Last week, the city of Jackson, Miss., paid its last respects to Chokwe Lumumba. And according to R.L. Nave of the Jackson Free Press, the affair was the kind of black nationalist/pan-Africanist celebration you might expect for one of the nation's most outspoken black activists:
They came in suits, dresses, dashikis and tunics.
They wore an assortment of headwear, everything from riding caps to berets, kufis, hijab and headwraps.
They invoked Jesus Christ, Allah and the Yoruba orishas. [...]
The program last almost five hours and included several musical and poetry tributes.
Jackson State University professor C. Liegh McInnis recited an original poem he wrote titled "Free the Land Man," a reference to the phrase with which Lumumba often began speeches. McInnis described Lumumba as "our own Afro-American Robin Hood with MXG on his chest," referring to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, an organization Lumumba co-founded.
During his life, Lumumba had big plans for black people. As an attorney, he defended Black Panthers and advocated for reparations for slavery. And at one point, he was the vice president of the Republic of New Afrika, intended to be an independent black nation carved out of the American South.
But during the last eight months of his life, he was the mayor of Jackson, Miss., and he was managing more quotidian political concerns: he needed the streets fixed.
"In his short term in his office, his crowning achievement was raising the local sales tax to fix potholes," Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, told me. "And he earned high marks by focusing on the things that mayors are supposed to focus on."
And a lot of the other stuff was beyond his purview. "There was nothing in the Jackson city charter that would have allowed him to turn it into the Republic of New Afrika," Gillespie quipped.
Even his skeptics conceded how effective Lumumba had been at building coalitions and working with business leaders during his short tenure. "I must confess to you that this time last year, I was concerned [he] was going to divide the city," Bill Winter, the state's former governor, said at Lumumba's funeral. "I could not have been more wrong."
("I guess they were expecting a monster," Lumumba said last month. "And I'm just Chokwe Lumumba, the same person I've always been.")
It made us wonder, though: just how did a black revolutionary who still threw up the Black Power salute on occasion become the mayor of a mid-sized American city in the Deep South?
Gillespie told me that those things aren't necessarily in tension: part of the reason Lumumba was able to sell wonky, pragmatic things like raising taxes to fix the streets and sewers (the increase needed to be voted on, and needed a 60-percent majority to pass) was because he had that revolutionary street cred. Lumumba's background might have effectively disqualified him from seeking elected office in another city, but Jackson is 80-percent black and was the home of prominent civil rights activists like Medgar Evers and his wife, Myrlie Evers-Williams. Gillespie said that context was a big reason Jacksonians would be less inclined to hold his radical past against Lumumba.
And Lumumba, notably, never distanced himself from that past. The day after he was elected mayor, he openly questioned the historical importance of Christopher Columbus and suggested that the city's overwhelmingly black schools might pursue a more Afrocentric curriculum.
But Gillespie told me that it was a little odd that Lumumba's background proved to be an asset in 2013. There are lots of folks who went from marching and protesting to hold elected office — among others, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Atlanta's former mayor Andrew Young were both lieutenants of Martin Luther King, while the former Black Panther Bobby Rush has been in Congress for decades — but Gillespie said they assumed office when black politics was more left of center. "Part of it was the novelty of it ... it was the first time that blacks would have been running for election and could have won," she said. "You get your Richard Hatchers, your Coleman Youngs, your people coming out of the movement running for office."
Today's black elected officials tend to pitch themselves as moderates or market-oriented technocrats like Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who was formerly the mayor of Newark.
(Lumumba's victory also owes itself to the idiosyncrasies of Jackson's political system and environment. The city is overwhelmingly Democratic, and Lumumba needed only to force and win a runoff with other Democratic candidates to effectively win the mayoralty.)
Ravi Perry, a professor of political science at Mississippi State University, says that Lumumba had a noticeable effect on the city's politics. Prior to his time as a council member and mayor, Perry says that the city's politicians were inclined to a "classic conservative civil rights agenda style" — that is, conservative in approach, if not ideology.
