Not long after Detroit City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta resigned in protest of the emergency manager in June, he quietly moved to the heartland of Mississippi to work for new Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba.
Both were outspoken civil rights activists, and Lumumba hired Kenyatta to serve as a watchdog to ensure that any business, nonprofit or government agency doing work with the city does not discriminate based on race or gender.
Then came news that Lumumba, who is a Detroit native, died Tuesday while experiencing chest pain at a hospital.
He was 66.
Lumumba was born on Detroit’s west side in 1947 as Edwin Finley Taliaferro and graduated from St. Theresa High School. Deeply impacted by the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Lumumba began attending demonstrations, and in 1975, he graduated at the top of his class from Wayne State University Law School.
Lumumba became a defense attorney and eventually moved to Jackson where he practiced law, served as a councilman and advocated for racial equality.
Kenyatta expressed grief for his longtime friend in an interview with Democracy Now!
KWAME KENYATTA: Well, it is a tremendous loss for the city of Jackson, the state of Mississippi—indeed, the country and the world. As you know, Brother Chokwe was a human rights activist, attorney, who fought for the liberation of all people, but definitely fought for the liberation of people of African descent here and around the world. He had developed a strategy to bring this city back, and as he said, not just Jackson, but Mississippi as a whole, who has a history, that’s not a very good history, of treating people in the right manner. So, we had just won a 1 percent sales tax that would build up our infrastructure. The president is talking about building infrastructure. Brother Chokwe had moved to do just that. That sales tax go into effect this Saturday. With that, he intended to build new homes, new businesses, new institutions that would help the people. We live in a state that has the highest—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that’s amazing, actually. He increased the taxes and had the support of the city to do that. It is a lesson to people all over the country about what is possible if that money is going back into shoring up the city.
KWAME KENYATTA: Correct—raised the water rates and as well as the taxes. And people understood that it was necessary in order—but that was because they had faith in his vision. They had faith in what he stood for all of his life and what he stands for now. And so, with that, they were willing to bite the bullet to make this place a better place to live.
AMY GOODMAN: You said, Kwame Kenyatta—you were just about to say this is the city with the highest—and I cut you off.
KWAME KENYATTA: Well, we have a state that is the highest—the poorest state in the country. It is the most obese state in the country, and just recently found to be on the bottom when it comes to education. All of these things was in the mind of Brother Chokwe Lumumba as to how we can improve the quality of life here in Jackson. He could have lived anywhere, but he believed in the vision that the movement put forth years ago, the Malcolm X doctrine, that we must organize upon the land and organize the people upon that land, and he did just that. He gave up his home in Detroit to come here, to one of the five states to begin to organize. He never wavered on that. He never faltered on that. He was committed to that to the end. His last call was a call about a meeting that I was in, and he wanted to know what the outcome of that meeting was. And so, even in his hospital room, minutes before he died, he was working and doing the work of the people.
AMY GOODMAN: Kwame Kenyatta, I want to thank you for being with us, as well as all of our guests, the former Detroit city councilmember who moved to Jackson to be with the new mayor at the time in June, Chokwe Lumumba, Kwame Kenyatta.
KWAME KENYATTA: Thank you.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.