On July 3, 2017, Chokwe Antar Lumumba became the 53rd — and youngest — mayor of the City of Jackson, Mississippi. He was 34. Now 38, Lumumba was re-elected mayor on June 8, 2021, winning almost 70 percent of the votes among five candidates. An attorney, husband and father, Lumumba is the son of two veteran community activists—the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and Nubia Lumumba.
Here are seven things to know about Lumumba.
When he took office, Lumumba had a grand progressive vision but he was forced to adjust to the realities of the city and the office.
Lumumba swept in on a tide of rhetoric and ambition that drew national attention. He laid out an expansive vision of how Jackson could become a model for the country, promising to use City Hall to deliver not just better services, but a whole menu of new progressive ideas such as universal basic income, cooperative businesses, and alternatives to policing, Politico reported.
He wanted to fix the potholes, replace abandoned lots with urban farms and deliver clean water to residents.
He promised to turn Jackson into “the most radical city on the planet.”
But in his first term, he faced longtime economic and racial woes that thwarted his vision — at least for now.
“I wouldn’t call us the most radical city to date,” Lumumba told Politico in February.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Democratic presidential candidates sought out Lumumba as a key endorsement in the 2020 primary. Lumumba endorsed Sanders.
But Lumumba’s bravado and inexperience “rubbed some in Jackson’s Democratic establishment the wrong way. A mayor who embraces Bernie Sanders-style progressivism isn’t what Jackson needs, Lumumba’s critics say,” Politico reported.
Since taking office, Lumumba has faced crisis after crisis, including floods, freezes, and the pandemic.
When asked recently by The Washington Post about the covid-19 pandemic and Jackson’s low vaccination rates (35 percent), Lumumba admitted he faces a hurdle of vaccine hesitancy in the majority-Black city.
“Ultimately what we have to be able to accomplish is meeting people where they are,” he said. “I think that we have to adopt a more palatable narrative that people understand … that we utilize credible messengers. Here in Jackson, Mississippi, as is the case traditionally across the South, it is important that we engage our churches. Those are places where people find not only community but they find credible messengers within those places of worship … I think it is important within our communities that we use the barbershops and the beauty salons, places where people are often not only convening but having conversations about their resistance towards taking vaccines.”
Lumumba decided to run for mayor on Feb. 25, 2014 — the day his father died of a heart attack. His father also served as mayor of Jackson.
“On the day of his father’s death, he says, he prayed to God to put his father’s spirit in him. Soon, he decided to run for mayor, despite having no political experience,” Politico reported. In 2014, he lost a special election to replace his father but won the regular election three years later.
Lumumba graduated from law school at Texas Southern University shortly before marrying his wife, Ebony, whom he met in kindergarten. Before following his father into politics, Lumumba worked at his father’s law practice.
In 2020, Lumumba won a $90 million lawsuit against multinational corporation Siemens, which the city had hired to repair Jackson’s sewers and update its water billing system, but didn’t do either.
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Lumumba said he hasn’t given up on his vision and has made some inroads on his grand plan to right some of the wrongs in Jackson.
In March, Lumumba tweeted, “We’ve achieved some things to be proud of in our work to progress our city over the past four years. We know there is still much more work to do, so we remain committed to our vision of a city without contradiction whose residents thrive with dignity.”