But Perry says Lumumba was more hands-on, more grassroots. He brought some of his activist organizing principles with him to City Hall. "He, for instance, got elected because his people's forums — which he had every three months as a councilman — were so popular," the writer and activist dream hampton told NPR's Michel Martin. "The people of Jackson just didn't have experience with having the kind of direct communication and then results from that communication, those forums in their city. They didn't have that kind of experience of open forum and participatory democracy."
His mayoral platform would come out of those People's Assemblies.
Perry compared Lumumba to Harold Washington, Chicago's first African American mayor. Like Washington, Perry said, Lumumba didn't shy away from talking about race, but he managed to win converts and allies to his practical governing approach. "Even though his views were not mainstream, he was able to convince people that he could govern in a mainstream way without selling out to only support middle-class values and without selling out his own values and vision," Perry told me. "In a city that's hindered by poverty, in a state that's last on every list, for him to be able to convince people in that city that there was a new possible vision, that's a remarkable rhetorical feat."
But also like Washington, Perry says Lumumba's death during his first mayoral term might give many folks reason to wonder about the long-term viability of their political approaches and concerns. "Running [and winning] on lower-class interest and running for re-election on lower class interests in a city that isn't particularly progressive ... there's kind of a question [as to whether that can work]."
This post updated at 11:10 a.m. ET.
New York firefighters are responding to the collapse of at least one apartment building in the Harlem area of Manhattan. There is no official word yet on injuries.
The Fire Department of New York tweets: "MAN 5-ALARM 1646 PARK AVENUE, MULTIPLE DWELLING EXPLOSION AND COLLAPSE"
The FDNY says the incident occurred at about 9 a.m. ET.
Live television footage from the scene shows at least four fire department ladders squads pouring water on the burning debris as heavy smoke billowed off the wreckage.
The New York Times says witnesses reported hearing what sounded like an explosion before the collapse occurred.
CBS New York quotes one witness, Samuel Paul, as saying the building suddenly shook.
"We saw a whole lot of smoke. A lot of smoke came out," Paul told CBS 2. "There's a lot of dark smoke still coming out. A lot of fire engines I saw going to 125th Street."
"The smoke started to rise. It looked like something fell because it wasn't like a fire. It just looked like debris smoke, similar to 9/11," he added.
CNN reports that Consolidated Edison utility workers were called to investigate a possible gas leak shortly before the explosion.
The Daily News quotes another witness, Ashley Rivera, as saying "for weeks [tenants] have been smelling gas."
Rivera said when the explosion occurred, "We saw people flying out of the window ... Those are my neighbors."
Reuters quotes an FDNY spokesman as saying the department had no information on casualties or whether anyone was inside.
The news agency said commuter trains were stopped on nearby tracks and passengers were ordered off the Metro-North Railroad cars at the Fordham stop in the Bronx, passengers said.
A "quick-moving, monstrous blaze" on Tuesday destroyed a nine-story apartment building that was under construction in San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood.
The San Francisco Chronicle adds that "firefighters were able to keep the blaze from spreading to nearby structures."
Our colleagues at KQED live blogged as the story unfolded. They report there was at least one injury: A firefighter "suffered burns to his face and hands." The city's fire chief, Joanne Hayes-White, tells local news outlets that this was the city's biggest fire in at least several years.
According to the Chronicle, "fire investigators believe that whatever sparked the blaze had as long as an hour to smolder. The building's sprinkler system had not yet been installed." Construction was set to be completed later this year.
Since last summer, Jasmine Garsd has been co-hosting NPR Music's Alt.Latino from Mexico City, where she's reporting on the area's music and culture for NPR. This week, she reunites with her Alt.Latino co-host Felix Contreras in Austin to celebrate the debut of SXAméricas, a new branch of SXSW geared to connect U.S Hispanics, Latin American and Spanish industry thought leaders. The pair spun tracks at the SXAméricas Opening Night Mixer last night, and tomorrow, will host an intimate chat with French-Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, whose new album is streaming at NPR Music.
