On February 21, 2014, 49 years to the day after Malcolm X's earthly form fell to assassins' bullets in Harlem, Chokwe Lumumba, the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, came home to find the power out. The outage affected only his house, not any others on the block. He phoned friends for help, including an electrician, an electrical engineer, and his longtime bodyguard—each in some way associated with his administration. They couldn't figure out the problem at first. They called the power company, and waited, and as they did, they talked about the strange notions that had been circulating. At the grand opening of Jackson's first Whole Foods Market a few weeks earlier, a white woman said she'd been told at her neighborhood-association meeting that the mayor was dead. He'd been coughing more than he should've maybe, and his blood pressure was running high, but he was very much alive. He gave a speech at the grocery store that day.
In a time of outcry for black lives across the United States, Lumumba had come to office in a Southern capital on a platform of black power and human rights. He built a nationwide network of supporters and a local political base after decades as one of the most radical, outspoken lawyers in the black nationalist movement.
Earlier that February, Lumumba had given an interview to the progressive journalist Laura Flanders, host of GRITtv. Flanders pressed him on his goals on camera, and the mayor was more forthcoming than he'd been since taking office that previous July. He discussed the principle of cooperative economics in Kwanzaa, Ujima, which guided his plans for upending how the city awarded its lucrative infrastructure contracts; he wanted to redirect that money from outside firms to local worker-owned businesses. He also spoke of the idea of the Kush District, starting with 18 contiguous counties with large black populations around Jackson, which he and his closest allies wanted to establish as a safe homeland for African American self-determination. Jackson was to be its capital. Implied in this kind of talk was a very tangible transfer of power from the white suburbs to the region's urban black majority.
At the time, Black Lives Matter was still nascent, more a hashtag than an on-the-ground movement, and DeRay Mckesson—the activist now running for mayor of Baltimore—was still working for the Minneapolis Public Schools between sending off tweets. But those paying attention were coming to see Jackson as a model, the capital of a new African American politics and economics, a form of resistance more durable than protest.
Go to the GEO front page