Katie Gilbert in Oxford American magazine:
Chokwe Lumumba had been the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, for five months when, in November 2013, he stood behind a lectern and addressed a group of out-of-towners with a curious phrase he would soon explain with a story: “Good afternoon, everybody, and free the land!”
On his tall, thin frame he wore a bright blue tie and a loosely fitting suit, extra fabric collecting around the shoulders of his jacket. Wire-rimmed glasses rested over a perpetually furrowed brow on his narrow, thoughtful, frequently smiling face. A faint white mustache grazed his upper lip.
In welcoming the attendees of the Neighborhood Funders Group Conference, a convening of grantmaking institutions, Mayor Lumumba was conversational and at ease, as he tended to be with microphone in hand. His friends had long teased him for his loquaciousness in front of a crowd.
Lumumba informed the room that on the car ride over he’d decided he would tell them a story. He explained that big things were happening in Jackson—or, were about to happen—and his story would offer some context. It was one he had recounted many times. Polished smooth, the story was like an object he kept in his pocket and worried with his thumb until it took on the sheen of something from a fable, though the people and events were real. “It was March of 1971 when I first came to the state of Mississippi,” Lumumba began. “It was several months after the students at Jackson State had been murdered,” he said, referring to the tragedy at the city’s predominantly black college, which left two dead and twelve injured after police opened fire on a campus dormitory in May 1970, less than two weeks after the Kent State shootings.
Lumumba had traveled to Mississippi with a group called the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika. He was twenty-three at the time and was taking a break from his second year of law school in Detroit.