Akinyele Umoja, associate professor and chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University. He is a founding member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the New Afrikan Peoples Organization. He is also the author of the book, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement.
Benjamin Jealous, former president and CEO of NAACP. He recently wrote an article for The Huffington Post called "Remembering Chokwe Lumumba."
Bill Chandler, a close ally to Mayor Lumumba, and was a member of his transition team. He is also a veteran of civil rights struggles in Mississippi and is the founding executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, where Lumumba served as legal counsel before he became mayor.
Kwame Kenyatta, former Detroit city councilman who moved to Jackson last year to serve as Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s contract compliance officer.
In Mississippi, the city of Jackson is grieving today following the sudden death of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, less than a year after he was elected. He suffered from heart failure on Tuesday. A longtime black nationalist organizer and attorney, Lumumba had been described as "America’s most revolutionary mayor." Working with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Lumumba advocated for participatory democracy and the creation of new worker-run cooperatives in Jackson. Over the past four decades, Lumumba was deeply involved in numerous political and legal campaigns. As an attorney, his clients have included former Black Panther Assata Shakur and the late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. As a political organizer, Lumumba served for years as vice president of the Republic of New Afrika, an organization which advocated for "an independent predominantly black government" in the southeastern United States and reparations for slavery. He also helped found the National Black Human Rights Coalition and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. We air our June 2013 interview with the then-newly elected Jackson mayor and speak to several of his close associates.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The city of Jackson, Mississippi, is grieving today following the sudden death of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, less than a year after he was elected. He suffered from heart failure Tuesday. He was 66 years old.
A longtime black nationalist organizer and attorney, Lumumba had been described as "America’s most revolutionary mayor." Working with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Lumumba advocated for participatory democracy and the creation of new worker-run cooperatives in Jackson. Over the past four decades, Lumumba was deeply involved in numerous political and legal campaigns. As an attorney, his clients have included former Black Panther Assata Shakur, as well as her godson, the late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. As a political organizer, Lumumba served for years as vice president of the Republic of New Afrika, an organization which advocated for "an independent predominantly black government" in the southeastern United States and reparations for slavery. He also helped found the National Black Human Rights Coalition and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
In June, Juan González and I interviewed Chokwe Lumumba just after he was elected. We began by asking him how he was able to win the mayoral election in a place like Jackson, Mississippi, given its history and his history as a radical activist in the black liberation struggle.
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Thank you for having me, and a shout out and thank you to your listening audience.
I attribute the victory that we had this last week to the people, the people of Jackson, who were more than ready to have leadership that was forward-looking and ready to raise Jackson to a different level of development, ready to embrace the ideas that all government should do the most to protect the human rights of the people in that jurisdiction. And we were very pleased with the outcoming of people to vote, with their participation, and with their continued support.
We have—I am now running for the mayor—or have, in fact, won the mayor of the city of Jackson, because I think it’s necessary. We are a population here now in the need of a lot of development. Development is one of the tracks or one of the roads to human rights and to the recognition of human rights, especially our economic human rights. And some of that development is going to take the kind of leadership and the kind of consistency that we had in the struggle for voting rights and other kinds of rights, which has been unique to our history.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Chokwe Lumumba, I’m not sure that many people around the country understand the symbolic—the symbolism of Jackson, Mississippi, as a center of racism and racial oppression over the—really, over centuries. The very name of the city—the city was named after Andrew Jackson by the white settlers when Jackson in 1820 was able, as Indian commissioner, to basically pressure the Choctaw Indians to give up 13 million acres of land and move to Oklahoma in the Treaty of Doak’s Stand. And that’s why the white settlers named the city after Jackson, because of his success at ethnic cleansing. And then, of course, its history throughout the—through slavery and Jim Crow. How did this change occur? How were you able to put this together, this coalition to be elected, given your history as a radical and an activist in the black liberation struggle?
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: I think it’s a tribute to our consistency. It’s a tribute to our refusal to say that we would bow to the oppression that was around us. It’s a tremendous story of our people. You talked about Medgar Evers, but the continuation since Medgar Evers of fighting against oppression, fighting against economic oppression, fighting against the kinds of things which have surfaced in our decades, which are similar to the kinds of things you cite in the distant history of Jackson, we have been persistent. And with that persistence, see, our people now are ready to move to a different level of development.
