It’s a revered name within the African-American community, and on Tuesday the former black revolutionary succumbed to heart failure after experiencing chest pains, USA Today reports.
The 66-year-old civil rights icon became mayor of Jackson, Miss., last year, taking office by storm and seeking to revive a crumbling city dealing with an eroding infrastructure and middle-class flight, Al-Jazeera notes.
According to USA Today, his chief of staff choked up as she confirmed his passing. “It is with heavy heart that we inform you that our beloved brother, human rights activist and mayor of the great city passed away this afternoon,” Safiya Omari said during a press conference Tuesday evening. “We ask that you pray for his children and family, his friends and for this great city of ours.”
Born Edwin Taliaferro in Detroit, he cast aside his “slave name,” renaming himself for Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba and an Angolan tribe called the Chokwe.
An early activist, he was part of a group of students that took over a Western Michigan University campus building the day after Martin Luther King Jr. died, demanding more black professors, scholarships for black students and black studies, USA Today notes.
His résumé as a black nationalist then began to expand as he worked as a leader for the Republic of New Afrika, proposing an independent black country in the U.S. Most recently, in 2011, while serving as a city councilor for Jackson’s Ward 2, he campaigned successfully for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to pardon the Scott sisters, who served 16 years for a robbery they deny committing.
He then ran for mayor, moving quickly to advance the city’s recovery from a shrinking population and high poverty levels, Al-Jazeera notes.
“You were a man’s man and a servant of humanity,” tweeted former NAACP President Ben Jealous. “It was an honor to help you free so many wrongfully convicted people.”
“He was a great mayor because he was always open and transparent. We didn’t agree about everything, but you could talk to him, and if you had disagreements you could vent it out,” added Jackson Councilman Melvin Priester Jr., according to USA Today. “He brought a spirit of openness.”