Chokwe Lumumba, the recently elected mayor of Jackson, MS, died in St. Dominic Hospital on Tuesday after experiencing chest pains, Aljazeera America reports. He was 66. Heart failure is the apparent cause of death.
Lumumba was sworn in as Jackson’s mayor last July and he had a vision to improve the city’s groundwork. He persuaded 90 percent of the voters to accede to a one percent increase of the sales tax. “Lumumba said the local tax will improve infrastructure, create jobs and increase public safety,” Aljazeera adds.
“He always impressed me as being ready to … take the problem and do something about it,” Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads said. “When you operate as he did, people may not like you but they respect you, and I think it showed that his heart was in bettering the capital city.”
Lumumba made his mark as a civil rights leader and renowned lawyer advocating for high profile clients like Tupac Shakur. In 2011, he persuaded the former Mississippi governor Hayley Barbour to release the Scott sisters, they served “16 years for an armed robbery they said they did not commit,” USA Today said.
On the campaign trail for mayor, critics believed he was too controversial to lead the capital city of Mississppi due to his Black Panther and New Afrika associations. In fact, Lumumba renounced his real name, Edwin Taliaferro, to “cast aside his slave name.”
“Lumumba means gifted. Chokwe means hunter. So, I’m a gifted hunter,” he said.
“People were looking at Lumumba as the radical, but they missed the fact that as an attorney and advocate, he made so many deep relationships over the years,” said C.J. Rhodes, a Mississippian voter told Aljazeera last fall. “He was able to speak to the mood of a number of disenchanted black working-class folk, who saw in him the one who finally comes and revolutionizes this chocolate city.”
As Lumumba got the ball rolling on the infrastructure crisis — and I’m talking brown tap water, flooded streets, rutted roads — the Jackson mayor began to win the support of his biggest detractors. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve been impressed by this guy,” said Ben Allen, who’s part of the small, but powerful white business owners in the city. “He’s appointed some of his biggest rivals to his economic-development advisory team. I’m one of them. He’s a good listener. We’re hopeful.”
“I thank you for giving my father the opportunity to serve the city. It has given him great joy. He has enjoyed working for you,” Lumumba’s son said.