Before leaving for Texas, Garsd put down her mic just long enough to tell us a few stories of her own. If you're at SXSW this week, we hope you'll catch up with her and the rest of the NPR Music team! (And if you're not in Austin, put on some headphones and get there with this SXAméricas Mix from Alt.Latino and NPR Music's Austin 100 sampler).
My name is... Jasmine Garsd
Public radio employee since... 2008
Public radio listener since... 2002, when I moved to the U.S., I got hooked!
My job is... I co-host Alt.Latino, and I report on Latino and Latin American issues for NPR.
My favorite Alt.Latino moment was... we've done a lot of cool interviews - Pedro Almodovar, Manu Chao, Puerto Rican rap duo Calle 13. But honestly my favorite moments are the small ones in which Felix [Contreras] and I crack up until we just can't even keep it together on air. One time I remember Fe kept accidentally calling this woman 'pelusa' which means 'dust glob,' in Spanish and we just had to stop the taping because we couldn't keep a straight face.
I wanted to be.... a costume and makeup person when I grew up. I studied makeup and stage design for Opera for a bit at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.
In my suitcase, you'll find... my grandfather's poncho, which I travel with for good luck; my recorder, and a good book. Right now I'm re-reading Octavio Paz' Labyrinth Of Solitude, so you'd find that.
The one thing everyone should know about Mexico is... a lot of bad news comes out of Mexico to the world, but it's a magical, breathtaking and very intellectually-stimulating place. The other day I was jogging at the park by my house - Lago de Chapultepece - and I kept passing through these enormous ancient pre-Colombian statues of heads that are about 12 feet tall, and it occurred to me that I live in a very, very special place.
My next gadget will be... I need a faster way to get around Mexico City. I want to get a motorcycle, but probably I'm just saying that to impress you and will end up buying a bicycle. Or even a tricycle.
If I could share a coffee with anyone... it would be [Spanish filmmaker] Pedro Almodovar. I think he's brilliant. Or flamenco singer Concha Buika. We interviewed both this year, and I fell even more in love with them.
Tell Me More... about your story. [On] one radio show I would listen to as a kid - once a week the host would ask listeners to call in and say 'What is your master problem in life at this moment?' You'd think you got a lot of whining, but in the end people would call in with some fantastic stories (one listener called in every week complaining about a ghost), ethical concerns, moral dilemmas and everything in between. I learned that everyone has something interesting to say if you listen hard enough.
On Sunday morning, you'll find me... waking up hanging by my jacket from a chandelier wondering what on earth happened. NOT TRUE! You'll find me having a cup of coffee with a friend or a newspaper.
Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me... that I'm running out of Game Of Thrones episodes to catch up on. I have no idea what I'm going to do once that happens. Maybe I'll go out into the sunlight.
I'm not as... outgoing as I sound. I actually am pretty shy, which is why I chose a career that lets me talk to people in a dark studio behind a mic ;)
The one word I always stumble over on air is... I can't quite pronounce 'au' or 'eu' in English. I get very neurotic when I have to say the word 'neurotic,' and don't get me started on 'astronaut'.
I use social media to... keep in touch with friends and family, share ideas, keep tabs on my sworn enemies.
Caitlin Sanders contributed to this post.
More From Jasmine: From Radio La Colifata to KQED, Growing Up to the Airwaves"Back in Argentina my grandma listened to a lot of talk radio. We used to go to sleep listening to talk radio at night - she'd put her little radio underneath her pillow and it would broadcast the muffled talk shows through the night. "Around that time, my dad gave me a short wave radio - and at night I'd dial into radio from all over the world: Cuba, India, Egypt. Mind you, we didn't have Internet. It would've been so much easier, but there was something magical about finding the right frequency to tune into an Albanian station, and trying to figure out what country you had dialed into. I didn't always understand what they were saying, but there was something there about people's need to have conversations with each other. "There's was this great radio station in Argentina - LT22 Radio La Colifata. In Argentine slang, Colifata means 'lunatic'. It's an endearing term for a station held at the neuropsychiatric hospital Dr. Jose T. Borda, in which patients are broadcasters. You always got a lot of truth - sometimes it would be someone endlessly complaining about the heat and mosquitoes (which you had to agree with), but then you always got these moments of honest, brilliant insight. "When I moved to the U.S., I worked in a lot of kitchens and heard a lot of Howard Stern, who can be gross but he's also a brilliant radio entertainer. I learned a lot from reporter Sarah Varney who I interned with at KQED in San Francisco and probably the most influential person on me has been [NPR Tell Me More Host] Michel Martin, her style of interviewing, her dedication and her fairness with topics at hand."
