When word came that Chokwe Lumumba -the recently elected Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi – died of heart failure on February 25, 2014, most Black people hadn’t even heard of him.
Those who were familiar with Lumumba, knew him as a proud Black man (“New Afrikan”), revolutionary, attorney for Black political prisoners (including Assata Shakur and Geronimo Pratt), founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and former Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika. Given his tremendous
contributions to Black people, this article will highlight Lumumba as the activist and revolutionary he was. Given the widespread media blackout of Lumumba, his Mayoral win, and his general significance, this is most important. There are at least 4 things we should all know about brother Chokwe Lumumba in order to understand his monumental significance:
1. He was a revolutionary and important figure of the Black Power Movement. Chokwe served in official capacity as a member of the Republic of New Afrika, which was a Black Nationalist organization that among other things, A.) called for America to pay Black people reparations for
centuries of Black unpaid labor and suffering and B.) wanted an independent Black nation to be created from the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Lumumba served as Minister of Justice and Vice President of the organization. The clip below shows RNA founder Milton Henry (later Gaidi Abiodun Obadale) speaking about the organization.
Also, check out the New Afrikan Creed.
2. He was a humanitarian and activist attorney. In 1975, Lumumba graduated Cum Laude from Wayne State University Law School. Three years later he began his own law firm. For the next few decades, he would go on to represent Assata Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, Fulani Sunni Ali, and several other wrongly accused Black activists.
3. He was an institution-builder. As an undergraduate at Kalamazoo College, he formed the Black United Front to push for the formation of Black Studies Departments in the late 60s. In 1987 he co-founded N’COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America). He also went on to co-found the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
4. He was a public servant. From 2009-2013, Lumumba served on the Jackson, Mississippi City Council and on June 4, 2013 was elected Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi which had a former reputation for virulent racism. Below is a clip from Democracy Now announcing Lumumba’s Mayoral win.
With all of this activist history and public service background, why was Chokwe Lumumba so anonymous to Black people in America? How come so few Black folk I spoke to even recognized his name? Precisely because of his activist history! To give Lumumba media coverage would be to raise awareness of an educated and conscious revolutionary who boldly advocated for Black people, never sold out, compromised his politics, or abandoned his mission over several decades.
These are qualities sorely lacking in leadership today, particularly in Black elected officials. I suspect the corporate media was none-to-eager to reinvigorate a national discussion on reparations, Black Nationalism, and independent Black politics. So they simply didn’t cover it. Strangely enough, they were much more vigilant about reporting his sudden and unexpected death…..
Brother Lumumba’s election excited many of us who saw his victory as an important historical precedent: An uncompromised Black Nationalist and humanitarian with a proven level of community commitment and loyalty, elected as Mayor! We anxiously followed him, looking forward to both his policies and their reception. People like myself who see some potential in local politics, believe Lumumba’s win signaled a tactic we should explore in other municipalities with majority Black populations. I saw in him a tangible expression and manifestation of the independent political spirit, protest, and institution-building brother Malcolm spoke about. Sadly, brother Lumumba’s mission was prematurely aborted….
Yet the struggle continues.Salute to this great man, whose life ended before his mission! May the Creator be pleased with him and bless his family, and may we learn from and continue his legacy…..
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak to your organization, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.