February 26, 2014 10:09:32 AM
JACKSON -- Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (SHOW-kway Lu-MOOM-bah), a nationally prominent attorney and human rights activist who persuaded voters into accepting a sales tax to fix crumbling roads and infrastructure in Mississippi's capital, died Tuesday.
He was 66.
City officials said Lumumba died at St. Dominic Hospital. A cause of death was not immediately clear, though City Council president Charles Tillman, who was sworn in as acting mayor, said he had met Monday with Lumumba, who had a cold.
"He kind of joked around about it," Tillman said.
As an attorney, Lumumba represented Tupac Shakur in several cases, including one in which the rapper was cleared of aggravated assault charges in the shootings of two off-duty police officers who were in Atlanta but from another city. Shakur died in 1996.
In 2011, Lumumba persuaded 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. Barbour suspended their life sentences and released them. The sisters did not receive a pardon from Barbour when he left office in early 2012, although he granted pardons and other reprieves to more than 200 people during his final days as governor. Barbour released the women on the condition that Gladys give a kidney to Jamie.
Lumumba served one term on the Jackson City Council and was sworn in as mayor last July. He was one of two candidates who defeated then-Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. in the Democratic primary in early June. Lumumba then defeated businessman Jonathan Lee in the Democratic runoff.
As mayor, Lumumba persuaded Jackson voters to pass a referendum in January to add a 1-cent local sales tax to help pay for improvements to an aging and crumbling roads and water and sewer system. He said then that the city needed an estimated $1.2 billion to completely fix its infrastructure, and raising sales tax by 1 percent would bring in at least $15 million a year until the tax expires in 20 years. Lumumba said the local tax will improve infrastructure, create jobs and increase public safety.
"It is with a heavy heart that we inform you that our beloved brother, human rights activist and mayor of this great city, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, passed away this afternoon," Safiya Omari, Lumumba's chief of staff, said Tuesday night.
Security guards escorted her away in tears. Omari made the announcement under Lumumba's portrait inside Jackson's antebellum city hall and surrounded by the seven members of the City Council. The building was crowded with city employees, politicians, ministers and other residents of Mississippi's largest city.
After the City Council adjourned its brief meeting, Bishop Ronnie Crudup, one of Jackson's most prominent ministers, led the crowd in prayer.
"Lord, he was a good man, a man who had vision, vision for the city," Crudup prayed.
Lumumba is the second Jackson mayor to die while serving. In June 2009, Mayor Frank Melton died while unsuccessfully seeking re-election in the Democratic primary.