Meridian Star

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March 8, 2014

Memorial service held for Mayor Chokwe Lumumba

MERIDIAN —

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — More than 150 friends and family members mourned Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (SHOW-kway Lu-MOOM-bah) on Friday, remembering his career as a human rights activist, prominent attorney and black nationalist.

Lumumba was a onetime official of the Republic of New Afrika, a group that sought "an independent predominantly black government" in the southeastern U.S. Still an advocate for transformative economic and political changes, he moved into elective politics, rising to mayor in 2013.

"Our hearts are broken, but it's hard not to celebrate after knowing such a distinguished humanitarian," said Safiya Omari, his chief of staff, who presided over the ceremony.

The 66-year-old Lumumba, born in Detroit as Edwin Taliaferro, died Feb. 25 of natural causes, according to Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart. Lumumba, a Democrat, will be buried Saturday following a funeral service.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, on Friday ordered flags in Jackson to fly at half-staff Saturday.

"It didn't matter what you had and didn't have. Chokwe always had time and a kind work and maybe free legal advice for you," Omari said, drawing scattered laughs at the service behind the City Hall of Mississippi's largest city.

As Hinds County Supervisor Kenneth Stokes pointed out, Lumumba was mourned from the steps of an antebellum structure built by slaves.

Some of the speakers remembered Lumumba's legal work. Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, a former Democratic lawmaker, recalled Lumumba persuading then-Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, to release sisters Jamie Scott and Gladys Scott from a Mississippi prison after they had served 16 years for an armed robbery they said they didn't commit

"I saw him be a man who saw wrong and tried to right it, but more than that, I saw a man of awesome integrity," Flaggs said.

As an attorney, Lumumba represented Tupac Shakur in cases including one in which the rapper was cleared of aggravated assault in the shootings of two off-duty police officers who were visiting Atlanta from another city when they were wounded. Shakur died in 1996.

Ben Jealous, former president of the NAACP, was one of many who echoed Lumumba's slogan of "free the land," a heritage of Lumumba's membership in the Republic of New Afrika.

"When Chokwe said 'Free the land,' that's what he means — give freedom to everyone in the land," Jealous said.

Coltrane Chimurenga, who was acquitted in 1985 of charges that he and other black revolutionaries plotted to rob armored trucks and help people break out of jail, said people should honor Lumumba by action.

"We continue to say freedom. Freedom! Build. Love what Chokwe did by practice and not by words," Chimurenga said.

A special election has been called for April 8 to choose a new mayor, with a runoff to follow April 22 if needed.

One possible candidate is Lumumba's son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba. At Friday's event, Stokes endorsed the younger Lumumba, saying "his son should be the next mayor for this city."

 

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