It was March of 1971 when my father first came to the state of Mississippi. It was several months after the unarmed Black students at Jackson State University had been murdered on campus by law enforcement. They were shot in cold blood as they were socializing with their friends outside of the girls’ dormitory. My father had come with the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (hereinafter referred to as PGRNA). Their mission was to establish a new community called El Hajj Malik. The idea was pursuant to the PGRNA’s goal of creating a new society built with no color, class, gender and physical ability discrimination. The ultimate goal was to create a new community where everybody would be treated at the highest standards of human rights. Their idea was to access funds made available by the Congressional legislation called the “New Communities Act”. “The New Communities Act” had been created by the United States Congress to supply loads of funds to Florida for the development of new communities in underdeveloped areas. My father, along with other memmbers of the PGRNA, recognized the urgent need for a similar plan in Mississippi. At this time, in the early 1970s, Black people had made their case against racism, but were still suffering under White Supremacy and White inflicted terror. Even though some doors, some restaurants and some public accommodations had opened to provide Black people with access, this state of affairs did not mean control. The lack of control over resources, governmental systems, laws and basic accommodations meant lower levels of income, a lack of ownership of businesses and social infrastructures and the inability for Black people to create laws and practices that protected them from state and civil society violence. Violence in the form of lynching, police shootings of unarmed Black youth, state ignored beatings and rape of Black women by White men, government led mass incarceration of poor Black people, and state sanctioned theft of Black owned property. It was an invidious violence called racism that was adequately and dramatically portrayed in the photo posted in Jet Magazine of Emmet Till, a 14 year old Black child who was beaten beyond recognition and killed by racist White Mississippians.
As a consequence of this violence, the PGRNA desired to find a spot on earth where they could purchase land and develop a self-sustained community. These new communities would set a standard and pace in which people worldwide could see how Black people could rescue themselves from the depths of White Supremacy. These communities would first be formed in Mississippi, where some of the most horrible oppressions had occurred and where Black people had engaged in the staunchest resistance to White inflicted terror. The Mississippi Freedom struggle was the linchpin of the Civil Rights Movement. The cruelty occurring in Mississippi was a clear sign of the brutality that would be spread and allowed to permeate cities across the South. The Terror imposed on Black MS was unparalleled to the violence against Black people occurring in any other state in the nation. The physical and mental torture inflicted on Black people in Mississippi was exceptional, second to none, incomparably high, incomparable cruelty. Between 1882 and 1940, 534 Black Mississippians were lynched—the highest total in the United States during that period. The federal government ignored terrorism waged against Black people. Congress and the president took no action to prevent lynching and the federal government did not prosecute the perpetrators even when the event was publicized at least a day in advance. With no other available recourse, this predatory violence permeated their souls and produced a fear so great that only resistance, fighting back could cure. So Black Mississippians big and small stood up, and fought back.
With the vision of a new society in mind, in 1971, the PGRNA purchased land outside of Bolden and Edwards, Mississippi to create this new community. On a bright sunny day in March of that year, a group of 500 women, men, children and elders went to celebrate on their newly purchased land. As they approached the land, they were confronted by a blockade. The blockade was led by the same chief law enforcement officer who was responsible for the murders of the two Jackson State students earlier that year. The officer stood in the middle of the road and said, “Niggers, were not going to have a land celebration today.” Along with the officer stood the Mississippi Highway Patrol, the FBI and the Ku Klux Klan. But my father and the PGRNA, embraced the strength of Mississippi freedom fighters like Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers. They stood strong. They had already purchased the land and they were not turning back. My father often told me this story about their resistance on that day:
This was a different day that was about to break and even though we sometimes start our days somewhat recklessly it was definitely going to break. So it was 500 of us, and we said we come in peace but we come prepared. So those 500 of us went down that road toward that roadblock, and we had old people, young people, we had babies, we had everybody, and we were praying. We were hardcore revolutionaries driven back to prayer. We were praying to God wherever we can find him, because it was serious. Because we knew a few things that we weren’t going to tolerate that day. We knew we would not be disrespected; we weren’t going to do the dog thing again like in Birmingham; we weren’t going to do the waterholes thing; and we weren’t in the turning the other cheek mode of things either. Because just as they had their stuff showing we had our stuff showing, and it was a near calamity. I know it’s hard for you to believe but it was just like in the Bible, that road blocked opened up just like the Red Sea and we went through there. And when we got through that blockade and got to that land base, people started eating the dirt and that’s where that slogan came from—Free The Land.
I started this article with this story, because it makes plain the vision for a more just society—a society that is rooted in shared governance, collective stewardship and use of resources, and unity in diversity. Most importantly, it embodies the understanding that critical to people’s ability to exercise human rights, is their ability to exercise self-determination and governance of territory. Self-determination as defined by Fannie Lou Hamer is “the process by which a person controls their own life.” It is this understanding of self-determination and vision of a better society that led my father to move back to Mississippi in 1989; to join the City Council in 2008, to serve as Mayor in 2013-2014, and is the root cause for the development of Cooperation Jackson and this Jackson Rising book.
Cooperation Jackson and the Jackson Rising book seeks to continue my father’s life’s work and the work of great Mississippi freedom fighters who came before him. Like my father, the ongoing organizing and institution building currently taking place in Jackson, Mississippi, is rooted in the desire to realize a new society, a new way of thinking, a new way of engineering and governing in which everyone is treated with dignity. I am honored to continue lifting up the slogan my father championed, “How’re we gonna make Jackson rise? Educate, Motivate, Organize!” and introduce this important Jackson Rising book.
