A Shocked Mississippi Remembers Marco McMillian

The death of an openly gay candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi, has left a community and state in deep mourning.

Posted: 03/01/2013 12:19 PM EST

It is a death that has shocked not only the town of Clarksdale, Mississippi, but people throughout the state. Marco McMillian, a 34-year-old African-American mayoral candidate and the first openly gay aspirant for public office in the state that anyone can recall, was found dead earlier this week.

Police have charged a 22-year-old man, Lawrence Reed, with murder but they have not disclosed any theory on the motive.

Jared Keith, who served as the campaign’s communications director, said there has been an outpouring of sympathy from people in Clarksdale and beyond.

“People have been incredibly generous and supportive during this time,” Keith said, in an interview with BET.com. “So many people talk about his passion, how he was a bold leader, how he was full of great ideas and that he was energetic and caring. More than anything, people are just sad for this loss.”

Nonetheless, McMillian is being mourned as a promising leader in the state whose life ended just as he was about to prosper politically in the state. His resume was a veritable model of civic and community involvement.

A onetime administrator at Jackson State University, his alma mater, he most recently ran a consulting company for nonprofit organizations and was recognized by Ebony magazine in 2004 as one of the nation’s top 30 leaders under the age of 30. He was known most prominently for the four years he served as executive director of Phi Beta Sigma, one of the nation’s largest African-American fraternities. It was a position that enabled him to enhance his network nationally.

Earlier in the week, McMillian’s SUV crashed into another car along a highway in Mississippi. Reed was driving the car, police said, adding that McMillian was not found in the vehicle. His body was found the next day at a levee near the Mississippi River not far from Clarksdale. A spokesman for the state’s Department of Public Safety said that the results of the autopsy were not yet available.

Since then, McMillian’s death has made headlines nationally. Those who knew him insist that the young candidate should be remembered for the dynamic leader he was rather than the circumstances of his death.

“He was real leader who, from the moment I met him, seemed like someone destined for greatness,” said Derrick Simmons, a Mississippi state senator who attended Jackson State with McMillian, in an interview with BET.com.

“From the days he was in college, he was always concerned about the welfare and the rights of others,” Simmons said, recalling McMillian’s days as student government association president at the historically Black campus. “He was always an advocate for others.”

Similarly, Demarco Morgan, one of McMillian’s classmates from Jackson State who worked with him in student government, described him in an interview with BET.com as a leader “who always stuck up for people who were in challenging positions.”

Morgan, who is now a television anchorman in Atlanta, added, “We have lost someone who was on track to become a great politician not only for the state of Mississippi, but for the country. It’s a tragedy.”

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(Photo: facebook/MarcoMcMillianForMayor)

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