Madison leaders remember mayor
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 12:00 PM
JACKSON - Although he didn't have a lot of personal interaction with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, Ridgeland Mayor Gene F. McGee said he always found him to be progressive and ambitious.
Chokwe Lumumba (SHOW-kway Lu-MOOM-bah), 66, died Tuesday afternoon unexpectedly, stunning the capital city.
By law, the Jackson City Council has 30 days to set a date for a special election.
Madison County leaders have joined the chorus of Mississippians and others sending their condolences.
"He was willing to roll up his sleeves and work hard to make sure that things that needed to happen were happening," McGee said.
"It may not have always been the most popular thing, but he did what he needed to do to make sure Jackson's future was taken care of."
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler said she didn't know Lumumba personally, but offered her condolences and prayers to his family.
The former lawyer and civil rights activist died at St. Dominic's.
Jackson City Council President Charles Tillman was unanimously elected Tuesday night by a visibly shaken council to succeed Lumumba as interim mayor until the city can hold a special election.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I ask for your prayers, and I ask for your support as we go through these trying times," Tillman said. "I'm asking for the full support of my council colleagues, and all the department heads and the citizens of Jackson."
Tillman opened Tuesday's regularly-scheduled meeting on time, but recessed moments later so that council members could collect themselves emotionally.
Former council vice president Melvin Priester, Jr. automatically moved into the city council president's chair, and Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps was voted the new vice president.
The Clarion-Ledger reports that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has mandated the election be general and non-partisan, with no candidates registering an official party registration.
"Someone has to get a majority of the votes cast to be elected," he said. "If no one does, then the top two will be in a runoff in two weeks, a little different from statewide, which are three weeks later."
It would hard to imagine anyone running away with the election, as Lumumba did last July by solidly defeating fellow Democrat Jonathan Lee in the primary runoff, observers said.
A lightning rod for controversy, Lumumba was a wildly popular mayor in the state's largest city who pushed through unpopular ideas he believed provided the best direction for Jackson.
He raised water and sewer rates, passed a controversial 1-percent sales tax increase on certain items and pushed through the city council a whopping $502.5 million budget to put the city's public works department on solid enough footing to start dealing with the city's woeful infrastructure problems.
He made these tough decisions to the drumbeat that urged the city of Jackson to pull itself up by its own boot straps and do everything it can to address its problems before asking for help from the state legislature or the surrounding communities.
"He was a breath of fresh air, for sure, even though he'd been on the council before he ran for mayor," Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership President Duane O'Neill said.
"We didn't know each other very well and didn't have a working relationship when he came into office, so we weren't sure where we were going. But lo and behold, it turned into a productive working and personal relationship.
"You hear the word visionary a lot, but he truly saw where he wanted the city to go, and he knew how to rally the people to make it happen."
Canton Mayor Arnel Bolden said Lumumba was conflicted about the decisions he made, even if they put an extra hardship on the citizens of a city with an average annual income of less than $20,000.
"As a leader, sometimes you have to make decisions that are unpopular, but are in the best interests of your city as a whole," Bolden said. "If you want to have great infrastructure, you have to pay the cost. I think he, as a visionary, recognized that and effectively conveyed that message to the citizens of Jackson."
Lumumba, a Michigan native, was born Edwin Taliaferro. He left behind a daughter, Rukia Lumumba and a son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a prominent Jackson attorney. He had another son in Atlanta.
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 was involved with the Republic of New Afrika in the 1970s and '80s. He said in 2013 that the group had advocated "an independent predominantly black government" in the southeastern United States. Lumumba was vice president of the group during part of his stint. The group also advocated reparations for slavery, and was watched by an FBI counterintelligence operation.
"The provisional government of Republic of New Afrika was always a group that believed in human rights for human beings," Lumumba told The Associated Press in 2013. "I think it has been miscast in many ways. It has never been any kind of racist group or 'hate white' group in any way.... It was a group which was fighting for human rights for black people in this country and at the same time supporting the human rights around the globe."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.