Marco McMillian, a gay, African-American candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi, was found dead a week ago Wednesday. Police have ruled the death a homicide.
McMillian’s body was discovered on a Mississippi River levee outside of town. A search for the 34-year old began the day before, when a man crashed McMillian’s SUV into another vehicle.
McMillian’s disappearance made national headlines, as pundits questioned whether his death was related to racism, homophobia, or his candidacy. The Victory Fund, an LGBT advocacy group, noted on Twitter that McMillian was “one of the 1st viable openly ‚Ä™#LGBT candidates in Mississippi. ”
On Thursday, police charged the 22-year old SUV driver, Lawrence Reed, in McMillian’s death. According to The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, police are not currently considering it a hate crime.
Published reports have speculated as to the motive. Reed’s friends, Kamilla Evans and Dericc Crump told WPTY-TV in Memphis that Reed was not gay or bisexual. He also had a girlfriend. The TV station reported:
According to Crump, Reed’s girlfriend later received a hysterical call from the 22-year-old. “She said the guy had tried to get him to commit a homosexual act or whatever,” Crump said. “The next thing she knows, she got a call from Lawrence, he done messed his life up, he hopes God forgives him.”
A friend of McMillian, however, told The Clarion-Ledger the two men were having an affair.
As police continue to investigate, supporters in Clarksdale are mourning McMillian. His campaign focused on the high crime rate of the small town, population 20,000. One of his campaign advertisements noted that the town’s crime rate was double the national average. He also planned to reduce poverty. The average income of a Clarksdale resident in 2009 was $25,000.
The Mississippi Delta town is known as the home of the Blues. Legend says that musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroad at Clarksdale so he could become a successful singer and guitarist. Bessie Smith, Vaudeville performer and Blues singer, died at a Clarksdale hotel in 1937 after suffering injuries in a car accident. Today, Morgan Freeman co-owns the Ground Zero Blues Club in town.
By all accounts, McMillian had a bright future. He graduated with a master’s degree in philanthropy and development from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. McMillian also graduated magna cum laude from the W.E.B. Du Bois Honors College at Jackson State University. In 2009, the candidate received the Thurgood Marshall Prestige Award from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Ebony Magazine named him one of the nation’s leaders, 30 and under, in 2004. He was CEO of a nonprofit consulting group at the time of his death.
Friends and family have told the media that despite his qualifications, being a gay candidate in Mississippi was a balancing act. The Huffington Post reports that McMillian didn’t talk about his sexuality during the campaign. “You can’t run as a gay person. You run as a Mississippian who wants to make things better and you just happen to be gay,” Renick Taylor, a gay resident of the state, told the website.
McMillian’s loss will undoubtedly be felt in his hometown and even his state. It is also an enormous loss to the social justice movement in the Deep South. On Monday, his supporters posted a quote from the candidate on his Facebook page: “If you must judge me, judge me not by who I have become, but rather judge me by the difference I attempt to make in the lives of other people.”
Funeral plans have not been announced as of this writing.