And I should say that people should take a note of Jackson, because we have suffered some of the worst kinds of abuses in history, but we’re about to make some advances and some strides in the development of human rights and the protection of human rights that I think have not been seen in other parts of the country. And I want to caution folks that we’ve got to be careful now when we talk about any one particular place in the United States. All over, we’ve seen intense oppression. I’m from Detroit, initially, and we’ve seen a lot of oppression there, historically as well as currently. New York has certainly seen its share. Washington, D.C., has seen its share. So, we don’t want to be like people on different plantations arguing about which plantation is worse. What we have to do is to correct the whole problem, and we’re about correcting the problem here in Jackson. And we’re going to be inviting people to come here, and people want to come here, in order to participate in the struggle forward. And this is not a phony struggle. We’re not just putting a false face on—we tell you we’ve had real problems, and we still have some real problems, but we’re solving these problems, and we’re going to try to solve a lot of them through economic development, which is going to involve the masses of the people, not just a few folks.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about your platform and the Jackson-Kush Plan?
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, the platform is to advance the ideas of development and to advance the ideas of empowerment of the populations which exist in the city of Jackson, specifically. We have a population, the demographic here, 80 percent of the population is black, about 20 percent is white. And we have with us brothers and sisters who are of East Indian origin, as well as some Asian and some Hispanic folks coming in. Our slogan was "One city, one aim, one destiny." And the idea is to blend these populations into a struggle forward. There are some people historically who have always tried to separate the populations and to have a certain portion of the population oppress the rest of the population. We’re not going to tolerate that. We’re going to move ahead. We’re going to let everyone participate in this movement forward. We’re going to invite everyone to participate in this movement forward.
And we have formed like a people’s assembly, that’s key to what we’ve done here, where we have—every three months, the population can come out and participate in an open forum to say what’s on their mind. They can come out and learn some of the problems that the city is facing and some of the solutions that some of the problem solvers are supposed to be offering. And this will bring about more public education and political education to the population of the city, make our population more prepared to be motivated and organized in order to participate in the changes which must occur in the city of Jackson in order to move it forward. We say the people must decide. "Educate, motivate, organize." That’s the slogan we use for it.
AMY GOODMAN: The late Chokwe Lumumba speaking on Democracy Now! on June 6. He was elected mayor on June 5th, the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.
We’re joined right now by three guests to talk about his shocking death, but also his life and his legacy. We’re going to begin with Akinyele Umoja. He’s an associate professor and chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University, a founding member, like Chokwe Lumumba, of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the New Afrikan Peoples Organization. He’s author of the book, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement. He’s joining us from Los Angeles. And we’re going to be going to Jackson, Mississippi, as well, to speak with the former head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, on the phone. But let’s go first to his longtime ally. We’re joined right now by Akinyele Umoja.
Can you talk about his life and what you understand happened yesterday, his death?
AKINYELE UMOJA: Well, I’m in Los Angeles right now, so I can’t give you a lot of details about his death. But in terms of his life, Chokwe Lumumba was born 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up in a working-class family. He was the second-oldest child in that family. His mother, when he was a child, involved him in civil rights activity. Interestingly enough, they were raising money to go to Mississippi to support the movement, the Student of Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other groups in Mississippi. He became a student athlete. Chokwe was a very gifted athlete, went to Kalamazoo College, and there he became a student activist also.
He was attracted to the Black Power movement, particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther King. You know, like, a tremendous event occurred after the assassination of King. Many young black people joined the Black Power movement. And Chokwe was attracted to a group in Detroit that was based in Detroit, the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika, that demanded five states in the South, that also talked about creating a new society for black people, a society where there would be diversity, a society that would have cooperative economic and socialistic principles.
And those are things that Chokwe carried with him to his last days. He believed in black self-determination. He believed that black people should form—and black people and other folks, because Chokwe was definitely an internationalist also—believed that there should be a new economic system that was more humanistic than the system we live in today. In 1984, Chokwe helped found the New Afrikan Peoples Organization, which would be more activist than the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika, and then, a companion with that, in 1990 formed the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
Chokwe was actually drafted to run for mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Many people—he had been there, moved to Jackson in the late '80s. And he had been engaged as an attorney, being an advocate for people, for workers' rights, being an advocate for victims of police brutality. He had challenged activity of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations in Mississippi. And because of his consistency of work in the state, many people said he should run for mayor. And the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement agreed with that, encouraged Chokwe to run, and—but decided to organize a different type of black politics there. We felt the traditional black politics weren’t really working for us at this time.
