Q&A with New Jackson, Mississippi Mayor

o call Chokwe Lumumba-the newly inaugurated African-American mayor of Jackson, Miss.-a radical would be to jump on an already-crowded bandwagon of media swift-boating his campaign's demand for Black equality. But it seems almost fitting for the founder and leader of the Republic of New Afrika, New Afrikan People's Organization and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement-and defense attorney for late rapper Tupac Shakur.

Some believe Lumumba's June 4 mayoral election victory is a triumph and tribute to civil rights leader Medgar Evers who, 50 years ago on June 12, 1963, was gunned down in front of his Jackson, Miss., home.

Born and raised on Detroit's west side, Lumumba relocated to Mississippi because he felt he could make more of a difference.
Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League motto was: "One God. One aim. One destiny." Lumumba's campaign riff: "One city. One aim. One destiny."

"We have a body of people here in Jackson who have a single objective-to make our city more beneficial for everybody. Let's look at it as we're all in this together, as one city. Let's have the same aims at the same time to reach the same destiny," Lumumba says of the economic power he hopes to build in Mississippi capitol city of the nation's poorest state. (Eighty percent of its 188,000 residents are African-American, a percentage only Detroit surpasses.)

He calls it "receiving reparations." And he's not talking about the 40 acres and mule the government promised-and never delivered-freed slaves, but a new structure to kick-start payment on a debt Lumumba feels America still owes Black people.

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You formed the Black United Front organization to advocate for Black studies in Midwestern higher education institutions in 1969-and played a role in the Republic of New Afrika social movement. What else have you learned from Marcus Garvey?

Marcus Garvey is a historic influence and probably has influenced all of us who have any understanding of self-determination or Blacks developing our own destiny. In other words, freedom is not something that is just up in the air, hypothetical or something you wear on your clothing or speak. You can be free if you can control an area where you can make the rules, make the laws and plan the economy and set up a social system.

There's an idea that Black people are running out of leaders. Should we be looking?

You've got to find leadership in yourself. Each period in history will help produce its own leaders depending on what the necessity is for leadership. Sometimes, it's tough because conditions are so oppressive. And those who have that determination to continue will be the seeds- and will plant the seeds which are necessary to birth that leadership.

If each generation births a leader, do you believe you are this leader for Jackson?

Yes, I believe that I am part of that. That's the other thing that we have to understand about leadership. Leadership is not singular, it's plural. … Realistically, leadership is taking many minds and putting them together.

As a Detroit native, why not bring that leadership to us?

Well, the reason I moved South I guess is twofold. There has been a reverse migration back to the South since the '70s. Like in Mississippi, you have 18 counties on the western side of the state, from Tunica all the way down to Wilkinson, and 17 of them are majority Black. One of them, which is not majority, is 47 percent Black. Detroit has a tremendous history. The whole idea of self-determination, Detroit has fed that and helped grow that perhaps greater than any other spot on this side of the ocean, for sure.

But at the same time, some of the limitations were, once you cross Eight Mile Road, you are in a different territory. And you can cross a whole lot of county lines around here in Mississippi and you will still be looking at people that look like you. What we have to do, and what I was trying to do, is go to a place where we perhaps could be more involved in a land base that could produce a manufacturing system-not just a city.

What do reparations look like today?

I really believe what they tried to teach you in school and what they teach you in law school: If you owe somebody money you ought to pay them back, and if you don't you are a deadbeat. I don't just apply that to people who can't pay their credit card bills; I apply that to people who are not paying their century-old bills in terms of the accumulation of wealth off the backs of people who were taken into slavery.

So if you are in a place like Jackson where 80 percent of the population is Black but only 1 percent of the actual business income comes to Black people, that's way out of whack. If you come in here for business, then you need to come prepared to hire at least 60 percent of people from Jackson. At least 50 percent of the people you work with or subcontract with have to be Black. So those are the things we have to require in order to move us in a way where we begin to economically stabilize. Economic power puts us in a better position to demand or receive the reparations that we ultimately should receive.

How will you equalize those opportunities?

The vision is that we want to equalize the economic situation here and build it at the same time. And we will equalize the opportunities by making sure that people who should be owners of businesses get an opportunity to be owners of business. We can do that by developing the infrastructure. The infrastructure in this city and in most cities is in decline. And so what we have to do with bridges, waters or sewage or ditches and things of that nature-we want to put people to work, revitalizing them. (This) is the new economic frontier. We are not still building roads to California or trains. We are not still looking for gold or digging for treasure. Those are not the things that will cause an economic boon in our time.

What will … is taking the places we live in and rehabilitating them so that will create jobs. What hurts a city like Jackson or Detroit is when those activities are necessary and you are busy bringing people from outside and outsourcing. So they come in and get the people's tax dollar and take the work somewhere else. Our plan right from the very beginning is to repair the roads, repair the sewage-but making sure people from Jackson get a job.
We say, "Jackson is open for business." But we want them to live here. (I) would say that is not only a smart plan for Jackson, but that is a smart plan for Detroit.

This all ties into solidarity economy?

Absolutely. The idea of a solidarity economy is a just economy. It's economic justice; that's what we are trying to define. Everybody in the society has a right to the fruits of the society. Especially the fruits which are produced by the mass labor and the production of people themselves.

You won spending about a quarter of what your political opponents did. It's said your election reflects a 'radical' mood in Jackson. What does radical mean to you?

Very little. … What's important to me is that you act the way you should given the circumstances that confront you. That can be called radical when you have an overtly out-of-place, dysfunctional society. Then, a very deliberate, very firm positive strong action is necessary to knock that society back into the right direction. Certainly, nobody can call the American society-economically, politically or socially-anything but dysfunctional through most of its history. In other words, you have a country that is created by the stealing of land from Native Americans. You have a country that is built upon the backs of Black slaves. And what we are doing now is trying to correct history. Jesus Christ was in many respects a radical in himself. So there's nothing wrong with being radical. As long as you're radical-and you're are right.

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