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Jackson, Miss. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba dead at 66

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Mar 5, 2014 - 8:56:24 AM

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In this 2013 file photo photograph taken in Jackson, Miss. is Mayor Chokwe Lumumba. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he spearheaded efforts of the Republic of New Africa, which he said advocated “an independent predominantly Black government” in the southeastern U.S. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
WASHINGTON ( - Jackson, Miss. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a lawyer and champion of radical politics, who advocated the Republic of New Africa plan to turn five southern U.S. states into an independent Black nation died Feb. 25. He was 66.

His legal victories—such as his defense of rapper Tupac Shakur—as well as his own principled struggles with the Mississippi court system are the stuff of legend.

After serving as a member of the Jackson City Council for multiple terms, Mr. Lumumba won the mayoral race easily last year, and announced that the seeds of an all new, progressive Black agenda committed to self-determination, self-governance, self-economic development would be planted firmly in the fertile heartland of Mississippi.

Local officials said Mayor Lumumba suffered from heart failure, denying family requests for an autopsy. The family remains unconvinced however, announcing that the cause of death had not been determined, and that they have launched a campaign with the online, social-media support of the National Caucus of Black Lawyers (NCBL) to raise $15,000 to have an independent autopsy performed.

But the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam said March 2 during a speech at Mosque Maryam in Chicago that money would not be a barrier in trying to get to the truth. The Minister said he would provide the needed money to try to discover what happened in the death of the longtime freedom fighter and friend. “He died under circumstances that we don’t know what it was,” said Min. Farrakhan at the end of a major address at the Nation’s headquarters. The mayor was hospitalized but in good spirits and carrying out his duties, the Minister noted. “We have to have our own independent pathologist and what-not to look after us,” he said. The reason is to make sure our brother died under natural circumstances, Min. Farrakhan said.

“Why should any doubts remain?” Washington Attorney Nkechi Taifa, a 40-year-friend of Mayor Lumumba told The Final Call. “Why not perform an autopsy to answer all outstanding questions?” Ms. Taifa has already met with Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee to launch a formal federal review of the cause and circumstances of Mayor Lumumba’s demise.

“We know from the evidence exposed in the COINTELPRO infiltration of Black organizations in the 1960s and 1970s, that the government is capable of, and willing to induce heart attacks in people,” Ms. Taifa continued, cautioning that she has no evidence of foul play in the death of Mayor Lumumba.

Chokwe Lumumba calls out for a full pardon for the Jamie Scott, third from left and her sister Gladys Scott during a rally April 1, 2011 on the steps of the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss. About 350 protestors marched on behalf of the two sisters Gov. Haley Barbour released from prison on the condition that one donated a kidney to the other. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
“He did not fit the profile of a heart patient,” a Luci Murphy, Washington, Spanish-language medical hospital interpreter told The Final Call. “The ones with congenital defects die before 50, and the ones who have cardiovascular disease later in life, are seldom slim and trim,” as was Mayor Lumumba. He had survived a bout with prostate cancer, but was otherwise thought to be in good health.

As a leader of the Republic of New Africa, Mr. Lumumba campaigned for the United States to pay billions of dollars to Blacks as reparations for the forced enslavement of their ancestors.

As an attorney, he persuaded Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Haley Barbour to release two sisters from a Mississippi prison in 1996 after they had served 16 years for an armed robbery involving less than $200 that the women said they had not committed. He defended Black Liberation Army (BLA) members—including fugitive Assata Shakur—who were charged with robbing a Brinks armored car in 1981 in Rockland County, N.Y., in which three people were killed.

His plans for Jackson, Mississippi were straightforward. “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,” Mr. Lumumba told The Final Call shortly after his inauguration last July. “And so, that gives us some opportunity. You change the numbers by changing the quality of life.”

Mr. Lumumba was looking forward to this summer when he planned to convene a 50th anniversary commemoration of the pivotal 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. That’s when civil rights activists descended on Mississippi from all over the country 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. That epic battle broke the strangle-hold of segregationist “Dixiecrats” on the levers of power in Washington and in the Democratic Party. He hoped that any victories achieved in that observance could be turned into permanent gains for Black folks in that state and throughout the country.

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 was a cum laude graduate of the Wayne State Law School in Detroit, and is a founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. He rose to become 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.

His plan was 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 underdeveloped countries like Cuba, The Bahamas, the Philippines, and even Libya.

“I believe that we have to change, not just Jackson, but the state of Mississippi,” the late 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” had already taken root in the state where Mr. Lumumba was 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 referred to that area as the “Kush District,” and his plans were decidedly Black and progressive-minded.

“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 was 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,” and his advice is still relevant.

“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,” including a program he called the “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,” he said, outlining his plans.

Mr. Lumumba’s family and allies will announce plans at his funeral service, planned for March 8, for them to try to hold on to the reins of power in order to continue the positive momentum his leadership brought not only to Jackson, Mississippi and to the South, but to the entire Black Nation in the USA.

“We’re going to do it by lifting the bottom up,” the late mayor said, paraphrasing his governing theme from a mantra popularized by the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey 100 years ago: the “new Jackson” hopefully will be, “One City. One Aim. One Destiny.”