Chokwe Lumumba Dies

Alex Wolff

Jackson, Miss. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a prominent civil rights activist and attorney with roots in the black revolutionary movement, died yesterday at the age of 66. The cause of death has not yet been determined.  Lumumba became mayor of Mississippi's capital city only last July but had already accomplished a great deal during his tragically brief tenure—most notably implementing a sales tax to infrastructure, including sewers and roads. He was the city's third black mayor and among the nation's most prominent politicians with ties to black radicalism, having served as the Republic of New Afrika movement's vice president as a young man. Al Jazeera  reports: Lumumba believed that dealing with infrastructure was a radical act that would secure the city’s autonomy and protect it from the kind of takeover that befell Detroit, his birth city. But his vision extended further. It encompassed cooperatives, recycling, alternative energy and other tools to create a “people’s economy” with local investment and employment. This vision’s most ambitious expression was the Jackson-Kush plan, an agenda prepared by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which Lumumba co-founded in the 1990s and which provided the organizing engine for his campaign. The plan promoted a sustainable economy and progressive community organizing. It had a political component as well: People’s Assemblies, a kind of decision-making town meeting, which the group held in Lumumba’s ward while he was councilor and was hoping to expand to the city. In his eight months as mayor, Lumumba maintained his balance between radicalism and pragmatism in a manner that suggested they were a natural combination. Confident and frank, he participated in a warm “conversation about community” with former Gov. Haley Barbour in November, and he gave the state legislature an effusive welcome at the start of its 2014 session. In truth, parts of his vision—the emphasis on self-determination and local enterprise—were compatible with small-business conservative ideas, if reached through a very different journey. State law says the City Council must hold a special mayoral election within the next two months. Council president Charles Tillman has taken the helm of mayor in the interim.

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Alex Wolff is a Spring 2014 editorial intern.
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