Jackson Rising documents the history and intersectionality of the Cooperative Movement and the Mississippi Freedom Movement. Most importantly, Jackson Rising provides a current and concrete example of what it looks like to build systems that address the unmet needs of people – be they producers, workers, consumers, or purchasers—and to provide them with the goods, services, cultural engagement, democratic rights, and political autonomy needed to live fully empowered lives. Quoting organizer and legal strategist Larry Stafford, “Jackson Rising is important because it teaches us how to build and sustain community power; it does not just tell us what we should oppose. It provides a micro cosmic model of what community power should look like.” Most importantly, Jackson Rising is pivotal because it moves us from talking theory to actualizing theory…taking the steps, putting in the physical work, to make human rights for all a reality.
Through theoretical development and physical labor the Jackson Rising movement has seen many gains. We achieved the election of my father, Chokwe Lumumba as Mayor of Jackson, which is the capital and largest populated city in the state of Mississippi. Through Mayor Lumumba’s Administration, we initiated Mississippi’s first engagement in participatory democracy in which Jackson residents contributed to determining how the City’s budget was spent. The best example of this participatory democracy was the people’s passage of the 1% Sales Tax to aid the City in fixing its poor physical infrastructure. We championed the State’s first Human Rights Charter and Commission that will help the City of Jackson better confront many of the social ills that confront our society, such as the abuse of state power, police brutality, and inhumane policies that lead to the discrimination, inequality, and gross inequities experienced by Blacks, Latinos, Indigenous peoples, immigrants, workers, Muslims and other religious minorities, the homeless and members of the LGBTQI community amongst others.
Following the legacy of Mississippians that came before us, we have contributed to the reemergence of cooperatives by establishing Cooperation Jackson, Jackson’s first diverse cooperative that includes urban farming, compost and recycling, arts and culture and policy initiatives. We opened the Lumumba Center which serves as hub for local and international forums and events. We established the Community LandTrust (CLT). Land purchased by the LCT we will be used to provide cooperative housing alternatives to Jackson residents, especially those most impacted by economic injustice, people who are homeless and the working poor. We launched our international climate justice campaign the Freedom Road from Jackson to Paris and Beyond. Through this campaign we offer our voice, needs and solutions to the movement for climate control. Finally, we continue to facilitate the operation of People’s Assemblies which are mass meetings for and by Jackson residents to address essential social issues, develop solutions, strategies, action plans, and timelines to change various socio-economic conditions in a manner desired by residents.
Though Jackson Rising efforts have resulted in several successes, the gains we have made are in serious jeopardy of being destroyed. The Mississippi State Government as well as governing municipalities surrounding Jackson are attempting a takeover. Similar to what we have seen happen in predominantely Black municipalities across the United States, the Governor and the overwhelmingly white Mississippi State Legislature is attempting to enact legislation to remove local control from the hands of the largely Black city council of Jackson. The State Legislative Body and Governor have reallocated monies collected through the 1% sales tax to fund State initiatives. The State Senate has introduced “the Airport Takeover Bill”, SB 2162, to relinquish Jackson’s control of the airport and all commerce derived therefrom. The State Senate has introduced the “Downtown Annexation Bill”, SB 2525, to give business owners outside of Jackson the right to determine the development of Downton Jackson. The State Senate has introduced the “Racial Profiling/Immigrant Targeting Bill”, SB2306, to authorize police officers to arrest people based on skin color and culturally suspicious behavior, as well as authorize police officers to arrest people based on the officer’s perception of a person’s immigrant status. The State Senate passed “the Religious Freedom Bill” to criminalize members of the LGBTQI community; and to add insult to pain, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has enacted law establishing April as Confederate Heritage Month. The actions of the Governor and Mississippi State Legislature are blatant and direct attacks on the Human Rights afforded all people of color and the LGBTQI community. Inherently, these legislative efforts devalue Black governance and explicitly evidenced the paternalistic and racist intentions of the white power structure in Mississippi to control the lives and land upon which Black and non-white Mississippians reside. The aforementioned bills virtually condone and even promote Mississippi’s historical and deeply rooted legacy of white supremacy.
Mississippi is not alone in the recent introduction and enactment of laws that are tantamount to the promotion of hatred. States across the U.S. are enacting similar laws. That is why the work we are doing in Jackson, Mississippi, is so important. In this Jackson Rising book we offer historical examples and current concrete solutions to address the struggles we face. I hope you find this book inspirational and find ways to engage in our work in Jackson. Like my father, I see Jackson, Mississippi, as a start When Jackson rises, WE all rise!
I just can’t give up now
I’ve come too far from where I started from
Nobody told me, the road would be easy
But I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.
We will rise!
This article is dedicated to my parents, Nubia and Chokwe Lumumba, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker and all the women, men, children and gender self-identifying people of Mississippi who directly and indirectly sacrificed their lives to protect the Black body and Black joy. FREE THE LAND!
- El Hajjwas the name given to the land purchased by members of the Republic of New Afrika. El Hajj Malik El Shabazz was the free name given to Malcolm X upon his return from his Haj in Mecca. The name was given to the land in honor of Malcolm X and his teaching of the right to self-determination. ↵
- Dr. Akinyele Omowale Umoja, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, (New York and London, New York University Press, 2013). ↵
- I Just Can't Give Up Now. Artist: Mary Mary. Album: Thankful. Released: 2000 ↵