NPR Music Staff
The first day at SXSW is about getting your bearings. Shaking off the jet lag, figuring out what you forgot to pack, remembering how long the lines can be and how the overwhelming crowds can sometimes part for a moment to give you a perfect look at a band you fall in love with on the spot.
On Tuesday, we DJ'd a party at SXAmericas, the festival's Latin music and technology offshoot. We heard Neil Young talk about Pono, his newly unveiled high quality audio player. We ate some pizza. We barely made it into Chance The Rapper's only SXSW appearance, at the City of Chicago's official SXSW showcase. We Ubered a pedicab. And yeah, we saw dozens of bands.
The night ended with All Songs hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton, NPR Music's Stephen Thompson and guest Katie Presley gathering around a microphone to talk about the bands they saw on day one. Bob enjoyed Charli XCX and Cymbals. Stephen loved Jambinai's Godspeed-style instrumental rock. Everybody who saw Royal Teeth loved them. ("Just as joyful and wonderful as I thought it would be." —Robin; "A confetti gun of joy with very well-done hair." —Katie; "I got the sense that that band is about to become really, really massive." —Stephen)
You can listen to that conversation on this page, see photos of bands from all over Austin and read about highlights below. Follow along with our discoveries in a running playlist of music by the best bands we've heard so far, at the bottom of this page.
We're just getting started. Tonight we'll be streaming the official NPR Music SXSW showcase, featuring Damon Albarn, St. Vincent, Kelis, Eagulls and Perfect Pussy, live from Austin. That starts at 7:00 p.m. Central time.
Tuesday SXSW Highlights
- Bob Boilen (@allsongs): "Agnes Obel who, at the Central Presbyterian Church, set her crystal voice against beautiful arrangements of cell, violin and keyboard."
- Ann Powers (@annkpowers): "Parker Millsap is a 20 year old from Oklahoma gaining a following in the Americana community. I really like his new album, but I wasn't prepared for the wild, vast power of his voice and his remarkable charisma. This guy can yodel, he can sing a soul song for real, he can preach and he wiggles his leg like Elvis. Also, he looks like Leo DiCaprio in Titanic. A star in the making."
- Robin Hilton (@nprobin): "The band Pins, four women from England, played at the Presbyterian Church, a space that could not contain them. Super fierce. Powerful drummer. They tore it up ... sort of brash, surfer garage punk rock. Hardly anyone there. They needed a mosh pit."
- Jasmine Garsd (@JasGarsd): "I checked out the Latin hip-hop showcase, including Puerto Rican rapper Alvaro Diaz and Brazilian Emicida. Diaz is one of the most talented live rappers I've seen in years and a counter movement to the mindful rappers of Latin America. Hip-hop has traditionally played the role of Latin America's musical conscience — acts like Calle 13, Ana Tijoux and Mala Rdriguez. Alvaro Diaz is not that. He's the little devil on your other shoulder. Emicida artfully combines traditional Brazilian instruments like the berimbau and the sounds of samba and batucada with hip-hop beats. As an added bonus, he was hilarious."
- Felix Contreras (@felixatjazz): "A lovely plate of Mexican food, meeting Alt.Latino fans and seeing the Mexico City rock band Division Miniscula."
- Katie Presley (@loveismaroon): "When people say 'Keep Austin Weird,' they mean, 'Keep Austin like the crowd at Those Howlings.'"