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The Legacy of Chokwe Lumumba Must Not Be Buried With the Man

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Source: The Nation


Mayor Chokwe Lumumba speaking at a meeting in Jackson, Miss. July 2013.
(image by (Photo: Natalie Manor/ Wikimedia Commons))
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Chokwe Lumumba maintained a civil rights commitment  that was rooted in the moment when his mother showed her 8-year-old son the  Jet  magazine photograph of a beaten  Emmett Till  in his open casket. The commitment was nurtured on the streets of Detroit, where Lumumba and his mother collected money  to support the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  and the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s.

Half a century later, he would be the transformational mayor of a major Southern city, Jackson, Mississippi. But just as his tenure was taking shape, Lumumba died unexpectedly Tuesday at age 66.

The mayor's death ended an epic journey that challenged conventions, upset the status quo and proved the potential of electoral politics to initiate radical change -- even in a conservative Southern state.

As a young man, inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s struggle to address "infectious discrimination, racism and apartheid," and shocked into a deeper activism by King's assassination, Lumumba changed his name from Edwin Taliaferro -- taking his new first name from an African tribe that had resisted slavery and his new last name from the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.

Chokwe Lumumba became a human rights lawyer "defending political prisoners." His clients would eventually include former Black Panthers and rapper Tupac Shakur. His remarkable list of legal accomplishments included his key role in the 2010 decision of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to suspend the sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott, Mississippi sisters who were released after serving 16 years of consecutive life sentences for an $11 robbery -- a punishment that came to be understood as a glaring example of the extreme over-sentencing of African-Americans.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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