Last week, Jackson, Mississippi, held the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference, to explore cooperative & worker-owned economic models for the majority Black city that’s long struggled with poverty, blight & crime. The conference almost didn’t happen. In the months since it was planned, newly elected mayor Chokwe Lumumba, who won by a staggering 87% on a Black liberation platform last fall, died suddenly (on Feb 25), after which a new election was thrown together (Apr 22) which his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, narrowly lost.
So — why isn’t Jackson being more heavily covered by the national press?
I hope to spend a lot more time pouring through current news & news archives, but until then, let’s look at what comes up relatively quickly on a Google & Google news search for “Chokwe Lumumba, Jackson, Mississippi” — to see what information is being most immediately delivered to the general public.
In the general Google search, the first news story that comes up, after Wikipedia & Facebook (on my computer, anyway) is this March 9 story on Lumumba’s funeral, from Herbert Buchsbaum of the New York Times:
Jackson Mourns Mayor With Militant Past Who Won Over Skeptics
Here’s the lead (oftentimes the only paragraph readers will look at):
JACKSON, Miss. — Many people here still do not entirely know what to make of the mayor with the unusual name and even more unexpected résumé, who proudly embraced the term “militant” and to many was still the same dashiki-wearing firebrand who first came to prominence advocating an independent black nation in the South in the early 1970s.
So, what’s the first thing we learn about Lumumba? That he has an “unusual” (read: not anglo-sounding) name. Is that really the most important fact for one of the nation’s biggest papers to share about a man with a 40 year career in politics, law & civil rights? He’s quickly written off as an outdated radical, and his name is not even mentioned until the second paragraph.
(The NYT did run a couple of obituaries on him right after this death. They were more balanced, but still, the March 9 piece is that most recent, substantial reporting they’ve done on Lumumba. No further coverage of his son’s mayoral race, the New Economies conference, or his dedication to cooperative employment.)
In contrast, here’s the first story that came up with the Google news search, an April 25 piece from Kristin West Savali at Ebony:
Chokwe Anta Lumumba Doesn’t Need City Hall To Lead Jackson, MS Into New Era
Written for a glossy magazine, the lead has a strong editorial tone & more space for expansive prose, but the piece itself is about what’s currently happening in Jackson, and why this has national relevance:
The barren landscape which our ancestors traversed as enslaved people in various reincarnations—-from the Antebellum era to Jim Crow—-is ground zero for beautiful Black radicalism and truth-telling. From Fannie Lou Hammer to Medgar Evers, the resilience, brilliance, passion and determination of Mississippi’s revolutionaries have served as a collective blueprint for freedom fighters following in their footsteps. And into their vast legacies steps Chokwe Antar Lumumba, son of late, legendary human rights attorney Chokwe Lumumba.
Closely following this hit in the Google news search is a May 2 piece from R.L. Nave at Jackson Free Press (almost everything current on Jackson in ensuing Google News pages comes from this press):
City Almost Grounds ‘Jackson Rising’ Conference
Its lead emphasizes the direct connection between this event and the national stories on Lumumba’s election & death (though, almost no one covered the conference nationally):
A keystone of late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s economic agenda, the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference, which starts today, was almost derailed this week when the city of Jackson pulled its support for key elements of the event, said one of the conference’s organizers.
Back in the general Google search, here’s an April 5 Huffington Post op-ed from acclaimed author asha bandele:
Why We All Should Care About the Mayoral Race in Jackson, Mississippi
She leads with the national relevance of Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s mayoral bid:
For those of us living far from the south, discussions of Mississippi may make us recall the Civil Rights Movement, some period in time we now think more likely relevant in a history book. But believing that couldn’t be more wrong. On April 8 there will be a special mayoral election in Jackson, Mississippi and it has implications for all of us and here’s why.
Here’s Siddhartha Mitter with Al Jazeera America’s Feb 25 obit of Lumumba (below the NYT story & bandele’s op-ed in the general Google search):
Chokwe Lumumba, radical mayor of Jackson, Miss., dies at 66
The lead instantly paints a much more timely picture of Lumumba, again focusing on national and global relevance (the NYT obit focuses first on his call for an independent black nation back in the 70s):
The death of Chokwe Lumumba, the mayor of Jackson, Miss., interrupts one of America’s most promising civic experiments still in its fragile beginning.
The angle of each article is clear in the headline & lead, but it’s also worth skimming the content of the full articles for what facts they choose to place up front and the sources they use. Examine how each publisher frames the issues the city & nation are facing. Look at what credentials they prioritize for the main figures in the stories. Also, look at who they quote, and when.
In the March 9 NYT story, the first source quoted is the (older, white) chairman of a real estate investment firm, and then an unnamed resident from the white majority north side of the city (pulled from the local weekly). Only then is the late mayor directly quoted. All the quotes about his actual work and character come in the second half of the story, which many readers seldom get to, and even the first source quoted saying something positive about Lumumba is middle-aged white male college recruiter.
Of course each of these publications has a different readership & serves that readership, but, that doesn’t discount the fact that NYT is still one of the most prominent dailies in the country and adheres to a strong ethical code. So, why does one of the nation’s biggest papers still prioritize upper class white men as the best sources, even in a story about a black mayor of a majority black city?
And, half a century after the Kerner Commission, why are blacks still being so intentionally misrepresented in the major media? Instead of dashiki-wearing militants with unusual sounding names, why not civil rights lawyers, mayors of major cities, and individuals with character working in the footsteps of national heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. among others?
Seems like that kind of rhetoric may still be to dangerous in this country.