Chokwe Lumumba, an extraordinary leader with a vision of liberation forged in the 1960s Black Power movement, died on Tuesday after eight transformational months in office as Mayor of Jackson, Miss.
A founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, an activist attorney, and a former City Council member, Lumumba was elected Mayor of Jackson in June 2013 with 86 percent of the vote--despite being massively outspent. In office, he brought people together across class and race lines and thawed a multi-year freeze between the city and state legislators.
His language was direct and his goal was "revolutionary transformation." He not only inspired his own community, but he also disarmed his critics with a tireless commitment to building support for his twin goals of political and economic democracy.
"The mission is to accomplish economic development together," he told me in an interview just two weeks before his sudden death by heart attack. We met in his office in Jackson City Hall on February 12 to talk about "solidarity economics" for an upcoming article for YES! Magazine's Commonomics project.
Here is our full conversation.
Laura Flanders: First off, congratulations on your election.
Chokwe Lumumba: Thank you.
Flanders: What do you want to accomplish?
Lumumba: We want to accomplish a revolutionary transformation. We are party to statistics which demonstrate that our people, black people in particular and probably the majority of the Mississippi population, are at the worst end of all the vital statistics. When it comes to the discussion of oppression in America, we've been experiencing the worst of it for a long time. What's exciting to me is the prospect of going from worst to first in a forward-moving transformation which is going to take groups of dispossessed black folks here and others and make us controllers of our own destiny.
We are not foolish enough to think that it is a mission that can probably be accomplished here in the absence of fundamental movement in the rest the world, but we think we can start that movement and help carry it forward, and help advance it in a really powerful way. So that's what excites us.
Flanders: And your specific goals?
Lumumba: We find ourselves in a situation where we are in the "Kush" district. Kush is an ancient name for an area around Egypt, which in ancient times, encompassed a historically black community which became the genesis of Egypt and Ethiopia and others. We use the terminology to refer to a "black belt," areas which are predominantly black, but there's a distinct reference to a formation of black counties in Mississippi: Tunica to Wilkinson, all contiguous, 18 counties, 17 of them majority black including Hinds county where Jackson sits, only one majority white, and it teeters on the edge of being majority black.
"Kush," the concept, is larger than Mississippi. It goes across the border into Louisiana and the predominantly black counties of Louisiana and Southeast Arkansas. This is really a broader area than where we are, but we in Mississippi are the center of commerce of that area. We're 85 percent black. This is an important area because it gives us a chance to demonstrate real vitality, to vindicate that terminology of black power which was used years ago, but was so much in search of definition at the time.