Chokwe Antar Lumumba was born in Detroit on March 29, 1983. His surname came from Patrice Lumumba, a Communist black nationalist who served briefly as the first prime minister of the independent Republic of the Congo in 1960. Chokwe Lumumba and his family moved to Brooklyn two years later, and eventually to Mississippi. Lumumba’s father, Chokwe Lumumba Sr., was a criminal defense attorney who famously represented Mutulu Shakur, a participant in the deadly 1981 Brink’s armored-truck robbery that resulted in the murder of a Brink’s guard and two Nyack, New York police officers. He also defended such notables as Assata Shakur, Tupac Shakur, and Geronimo Pratt. Moreover, Lumumba Sr. was a founder of the Republic of New Afrika, an organization that: (a) grew out of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; (b) demanded reparations for slavery; and (c) called for the creation of an independent black nation in the regions of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Lumumba Sr. later served as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi from July 2013 until his sudden death in February 2014, at the age of 66.
After earning a JD from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 2008, Chokwe Antar Lumumba followed in his father’s footsteps and became a criminal defense attorney. He has been a managing partner at the Mississippi-based law firm of Lumumba & Associates since 2014, and was a founding member of the Mississippi Human Rights Collective in 2015. When his father died, Lumumba, who had never previously held public office, resolved to run for mayor of Jackson and carry on the father’s political legacy. In April 2014, however, Jackson city councilman Tony Yarber defeated Lumumba in a special election to determine who would serve the remainder of the late mayor’s term in office.
Three years later, Lumumba ran for mayor once again. This time, his campaign received national support from organized labor and numerous leftist groups, including the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Our Revolution, and the Working Families Party, the latter of which characterized Lumumba as an “inspiring” candidate. “The Working Families Party fights for justice and opportunities for every community, and I’m proud to have earned their support,” said Lumumba, who was also backed by several members of the National Lawyers Guild.
Lumumba ran his mayoral campaign on “an agenda of social justice,” calling specifically for increased spending on public education, the reinstatement of a 1 percent sales tax to raise funds for infrastructure repairs, rime reduction through community engagement and alternatives to policing, and the replacement of abandoned lots with urban farms. He also took pains to proudly emphasize his political radicalism. In a March 2017 debate, for instance, Lumumba said, to loud applause: “Honestly, when people call me a radical, I take it as a badge of honor. Because Martin Luther King was radical. Medgar Evers was radical. Jesus Christ was radical. The reality is that we have to be prepared to be as radical as circumstances dictate we should be. If you look outside these doors and you see a need for a change, then you should all be radical. And the reality is that we haven’t found ourselves in the condition we’re in because someone has been too radical for us. I would argue we haven’t been radical enough.”
Candidate Lumumba also highlighted his involvement with the pro-socialist Coalition for Economic Justice and identified himself as a “proud member” of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “We live in a world where you have so many with so little, and so few with so much,” he said. “And so, we’re trying to change that dynamic right here [in Mississippi]—we want to change the order of the world.”
In 2017 as well, Lumumba co-organized a “Stand Up To Take It Down” rally at the Mississippi State Capitol to demand that the confederate insignia be removed from the flag of Mississippi. “We are against the Mississippi state flag,” he said on one occasion. “We are against oppression and all of those monuments, relics and images that promote it or memorialize it. So long as we are shy about speaking up against that, then we’re not prepared to be the best of the new South. We’re still a part of the noose South.”
An integral theme of the aforementioned elements of Lumumba’s mayoral campaign was his burning desire to end what he described as the “cycles of humiliation” that, by his telling, had defined black life in Jackson since time immemorial.
After winning the Democratic primary in May 2017, Lumumba easily won the general election for mayor the following month, capturing 93 percent of the vote. At his inauguration on July 3, he said: “This is the building of the new society…. For so long Mississippi has been known as the symbol of limits. It has been known as a haven for oppression, for some of the most horrible suffering in the history of the world. So it is only fitting that we should become the leaders of that change.” At the end of his address, Lumumba raised his clenched fist and led his supporters three times in shouts of “Free the land!”