So, in Chokwe’s ward, first, before he ran for mayor, in his ward, when he ran for city councilman in 2009, a People’s Assembly was organized. And so, when you heard the clip of him saying the people will decide, that slogan was put into practice by organizing an assembly that would develop his platform. So his platform actually came from the community and not out of his head or not out of our organization. Chokwe—they formed form this People’s Assembly that helped him get elected, formed his platform, but also stayed organized while he was serving the City Council to provide him with direction on how he should proceed on policy.
So it was a different form of politics that was being pursued, as you mentioned earlier, encouraging participatory democracy, encouraging people to get active and also to become politically educated. The hope was—and the hope is still—after his election for mayor, that we would organize a People’s Assembly. In fact, this May, May 2nd through 4th, in Jackson, Mississippi, there also will be the New Economies Conference, Jackson Rising conference, that will look at new economies, cooperative economic development, things of that nature. In the legacy of Chokwe Lumumba, we have to continue these initiatives, even though his—even though his untimely death. He died of a sudden heart attack. And our prayers go out to his family.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Akinyele Umoja, who is associate professor and chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University, a longtime friend and ally of Chokwe Lumumba, who died suddenly yesterday, the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. When we come back, we’ll also go to Jackson, Mississippi, and speak to people around the country. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: "Lumumba" by Miriam Makeba, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re talking about the sudden death of Chokwe Lumumba yesterday in Jackson, Mississippi. He was voted the mayor of—he was elected mayor in June of 2013. Chokwe Lumumba was born Edwin Finley Taliaferro. He told the Jackson Free Press why he chose his name. He said, "I picked the name Chokwe because in my African history class I learned that the Chokwe tribe, which is a tribe that still exists, was one of the last tribes to resist the slave trade successfully in northeast Angola. The name literally means 'hunter.' The second name, Lumumba, was the name of a great African leader who began to lead Africa to decolonize, to independence. He was from the Congo. Lumumba means 'gifted.' So literally, it means 'gifted hunter.'"
I want to go back to Akinyele Umoja, associate professor and chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University and founding member, like Chokwe Lumumba was, of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. The significance of the mayor’s name, the late mayor’s name?
AKINYELE UMOJA: Well, Chokwe, he, as you mentioned, is a—was a black nationalist. He was inspired by Malcolm X, and Malcolm X talked to us about the legacy of the names that we were born with in this country, of having a legacy that was connected to slavery. And so, Chokwe very much embraced the necessity of black people having a culture that was liberating. And in that context—and many people who were a part of the New Afrikan movement with Chokwe, began to change their—like myself, changed our names to African names to try to embrace that heritage, but not only looking back, but also looking forward to try to develop new societies and new communities and to be able to give our children a legacy that’s connected to a liberation movement as opposed to a legacy that was connected to slavery. And so, he very much believed that—for instance, one of the major issues, as we talked about Jackson, he felt that the curriculum needed to be changed in the schools to be able to give our children more knowledge of their history and heritage. He thought that was connected to a low academic achievement in Mississippi, which you know generally rates in one of the lowest-achieving school systems in the country. And so, he believed in that.
I also want to point out that Chokwe was an internationalist. One of the last times we spent extensive time together, we were in Haiti. I know, Amy, you’ve covered the fight for democracy in Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: Right.
AKINYELE UMOJA: And we went there in 2010 to examine what was going on after the earthquake. And we found at that time—and Chokwe and I both held a press conference in Port-au-Prince, looking at that many of the funds that had been collected for people who were abused in—who were victims of the earthquake hadn’t been distributed to them. We also called for the return of President Aristide. So, Chokwe—and this is just one example of the campaigns around the world or issues around the world that Chokwe began to speak about and speak on, as well as his support for human rights for people who had immigrated to Jackson and other parts of the United States from other countries and the rights that they had. He was very much opposed to the legislation that was occurring in Arizona and in the state I live in, in Georgia, that racially profile immigrants. So, he was a champion. I mentioned he was a black nationalist. He was also an internationalist who campaigned for the human rights for all people.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Umoja, we’re also joined by Bill Chandler, a close ally of Mayor Lumumba, was a member of his transition team. Bill Chandler is also a veteran of the civil rights struggles in Mississippi and is founding executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, where Lumumba served as legal counsel before he became mayor. I know Jackson, Mississippi, is mourning right now, Bill. Our condolences to all of you. Can you talk about what Mayor Lumumba was pushing forward before his unexpected death yesterday?
