Chokwe Lumumba's historic win in Jackson, Mississippi, despite 'something undesirable going on'
KPFA Evening News, 06.10.2013
Jackson City Councilman Chokwe Lumumba upset his opponent in the Democratic primary run-off in Jackson, Mississippi, and then handily won the general election on June 4th, despite what Jackson native and author Tom Head called the incoherent, unarticulated, and disturbing opposition of white voters, conservative and progressive alike.
KPFA Evening News, 06.09.2013
KPFA Evening News Anchor Anthony Fest: Earlier this week, Jackson Mississippi City Councilman Chokwe Lumumba easily won a general election to become the city's next mayor, after upsetting Jonathan Lee in the Democratic primary. Peace and justice communities all over the U.S. heralded his election as historic, because of his organizing history and his longstanding commitment to Pan African liberation. Jackson native and author Tom Head, writing in this week’s Jackson Free Press, said he was disturbed that white voters, both conservative and progressive, had united behind Lumumba’s opponent. KPFA’s Ann Garrison spoke with Tom Head.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Tom Head, could you give us the shorthand version of your essay, “The Wrong Kind of Unity,” published in the Jackson Free Press this week, after Chokwe Lumumba’s election?
Tom Head: The essay primarily addresses the strange and completely counterintuitive coalition that emerged between white conservatives and white progressives, in opposition to Chokwe Lumumba during the run-off. Something on the order of 93% of white voters in Jackson, crossing all political boundaries, unified behind his opponent for reasons that very few of them have been able to articulate. It was very strange. And my concern in that article is that when you have that kind of ideologically incoherent white racial unity behind a candidate, it usually indicates that something undesirable is going on. I think a lot of the fear that many whites felt about Chokwe Lumumba was completely baseless and grounded in an unarticulated fear, in the background of Mississippi politics, of Black radicals.
I was very relieved when Chokwe managed to overcome that fear, which by the way, manifested itself in 165% white turnout in some of these precincts, over previous municipal elections, to win the election with a coalition made up almost entirely of Black voters.
KPFA: Just, just a second. . . did you say 165% turnout of white voters?
Tom Head: Not population wise, but versus previous municipal elections yes.
KPFA: OK. Haha. OK.
Tom Head: No no, not 165% by population, although that probably has been known to happen in some parts of the state.
KPFA: But there were white voters and activists out there. I saw them holding up signs for Chokwe Lumumba.
Tom Head: Oh there definitely were, there were some. In my precinct there were 637 voters; 599 of them voted for the other candidate and 38 of them voted for Chokwe. And that was the pattern in most of the majority white precincts.
Jackson is still a very segregated city, and while there were some white supporters, the coalition against them represented almost all of the white voters in the city of Jackson, which was very upsetting. He did carry between seven and eight percent of the white vote in the run-off, which I thought was, considering the climate of suspicion in the white precincts, I thought that was remarkable. And I think many of those 7 or 8% voters were very passionate. I certainly was. And I think that’s why you saw so many white voters holding up signs, because they recognized what was going on and they wanted to stand up against it.
KPFA: But this is a historic victory. You said Jackson has had Black mayors since 1997.
Tom Head: Mm-hmm.
KPFA: But this is something different. This is a Black mayor who didn’t seek the permission or approval of the white establishment, right?
Tom Head: Exactly. And not only did he not seek it, but the white establishment was very strongly against him. I could not name more than two or three prominent white Democrats in the Jackson metro area who had held elected office who backed Chokwe Lumumba.
Tom Head’s essay, “The Wrong Kind of Unity,” can be read on JacksonFreePress.com.