Jackson, Miss., Mayor Lumumba's Legacy Remembered
Margaret Summers | 4/16/2014, 3 p.m.
Washington, D.C.-area friends and supporters of the late Jackson, Miss., Mayor Chokwe Lumumba gathered on Saturday, April 12 at the David A. Clarke UDC School of Law in Northwest to honor the human rights activist and former “people’s attorney.” More than 60 people attended the event.
Lumumba took office as Jackson’s mayor on July 1, 2013. Barely eight months into his term, he died on February 25, 2014 at age 66. Although the local coroner said Lumumba died of natural causes, Lumumba’s family commissioned an independent autopsy.
“We will know the results on April 22, after the special mayoral election,” said his daughter Rukia Lumumba, 35, an attorney in Jackson. “The doctor wants to meet with us on that day to discuss [the findings].”
Some question the sudden death and wonder if Lumumba was killed because of his activism, and his association with the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), an organization which believed African-Americans have a right to land in the southeast U.S. and reparations for the hundreds of years of their ancestors’ slave labor.
Dr. Gregory Carr, chair of Howard University’s Afro-American Studies Department, noted that many of Lumumba’s civil rights contemporaries of the 1960s and 1970s were assassinated. “Whatever did or did not happen to set Chokwe on his ancestral journey, he lived long enough to become an elder,” said Carr.
“Chokwe embraced the term ‘revolutionary’ as an accolade,” said Jonathan Davis of the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) in New York. Davis said NCBL, to which Lumumba belonged, serves as the legal arm of the black liberation movement. “Wherever [Lumumba] went, it was to meet oppression head on.”
Davis knew Lumumba when both attended Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. Lumumba was a law student, and Davis was an undergraduate student. “Lumumba was lionhearted as an attorney,” Davis said. “He represented his clients so ferociously, he was sometimes found in contempt of court by a contemptible [court] system.” Lumumba’s clients included Black Panther Geronimo Pratt, who was falsely accused of murder, and rapper Tupac Shakur, who was cleared of aggravated assault charges.
John Brittain of the David A. Clarke UDC School of Law, met Lumumba in the 1970s in Mississippi. Lumumba was still a law student and Brittain had only been out of law school for two years when they worked together on a case involving RNA defendants.
He was surprised when Lumumba ran for Jackson’s city council and later for mayor, given Lumumba’s revolutionary beliefs. “Lumumba told me he wasn’t running for himself, he was running to empower the people [of Jackson],” Brittain said. “He viewed [becoming a city official] as revolutionary, a part of building a community of people in Jackson who stand in opposition to oppression.”
Lumumba was born Edwin Finley Taliaferro in Detroit, Mich., the second of eight children. As a child, he helped his mother collect donations for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and its voting rights campaigns in the Deep South during the early 1960s.
Affected by the 1968 murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Taliaferro changed his first name to “Chokwe” after an Angolan tribe that was never captured in the slave trade, and his last name to “Lumumba” after the slain 1960s Congolese anti-colonialist and prime minister Patrice Lumumba.
Chokwe Lumumba’s son Chokwe Antar Lumumba, 31, who is also an attorney, is running for mayor of Jackson in the Tuesday, April 22 special election.
“My father had a dream, a purpose, to create a new way of governing by, for, and including the people,” Rukia Lumumba told the memorial service audience. “My brother helped my father create that plan. My brother was bred to do this work. We know nothing else but to love and serve the people.”
She said her father believed in participatory democracy and self-determination through people’s assemblies or town meetings, and worker-owned businesses.
Her mother Nubia, who died in 2003, supported and nurtured her father’s vision. “She grew up in Anacostia. D.C. was her hometown. I feel like it’s my home, too,” Rukia Lumumba said.
Part of Chokwe Lumumba’s legacy is an upcoming conference on Sunday, May 4 to Monday, May 5 at Jackson State University. “Jackson Rising: The New Economies Conference” will focus on growing and diversifying Jackson’s economy. Chokwe Lumumba and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which Lumumba co-founded, are listed among the conference’s co-sponsors.