Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Activist Jackson, Miss. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, 66, Was a Leading Figure in the Revolutionary Movement

Activist Jackson, Miss Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, 66, Was a Leading Activist in the New African Independence Movement Since the 1960s

JACKSON, Miss. -Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has died.

"It is with a heavy heart that we inform you that our beloved brother, civil rights activist and Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has passed away today (Tuesday). More details will be made available in the near future. For now, we ask that you pray for his children and family," said a statement by the Jackson City Council, which was meeting Tuesday evening for a regularly scheduled meeting.

Council members began the meeting with a prayer, but almost immediately after that, City Councilman Charles Tillman recessed the meeting until Thursday morning.

About an hour later, Tillman was sworn in as acting mayor, a position he will hold until the City Council votes to approve an interim mayor.

Lumumba, 66, became mayor in July. He defeated incumbent Harvey Johnson in the Democratic primary and then went on to defeat Jonathan Lee in the general election.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of the promising new mayor of our Capital City, the Honorable Chokwe Lumumba," said Rickey Cole, the chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party. "His young administration has been a great beacon of hope for so many of us. He was just beginning to make an effective start tackling the long-neglected challenged faced by our Capital City."

Gov. Phil Bryant also issued a statement Tuesday evening after hearing of Lumumba's death.

"Deborah and I are shocked and saddened by the news of Mayor Lumumba's passing and are praying for his loved ones," Bryant said. "Just a short time ago, I had the opportunity to join the mayor in a church pew as we welcomed a new development to the city. His enthusiasm for Jackson will be deeply missed."

One of the triumphs of Lumumba's time as mayor came last month, with the 90 percent approval from voters of a 1 percent sales tax increase, which goes into effect Saturday. The revenue will go to fix Jackson's water, sewage and street issues.

Lumumba had previously served on the City Council and worked as an attorney, often championing civil rights causes.

Lumumba was born in Detroit as Edwin Taliaferro, and changed his name in 1969, when he was in his early 20s. He said he took his new first name from an African tribe that resisted slavery centuries ago and his last name from African independence leader Patrice Lumumba.

He moved to Jackson in 1971 as a human rights activist. He went to law school in Michigan in the mid-1970s and returned to Jackson in 1988.

Lumumba had battled cancer and when asked, said he was a cancer survivor.

Lumumba is the second Jackson mayor to die in office in recent years. Frank Melton died of cardiac arrest in 2009, shortly after polls closed for the Democratic primary. He was at the end of his first term as mayor.

After Melton died, the City Council appointed then-Council President Leslie McLemore as interim mayor. Johnson went on to win the election.

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