BILL CHANDLER: Well, I think both of us came to Jackson, Mississippi, with the same goal in mind, and that is the realization that in the South, this is where change is going to occur that’s going to affect our country and move it in a more progressive direction. I started with organizing public workers. Chokwe was involved in supporting that effort in Mississippi. There is now a state employees’ union, and also workers for the city of Jackson have organized and are in the process of renegotiating a new contract with the city of Jackson. Further, we recognized that with the in-migration of immigrants from Africa, from Asia, from Latin America and Mexico into Mississippi, that it would create a possibility of significant political change here. And many of the things that Chokwe was fighting for were the same things that we were fighting for. So, 13 years ago, when we formed the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, we did it with unions and churches and civil rights organizations coming together, and Chokwe became our counsel.
We worked together on many issues related to the human rights struggle—you know, for example, the effort to free the Scott sisters, two young women that were arrested and sent up with life sentences for allegedly stealing $11. We worked together on other issues, as well. When he was attacked by a white supremacist judge in Durant, Mississippi, we joined in the effort to prevent him from being disbarred. We spent time on the picket lines in front of the Bar Association, among other things.
But he was a strong supporter of immigrant rights, and I think almost every—in fact, every conference that we had, in terms of unity, trying to build unity between immigrants, brown folks and African Americans, he was part of the efforts to demonstrate the need for unity. And so, it was a natural thing when he announced that he was running for City Council that we would join with him in that effort. That was very successful. And it was very much a grassroots movement here in Jackson. We spent a lot of time going door to door. We had house meetings in communities. And it was a very successful campaign.
And one of the first things—basically, following the example of the city of Detroit, where Councilman Kenneth Cockrel Jr. had initiated an ordinance to prevent racial profiling by public officials, we adopted that idea in Jackson. And together with the legal project director, Patricia Ice, who is—of MIRA, who is also a native of Detroit, we crafted an ordinance that prohibited any public official in the city of Jackson from profiling racially or people that were immigrants in the city. And that really has created a foundation for an effort to make the city of Jackson a more welcoming community for immigrants as they come into Mississippi seeking refuge and seeking work here.
And so, we have worked together many times, in really a constant relationship. And when the community basically encouraged him to run for mayor, and in effect drafted for mayor, we joined his campaign with enthusiasm from the very beginning. And again, it was a people’s campaign. We had the People’s Assembly that developed in Ward 2, which he represented in the City Council, began spreading throughout the city. And as a matter of fact, this Saturday we had—we had planned to have a People’s Assembly for the whole city to talk about the issues that people face here.
So, the loss of Chokwe Lumumba was very shocking to us here. I heard about it shortly after he had passed yesterday afternoon. And, you know, it’s something that is very hard to take. And we extend our thoughts and our prayers to his family, who is very close in the community here. And we look forward to continuing his vision for the city of Jackson.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk more about the Scott sisters. In Mississippi, in January of 2011, two African-American sisters were freed from life sentences in jail, as you mentioned, for an $11 armed robbery. The sisters, Gladys and Jamie Scott, had spent 16 years in prison—for $11. The NAACP and other civil rights groups had campaigned for years for their freedom. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour suspended their sentences on condition that Gladys donate a kidney to her sister, who was on dialysis.
GLADYS SCOTT: You know, I’m praying to God that I am a match, because I don’t want her to have nobody else’s kidney. I want her to have mine. Whether I was, you know, released because I had to give her a kidney, I was going to give it to her anyway if I had to give it to her in prison. Didn’t nobody had to release me, because if they would have let me give it to her when her kidney first failed, I would have gave it to her without a shadow of a doubt. I love my sister.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Gladys Scott. Her sister, 36-year-old Jamie Scott, reflected on how much the world had changed since they were sent to prison in 1994.
JAMIE SCOTT: Last night, I didn’t sleep at all last night. I see pictures of stuff in magazines, different things, as the world is changing and everything—cellphones, up-to-date cellphones and all these things. And today—and today, I’ve done used mostly everybody’s cellphones that’s with me. I just wanted to touch them, and I’ve been playing with them and everything. And it’s so amazing, you know, how the world has changed since 1994. And up to today, it is so amazing, and I’m still trying to soak it all in.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jamie Scott and, before that, Gladys Scott, released from jail after 16 years in prison for an $11 robbery. Standing next to them was Chokwe Lumumba, their attorney at the time, now mayor—well, until yesterday. His sudden death is why we’re talking about him today, though we interviewed him the day after he was elected. Also standing there was Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP, who recently wrote a piece for The Huffington Post called "Remembering Chokwe Lumumba." Remember him for us, Ben.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Sure. Well, you know, that was the fourth or fifth time we had stood next to people that we had worked together to free from prison over the last 20 years. And that was what was so remarkable about Chokwe. I mean, he was a man who was, you know, a true man, if you will. He was active in his church. He had a great marriage to his wife. He had two wonderful kids that he poured all of his love into. He was a well-respected coach. He was an incredible lawyer.
