Chokwe Antar Lumumba was born in Detroit on March 29, 1983. He and his family moved to Brooklyn two years later, and eventually to Mississippi. Lumumba's father, Chokwe Lumumba Sr., was a criminal defense attorney who famously represented Mutulu Shakur, a participant in the deadly Brink's armored truck robbery of 1981. He also defended such notables as Assata Shakur, Tupac Shakur, and Geronimo Pratt. Moreover, Lumumba Sr. was a founder of the Republic of New Afrika, an organization that: (a) grew out of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; (b) demanded reparations for slavery; and (c) called for the creation of an independent black nation in the regions of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Lumumba Sr. later served as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi from July 2013 until his sudden death in February 2014, at the age of 66.
After earning a JD from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 2008, Chokwe Antar Lumumba became, like his late father, a criminal defense attorney. He has been a managing partner at the Mississippi-based law firm of Lumumba & Associates since 2014, and was a founding member of the Mississippi Human Rights Collective in 2015. When his father died, Lumumba, who had never previously held public office, resolved to run for mayor of Jackson and carry on the father's political legacy. In April 2014, however, Jackson city councilman Tony Yarber defeated Lumumba in a special election to determine who would serve the remainder of the late mayor's term in office.
Three years later, Lumumba ran for mayor once again. This time, his campaign received national support from organized labor and numerous leftist groups, including the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Our Revolution, and the Working Families Party, the latter of which characterized Lumumba as an “inspiring” candidate. “The Working Families Party fights for justice and opportunities for every community, and I'm proud to have earned their support,” said Lumumba, who was also backed by several members of the National Lawyers Guild.
Lumumba ran his mayoral campaign on “an agenda of social justice,” calling specifically for increased spending on public education, the reinstatement of a 1 percent sales tax to raise funds for infrastructure repairs, and crime reduction through community engagement. He also took pains to proudly emphasize his political radicalism. In a March 2017 debate, for instance, Lumumba said, to loud applause: “Honestly, when people call me a radical, I take it as a badge of honor. Because Martin Luther King was radical. Medgar Evers was radical. Jesus Christ was radical. The reality is that we have to be prepared to be as radical as circumstances dictate we should be. If you look outside these doors and you see a need for a change, then you should all be radical. And the reality is that we haven’t found ourselves in the condition we’re in because someone has been too radical for us. I would argue we haven’t been radical enough.”
Candidate Lumumba also highlighted his involvement with the Coalition for Economic Justice and identified himself as a “proud member” of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “We live in a world where you have so many with so little, and so few with so much,” he said. “And so, we’re trying to change that dynamic right here [in Mississippi]—we want to change the order of the world.”
In 2017 as well, Lumumba co-organized a “Stand Up To Take It Down” rally at the Mississippi State Capitol to demand that the confederate insignia be removed from the flag of Mississippi. “We are against the Mississippi state flag,” he said on one occasion. “We are against oppression and all of those monuments, relics and images that promote it or memorialize it. So long as we are shy about speaking up against that, then we’re not prepared to be the best of the new South. We’re still a part of the noose South.”
After winning the Democratic primary in May 2017, Lumumba easily won the general election for mayor the following month, capturing 93 percent of the vote. At his inauguration on July 3, he said: “This is the building of the new society.... For so long Mississippi has been known as the symbol of limits. It has been known as a haven for oppression, for some of the most horrible suffering in the history of the world. So it is only fitting that we should become the leaders of that change.” At the end of his address, Lumumba raised his clenched fist and led his supporters three times in shouts of “Free the land!”
Shortly after his election as mayor, Lumumba was a featured speaker at the June 2017 “People's Summit” in Chicago, an event whose goal, as the Washington Post put it, was to “transfor[m] the United States as quickly as possible.” “So we've made the decision that we're going to be the most radical city on the planet,” Lumumba told those in attendance. “We're going to make certain that we change the whole scope of electoral politics.” “I'll embrace the term radical,” he added. “... I believe that a radical is someone who cares enough about circumstances that they want to see a change … [W]e all need to be prepared to be as radical as the circumstances dictate we should be.”
When he was asked, on another occasion, if he considered himself a “liberal,” Lumumba replied: “I describe myself as a revolutionary.”