Chokwe Lumumba: Jackson, MS

Lumumba Insists Immigrants Rights and Civil Rights are One

Chokwe Lumumba is well into his fifth decade as an activist, attorney, and human rights advocate. An African American, he began his civil rights activism in high school in the 1950s, and since 1968 has included the language and principles of international human rights in his work.

Lumumba is now serving as a Jackson City, Mississippi Councilman. From his long history in the civil rights movement, he has come to see the rights of recent immigrants as an important part of that ongoing work. He wrote an anti-racial profiling ordinance, citing the unlawful targeting of immigrants in his state, and pushed hard for passage by helping to draw the connections between the struggles of recent immigrants and those of all marginalized communities.

Lumumba is one of several African-American elected leaders who have evolved to become immigrant advocates in a harsh political context. Throughout his life Lumumba has worked to defend the rights of African American activists and communities. He has educated and organized student activists throughout the Midwest and the South and persuaded universities to attract and support students of color. He has been on the frontline of protecting African American communities from drug trafficking and gang violence. He has opposed rights violations by local, state and national law enforcement and intelligence agencies and vigilante groups; he has confronted the Ku Klux Klan in Michigan and Mississippi.

While Jackson has a reputation as a relatively progressive community, the state of Mississippi, by several measures, has traveled in the opposite direction. Laurel, MS was the site of the largest ICE workplace raid in US history, in which almost 600 workers were detained by federal officials, with support from state leaders.

Lumumba’s ordinance has been described by immigrant advocates in the state as a model piece of municipal legislation. He developed the ordinance in direct response to efforts by some in Mississippi to create legislation that would emulate Arizona’s harsh and divisive SB1070 law, which mandates police profiling of presumed immigrants. Immigrant advocates in Mississippi are using Lumumba’s legislation as the centerpiece of efforts to educate communities and encourage other municipalities to pass similar measures.

As an attorney Lumumba has played a leading role in many significant cases over the last 25 years, representing poor people and political activists and defending individuals and groups whose human rights have been violated. He has fought against the death penalty in general and against executions in individual cases. As a consequence, Lumumba and members of his family have suffered harassment, threats and arrest.

By jumping into the immigrant rights debate and aggressively advocating for the rights of Hispanics, he has taken on yet another challenge that exposes him to attack and derision. His position has been deeply unpopular in many corners of the state. But Lumumba is undaunted. He is an advocate for the civil rights of all people, not just those who share his ethnic background.

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The Freedom From Fear Awards are produced by Public Interest Projects, (PIP).  PIP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that brings together and strengthens the work of philanthropic institutions, donors, nonprofit groups and other public interest organizations sharing a vision of a society that ensures justice, dignity and opportunity for all people.   Statements and activities of Freedom from Fear Award winners do not necessarily reflect the views of PIP.

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