Shortly after his election as mayor, Lumumba was a featured speaker at the June 2017 “People’s Summit” in Chicago, an event whose goal, as the Washington Post put it, was to “transfor[m] the United States as quickly as possible.” “So we’ve made the decision that we’re going to be the most radical city on the planet,” Lumumba told those in attendance. “We’re going to make certain that we change the whole scope of electoral politics.” “I’ll embrace the term radical,” he added. “… I believe that a radical is someone who cares enough about circumstances that they want to see a change … [W]e all need to be prepared to be as radical as the circumstances dictate we should be.”
When he was asked, on another occasion, if he considered himself a “liberal,” Lumumba replied: “I describe myself as a revolutionary.”
In an August 2019 interview with Amy Goodman, Lumumba condemned the Trump administration for having recently ordered an Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) workplace raid on hundreds of illegal aliens employed by poultry processing plants in Mississippi. He portrayed Trump’s action as a manifestation of widespread racism in an irredeemably racist nation:
“The only people who appear to be punished, the punitive measures that were inflicted were against those workers, those individuals who were seeking opportunity, being taken from their jobs, not doing any criminal acts, to be placed in cages, to be locked up, to be taken away from their children…. I think that we have to reflect on where the soul of this nation is. You know, America is infected with a disease, and that disease is called racism. It often is utilized to support economic benefits of corporations, the economic benefits of those who use such divisions in order for their personal profit. And I think that we’re seeing a president who exacerbates that, a president who is incited by that.
“And so, we have to really reflect on where the soul of this nation is, when he has the slogan that he wants to ‘make America great again.’ When we reflect on the labor policy of this nation, not only what we’re seeing today — we think about the Africans that were snatched off of a continent to work for free — my ancestors — when we think about all of the oppressive conditions of dehumanizing and pushing away unions, this country has had a long-standing labor practice that is just despicable at best. And so, the idea of ‘make America great again,’ we don’t see a country that has gone wrong, in my opinion; we see a country that has never been right.”
From 2019 to 2020, murders in Jackson increased by 50%, and 2020 became the city’s deadliest year on record, by a wide margin. In fact, Jackson’s murder rate was now among the highest of any city in the United States. As a local news station reported, on average, someone in Jackson was either shot or killed every 31 hours in 2020.
When the Black Lives Matter race riots of 2020 began after the infamous death of George Floyd, Mayor Lumumba, lamenting that black Americans were “still grappling with the trauma of hundreds of years of systematic oppression,” proclaimed that “we must dismantle the systems that have historically oppressed us.”
In December 2020, twenty-one current and former Jackson police officers — including five white cops — sued Mayor Lumumba for discriminating against them based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation. The lawsuit also claimed that Lumumba had used $200,000 from the police budget to pay for four of his own personal bodyguards and an SUV motorcade.
In February 2021, the city of Jackson suddenly lost its water supply for a month after a winter storm damaged the city’s decaying infrastructure. Mayor Lumumba blamed the situation on white racism: “I do think that if we’re being honest, it’s a matter of race.” But as investigative reporter Daniel Greenfield pointed out, the roots of the problem were in fact of a very different nature:
“[B]lack Democrat mayors have run Jackson for the last 25 years. The city had been repeatedly warned that its water system was going bad, that it wasn’t being maintained, and that there was no money because residents weren’t paying their water bills. While Mayor Lumumba was chanting black power slogans and pushing socialist pipe dreams, the basic infrastructure of pipes that made life possible was coming apart … The year before Mayor Lumumba took office, high lead levels became the new normal. [In 2020], the EPA was warning local residents that the water wasn’t safe to drink. But Lumumba kept busy denouncing the state flag, touting socialism, and rolling out an experimental welfare ‘guaranteed income’ program mailing out thousand dollar checks to housing project residents. Meanwhile the water treatment facilities were only being staffed at 50%.”
Further Reading: “Is This the Most Radical Mayor in America?” (D.D. Guttenplan, The Nation, 11-17-2017); “Progressive Attorney Unseats Business-Friendly Mississippi Mayor” (Daniel Marans, Huffington Post, 5-3-2017); “Mayor-elect Lumumba: Jackson ‘to be the most radical city on the planet‘” (Clarion-Ledger, 6-12-2017); “Jackson, Mississippi Just Chose Radical Leftist …” (John Nichols, The Nation, 5-3-2017); “Chokwe Antar Lumumba” (Keywiki.org).