And he chose his—and he also was, you know, somebody with very strong ideals. And he chose to live and practice those ideals on the ground in one of the poorest places in our country. And he brought all of those things with him into the courtroom—all the compassion, all the insight, all his skill as a lawyer—on behalf of the poorest people in the state. And that’s ultimately why Bill and Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP in Mississippi, and so many others, they say he was drafted to run for mayor, because everybody had basically fallen in love—let me put it this way: An overwhelming majority of Jackson—I won’t say everybody, because there were definitely some people who were on the other side—but an overwhelming majority of Jackson, black and white, had fallen in love with Chokwe over the years that he had lived in town, because he was just such a good person. And you knew in your heart, when you live in Jackson, that the toughest thing in Mississippi to be is to be poor and black and in court without good counsel. And he would, at oftentimes risk to his own financial stability, defend anyone who he thought he could help, who he thought needed help, and, most importantly, who he was convinced that nobody else would help.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to our interview with Chokwe Lumumba on Democracy Now! the day after he was elected. We talked to him June 6th. I asked him about the FBI’s decision last year to place his former client, Assata Shakur, on the Most Wanted Terrorists list. But before we play that clip, I wanted to ask you, Ben, about the media coverage, both of Chokwe Lumumba, his election, and the significance of the man who some who called the most revolutionary mayor in America—the lack of the coverage. Last night, I was watching the networks, and I opened The New York Times today, the actual paper edition, and I didn’t see a reference. Last night watching MSNBC for hours, now, I didn’t watch every single second, so I might have missed something, but I did not see a reference. As Bill Chandler said, he died late yesterday afternoon.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah. So, you know, I know that I saw something in the Times this morning online.
AMY GOODMAN: Online, yes.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah, I mean, Chokwe—I mean, look, Chokwe is somebody who you have to give this much time to really talk about. This is a man who lived, if you will, sort of multiple journeys in his life and who was quixotic to people because, on the one hand, you could easily stereotype him as being some sort of radical—he would say he was a radical, because he didn’t see that as being a bad thing. You know, he was somebody who thought that, frankly, having ideals and practicing them in this country full of so much hypocrisy was a radical thing. But he was also somebody who was an extremely committed mayor, very good at working across the aisle, even in his short tenure, with people in the business community, in the most conservative corners of the city, if you will. And he was somebody who at the end of the day, yes, stood up for black people, but was ultimately committed to fairness for everyone in our country.
And so, you know, for, I think, many in the media who sort of deal in sound bites, there’s just too much there to quickly understand in 30 seconds, and so they move on. But he’s ultimately the type of person that we need to understand better in our country, because our country ultimate is greatest, if you will, because of the contributions of idealists over the years who, yes, may have staked a far-out position at times in their lives, but ultimately served to pull our country closer to its own closely held ideals of fairness and equality and justice and the universal dignity of all humanity.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to that clip right now when Chokwe Lumumba came on Democracy Now! Juan González and I interviewed him, and I asked Mayor Lumumba—well, he was mayor-elect at the time—about the FBI’s decision to place his former client Assata Shakur, who is in Cuba, on the Most Wanted Terrorists list.
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, I’ve always felt that Assata Shakur was wrongfully convicted, so she shouldn’t be on a wanted list at all. She never should have been in prison. She was actually shot herself and wounded and paralyzed at the time that the person who she was convicted of killing was shot. So she obviously couldn’t have shot him. And she also was arrested, which caused the incident for about eight different charges which she later was found not guilty of or were dismissed. So I think it’s unfortunate. Assata Shakur, I believe, will historically be proven to be a hero of our times.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Chokwe Lumumba on Democracy Now! on June 6th. Akinyele Umoja, can you talk more about his representation of Assata Shakur and others, the significance of this man, this radical attorney, black nationalist, becoming the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, and now his loss, as we wrap up?
AKINYELE UMOJA: Well, Chokwe was an excellent attorney. In fact, he went to law school inspired by the need for attorneys for people who had been political prisoners, such as Assata Shakur. He went to Wayne State Law School, and then after he went to Wayne State, he went—he successfully sued Wayne State for discrimination against African-American students there.
