The tragic events in Ohio on May 4 left college campuses closed or heavily patrolled. All the President’s men were in high alert while other members of the President’s Cabinet were outraged over the actions of the President and saddened by Kent State and what was transpiring across the nation.
Down in Mississippi at Jackson State College in West Jackson students were dealing with the tragic deaths at Kent State as well as racial injustice. In order to reach downtown Jackson one had to drive down Lynch Street which divided the campus.
Unfortunately, there were travellers who tossed racial slurs, threats and sexual catcalls toward the black students, especially the coeds. Hostilities were high.
On May 14 a rumor began that Fayette Mayor Charles Evers and his wife Nannie Laurie, had been murdered. Mayor Evers was the brother of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers who was murdered in Jackson on June 12, 1963 at his home. The rumor was false, but it caused a number of students to organize.
The Mississippi National Guard was on hand, but because of Kent State they were not issued ammo for their guns. The city and state police were heavily armed with both issued and personal firearms.
Outside Alexander Hall, a women’s residence hall, the police opened fire on a group of protesters. After 30 seconds of firing Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, a 21 year-old junior and father, was dead.
Behind the police line track star James Earl Green, a 17-year-old Jim High School senior two weeks from graduation, was dead as well. He was walking home after work at the Rag-a-Bag grocery store where he worked to help his mother and siblings.
As the wounded lay on the ground, the police gathered up their spent rounds and then called for ambulances to carry the wounded to University Hospital. The Jackson city officials began a cover-up of the police involvement.
There were no prize-winning photographs of the shootings just after midnight. The national press did not descend on Jackson. It was a news story the local press blamed on the riotous students.
It would be a US Senate hearing spearheaded by Senators Birch Bayh and Walter Mondale which would uncover the truth. When they were in Jackson conducting interviews, a student said to Senator Bayh:
“We appreciate your sympathy and your presence, but we want justice; and there is no justice for a black man in Mississippi.” Letter to Dean Estus Smith, June 4, 1970.
The cry for justice continues today for the black man not only in Mississippi but across the nation where young men die. It seems that justice is just as blind as it always has been to the plight of the black men, women and children caught in the battle for the soul of America.
“If I try to tell people about the shootings at Jackson State, they don’t know about it. They don’t know until I say ‘Kent State.’ For us to even be acknowledged, it had to happen at Kent State first.” Demetrius Gibbs, son of Phillip.
G. D. Williams © 2016
Margaret Walker: For My People
Killings at Jackson State University
Kent and Jackson State
May 15, 1970: Gibbs/Green Tragedy at Jackson State University
On May 15, 1970, dozens of Jackson, MS city and state policemen unloaded more than 460 rounds of gunfire into JSU’s Alexander Hall after claiming to have seen a sniper in a window on the building’s top floor. The shooting was the culmination of years of racial tension in the city. – For more information about this film call the JSU Office of Communications at 601-979-2272
Jackson State: A Tragedy Widely Forgotten
According to a 1970 report from the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, police fired more than 150 rounds. And an FBI investigation revealed that about 400 bullets or pieces of buckshot had been fired into Alexander Hall. The shooters claimed that there was a sniper in the dorm, but investigators found “insufficient evidence” of that claim.
FBI investigators later found that every window on the south façade had been broken, and they identified over 150 bullet holes in the brick walls of the building. Alexander Hall still bears these marks in its bricks.
The Bluegrass Special
During the 1995 Spring Commencement Exercises, Demetrius D. Gibbs, the son of Phillip Gibbs, received his bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University. Demetrius was 18 months old when his father was killed.
In 1999, James Earl Green’s younger sister, Gloria Green McCray earned a degree at Jackson State. She said vivid memories of distant gunfire, chaos and waiting in vain for her brother still haunt her. “I always felt I lost something at Jackson State which could never be returned,” she said. “But I gained something which can never be taken away.”
40 Years Ago: Police Kill Two Students at Jackson State in Mississippi, Ten Days after Kent State Killings
May 15, 1970: The Miracle at Jackson State College: Gene Cornelius Young
“…when President Peoples arrived in the yard, he was startled. He smelled gunpowder and blood. The sight of all the broken windows and the crying students sickened him. And all the talk of a march downtown scared him. Peoples turned to the students for suggestions.
“Jughead, help me,” Peoples said. “How can I calm them down?” “Doc, why don’t you pray?” So they brought President Peoples a table from the dorm and he lifted his tall, thin frame upon it. The students knelt and bowed their heads as he said a prayer. “There’s been a slaughter tonight,” he told them, and he asked the students to go back to their dorms so there would be no more killing. But their grumbles told him there was no way the students would leave.
“We ain’t goin’ in, Doc,” Jughead yelled. “Every sister, get with a brother— all of you— come out from the dorm and bring some blankets!”
After Peoples left to call local hospitals, the students sat on the lawn under the dark sky. They prayed and sang freedom songs— the same songs they had learned as youngsters in the civil rights marches and church rallies of the early 1960s.”
AIN’T GONNA LET NOBODY TURN ME ‘ROUND
Aint gonna let nobody
Turn me ’round
Turn me ’round
Aint gonna let nobody
Turn me round
I’m gonna keep on walkin’
Keep on talkin
Marchin into freedom land