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Chokwe Lumumba: New mayor, new era for Jackson, Mississippi ?

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Aug 19, 2013 - 5:09:53 PM

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Jackson, Miss., Mayor Chokwe Lumumba delivers his inaugural address just after being sworn-in on July 1, at the Jackson Convention Complex. (A/P Wide World photos)
WASHINGTON - The seeds of an all new, progressive Black agenda committed to self-determination, self-governance, self-economic development were planted firmly in the fertile heartland of Mississippi July 1 when Jackson City Councilmember Chokwe Lumumba was inaugurated as mayor of the capital of the Magnolia state.

Mr. Lumumba’s electoral victory with 87 percent of the vote, ranks among the most important progressive political victories on a long list of important political leaders: Henry Wallace, the 33rd vice president of the U.S., from 1941-1945 who was the unsuccessful Progressive Party candidate for President in 1948; anti-war Congressional Black Caucus leaders Ron Dellums (D-Calif.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), as well as Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); along with anti-war activist turned California State Senator Tom Hayden; and of course Georgia State Senator Julian Bond.

When the mayor took office, he hit the ground running. He promised he would “get started toward our course of building Jackson and doing the things that we need to do to assure that the population of Jackson is entitled to economic and political prosperity and self–determination; and that we do things to ignite changes in Mississippi period.”

If successful, Mr. Lumumba’s ambitious plans may catapult this political veteran to legendary status like Chicago Mayor Harold Washington; Gary, Indiana Mayor Richard Hatcher who convened the historic National Black Political Convention in 1972; and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry who facilitated the historic Million Man March in 1995.

In 2014, Mayor Lumumba hopes to convene a 50th anniversary commemoration of the pivotal 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer when Civil Rights activists descended on Mississippi to help the historic voter registration battle being waged by Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, Lawrence Guyot, and others involved in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which broke the strangle-hold of segregationist “Dixiecrats” on the levers of power in Washington and among Democrats. He hopes that any victories achieved in that observance can be turned into permanent gains for Black folks in that state and throughout the country.

“What we want to do is be an inspiration to draw a bigger population from our relatives and other people who come from other parts of the country,” Mayor Lumumba told The Final Call. “And so, that gives us some opportunity. You change the numbers by changing the quality of life. If you take Atlanta, for an example, over a 10-year-period of time, from 1985 to 1995, 500,000 Black people moved to Atlanta. If we had that kind immigration into Mississippi, Mississippi would be well on its way to becoming what you and I talked about,” that is a “shining city on the hill,” a virtual “New Jerusalem.”

During his career as an attorney and as a participant, Mayor Lumumba has been steadfast and he has been successful, representing some of the most radical clients in the civil rights era, from members of the Black Liberation Army, including fugitive Assata Shakur, godmother of musician Tupac Shakur (who was also one of his clients); to Jamaican musician Buju Banton; among others.

Mr. Lumumba served as a vice president of the Republic of New Africa, which claimed the five contiguous Southern states—Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina—where a majority of the Black population resided in 1968 (and still resides today) as the home of what was to be the new “Black nation” in North America.

He is a cum laude graduate of the Wayne State Law School in Detroit, and is a founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Now, he is mayor of the capital of the state which gave the world Jefferson Finis Davis, a “stiff-necked, unbending, doctrinaire, and overbearing” former U.S. senator and secretary of war, who became president of the treasonous Confederate States of America.

The turnaround in the 150 years since the antebellum days is remarkable. Even before Mr. Lumumba was elected, Mississippi already had the largest number of Black elected officials—sheriffs, council members, mayors—of any state in the U.S.

From a political perspective, the new mayor is prepared to not simply govern the city effectively, but to also figure out “how do you bring African people and other oppressed people from a sense of powerlessness, to a sense of electoral power, and beyond that economic and social power.” His goal: transforming Mississippi from “the worst to the first,” in terms of demographic ratings of states in the U.S., statistics which put Mississippi below some Third World countries like Cuba, The Bahamas, the Philippines, and even Libya.

Jackson (Miss.) Mayor Chokwe Lumumba recites the oath of office as friend Gloria Elmore, center, and Hinds County Chancery, Judge Patricia Wise look on during an inauguration ceremony on Monday, July 1, 2013 at the Jackson Convention Complex. (AP Photo/The Clarion-Ledger, Joe Ellis)
“I believe that we have to change, not just Jackson, but the state of Mississippi,” the mayor said. “That’s a question of quality—quality of performance—but it’s also a case of numbers. We here in Mississippi are 40 percent of the population according to the U.S. Census. That’s what they say.” It’s as though the seeds of a “Black Nation” have already taken root in the state where Mr. Lumumba is mayor of the capital city.