And then he began to dedicate himself to defending not only, as was mentioned before, the poorest of our community and victims of police brutality, victims of worker—people who had been fighting for their rights as workers and been unjustly fired or whatever, but he also took on the cases of victims of COINTELPRO, or people who had been targeted by J. Edgar Hoover’s Counterinsurgency Program, a war against the black freedom movement of the 1960s and ’70s. So, Assata was one of those people. In fact, in the case he had with Assata, the case was dismissed. He also was co-counsel in the case of Geronimo ji-Jaga, or also known as Geronimo Pratt, who was another person targeted by COINTELPRO; Dr. Mutulu Shakur, who was—and Sekou Odinga, who were charged with freeing Assata Shakur from prison in 1979. So he handled the cases that maybe others would shy away from.
He definitely believed—and even though Chokwe did believe in humanity and love all humanity, he did believe that the United States government was an unjust government, was a government that had a legacy of committing crimes against black people and other people of color and other oppressed people in the United States. And so, he was committed to—as an attorney, and he was committed as an activist, to try to have self-determination and a new system of social justice. Chokwe, even though he ran for mayor, and he believed in working—using every opportunity you had within the system to try to govern ourselves and use whatever influence we had inside of government to improve the lives of people, he did still believe that we needed more fundamental change, that we needed more systemic change.
AMY GOODMAN: In terms of where the city of Jackson goes right now, we’re going to end with a guest who just showed up in Jackson, Mississippi, in the studio. But he didn’t just show up in Jackson, though he did travel there to be with Chokwe Lumumba as he became mayor of the city. Kwame Kenyatta is with us, the former Detroit city councilman who moved to Jackson last year to serve as Mayor Lumumba—Mayor Lumumba’s contract compliance officer. My condolences to the city of Jackson. This is a loss to the country. Kwame Kenyatta, as we wrap up this discussion—you’re coming in just on the tail end—hold forth. Tell us the significance of your colleague, your friend, Chokwe Lumumba, and what this loss means for the direction the city of Jackson was going in.
KWAME KENYATTA: Well, it is a tremendous loss for the city of Jackson, the state of Mississippi—indeed, the country and the world. As you know, Brother Chokwe was a human rights activist, attorney, who fought for the liberation of all people, but definitely fought for the liberation of people of African descent here and around the world. He had developed a strategy to bring this city back, and as he said, not just Jackson, but Mississippi as a whole, who has a history, that’s not a very good history, of treating people in the right manner. So, we had just won a 1 percent sales tax that would build up our infrastructure. The president is talking about building infrastructure. Brother Chokwe had moved to do just that. That sales tax go into effect this Saturday. With that, he intended to build new homes, new businesses, new institutions that would help the people. We live in a state that has the highest—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that’s amazing, actually. He increased the taxes and had the support of the city to do that. It is a lesson to people all over the country about what is possible if that money is going back into shoring up the city.
KWAME KENYATTA: Correct—raised the water rates and as well as the taxes. And people understood that it was necessary in order—but that was because they had faith in his vision. They had faith in what he stood for all of his life and what he stands for now. And so, with that, they were willing to bite the bullet to make this place a better place to live.
AMY GOODMAN: You said, Kwame Kenyatta—you were just about to say this is the city with the highest—and I cut you off.
KWAME KENYATTA: Well, we have a state that is the highest—the poorest state in the country. It is the most obese state in the country, and just recently found to be on the bottom when it comes to education. All of these things was in the mind of Brother Chokwe Lumumba as to how we can improve the quality of life here in Jackson. He could have lived anywhere, but he believed in the vision that the movement put forth years ago, the Malcolm X doctrine, that we must organize upon the land and organize the people upon that land, and he did just that. He gave up his home in Detroit to come here, to one of the five states to begin to organize. He never wavered on that. He never faltered on that. He was committed to that to the end. His last call was a call about a meeting that I was in, and he wanted to know what the outcome of that meeting was. And so, even in his hospital room, minutes before he died, he was working and doing the work of the people.
AMY GOODMAN: Kwame Kenyatta, I want to thank you for being with us, as well as all of our guests, the former Detroit city councilmember who moved to Jackson to be with the new mayor at the time in June, Chokwe Lumumba, Kwame Kenyatta.
KWAME KENYATTA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks for joining us, Akinyele Umoja. Thank you for being with us, Bill Chandler and Ben Jealous. Again, the shocking news that the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, has died. He died late yesterday afternoon, it was reported, of heart failure. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
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