“We have 18 counties on the Western part of Mississippi, starting from Tunica in the North, not far from Memphis, going all the way down the Western side of the state to the Southwest, to Wilkinson County which is the last county in the Southwest—18 contiguous counties, 17 of them are majority Black,” Mayor Lumumba said.

He refers to that area as the “Kush District.”

“Some of (the counties) are as much as 80 percent Black. So, demographically we have a solid, a non-self-governing territory. What we need to do in that area—and actually what our people have begun to do, Mississippi has more Black elected officials than any state in the United States—and if we can now give that some political content, some direction in terms of what we want to do in terms of taking these electoral victories, these economic victories and teach the message that we know from long ago, of self-determination, of self-governance, self-economic development.”

His political strategy is to work from the bottom up, rather than from the top down, engaging citizens, young and old in their own advancement. In order to stem crime and troublesome behavior among young people he said: “One of the strategies is to just take the more affirmative approach.

“Rather than going to church, and yelling and screaming about it, complaining about it, rather than bad-mouthing the youth, my plan is to engage the youth, engage the youth in programs which will bring out what to do, rather than just emphasize what not to do. In the course of talking about what to do, you can always talk about some things that you shouldn’t do. We’re going to have summer youth programs here, and in those summer youth programs they’re going to have a chance to do some manual labor, help pick up paper on the streets, but another three hours of their day is going to be spent learning skills.” Skills, he said in law offices, medical offices, even in drama and literature programs, including what he calls “African Scouts.”

“This is going to do a great deal to help change the culture. We cannot dictate culture. Culture moves on. It is not a treasure that’s buried that you just go dig up from time to time,” he said. “Culture is a live organic thing that changes. But at the same time, the direction it changes has got to be guided by us who’ve been around a while and know the direction it should go in.

“So what I’m looking for is for them to come up with positive songs, for them to come up with positive expressions and ways to dress. We had our Afros and our dashikis, and all that kind of thing, and that would be nice, but if they have some other expression of African-self-hood, that would be fine too. I think that will help address the sagging pants and things of that nature.

“I’m finally also talking about adults taking some responsibility. The young people around here are a little more respectful than they are in other parts of the country. There are still problems. You go to a basketball game you come out and people are cursing like sailors, and those are the girls.

“As adults, we listen to it sometimes and don’t say anything, but we’ve got to say something. Most people are not going to shoot you because you say something to them about cursing. You just walk up to them and say, ‘Well look. I’m an older person here. Will you give me some of your respect? Will you show me some respect?’ And the times I’ve done that, they usually comply.

“If people don’t know there is some kind of ostracism in their community against behaving that way, then they’re going to behave that way, because that’s what they call fun. But we’ve got to try to reclassify what fun really is, and then we’ve got to become involved with our young people.

“Breaking into someone’s home, those are crimes against the people. You rape somebody, you shoot somebody in the head, that’s a crime against the people and there’s no kinship between those kinds of activities, and any kind of progressive activity, or any kind of freedom struggle.”

Mayor Lumumba employed this same strategy in winning a resounding political victory despite staunch opposition from ultra-conservatives with vast amounts of money—double what the Lumumba campaign had. “What they did was to try to infiltrate the Black community with political mercenaries who were trying to sell the candidate of the White Republicans. They were unable to successfully do it,” he said.

“We did direct action, door-to-door canvassing, talking to people. We started a year in advance. Even though we didn’t have the money, we did have the enthusiasm and the human power, because we had been organizing coalitions against things which were oppressive, and organizing coalitions in favor of progressive things like youth development programs, for years. That kind of coalition that we had, served us well. People on the street knew who we were, knew what we had done. What we represented was a movement, not just an individual running for office.

“We are impressed with the need to protecting everyone’s human rights. It’s not a question of us flipping the script. Our revolution is for a better idea, not just for a different set of faces. Our predominantly Black administrations can actually do better—to provide security to everybody, prosperity to everybody on a fair basis, and, of course, we’re going to be vigilant against the cheaters—but we think we can do a better job. We’re talking about the new society, the new way, and that’s a lot of what New Africa was about.

“Those were good ideas. We’re going to do it by lifting the bottom up.” Mayor Lumumba intends to do it, paraphrasing his governing theme from a mantra popularized by the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey 100 years ago: the “new Jackson” will be, “One City. One Aim. One Destiny.”