Friday, May 14, 2010

Jackson State killings, May 14, 1970

Monument to Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green at Jackson State University

Today is the 40th anniversary of the murder of two African-American students at Jackson State College [now University] in Jackson MS. This came a week and a half after the killing of students at Kent State. The occasion of the Jackson State murders was a campus protest against the Vietnam War and the Kent State murders.

William Simpson described the event as follows in his review of Tim Spofford's 1988 book Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings at Jackson State College in the Journal of Southern History 56:1 (Feb 1990):

On May 14,1970, ten days after four Kent State students had been killed in an on-campus confrontation with the National Guard, Mississippi highway patrolmen and municipal police fired on protesting students gathered at a girls' dormitory on the campus of Jackson State College. Phillip L. Gibbs, a student at the college, and James Earl Green, a senior in high school, were killed; approximately ten others, including coeds, were wounded. Immediately national attention focused on the predominantly black school located in Mississippi's capital city. The many pictures of a bullet-riddled girls' dorm convinced numerous viewers that, regardless of provocation, the response by patrolmen and police was excessive, if not criminal. The major thoroughfare through campus on which the state authorities had been positioned when firing commenced was named, ironically, Lynch Street.

For several evenings prior to the fatal confrontation, students and "'cornerboys'" ..., as the author calls those who congregated near bars and beer joints along Lynch Street, pelted white motorists who drove near campus with rocks and occasionally bricks. The students' violence was triggered, at least in part, by disgruntlement over the recent escalation of war in Southeast Asia. On Wednesday night, May 13, a serious clash with police was narrowly averted when students had threatened destruction of the campus ROTC building. Renewed campus protest and violence on Thursday evening ultimately produced the confrontation, at about midnight, which left students dead and wounded. The state authorities involved maintained that sniper fire from a wing of Alexander Hall, the girls' dormitory, predicated their response.
The story of sniper fire was bogus. The cops for whatever reason just decided to shoot some of the students.

This account, At Jackson State, another 1970 shooting stirs memories USA Today 05/04/10 says:

After local and state police arrived, the students moved toward a women's dorm. Just after midnight, a thrown bottle smashed amid the police, who fired more than 140 shots at the dorm. Killed were Phillip Gibbs, 21, a Jackson State junior, and James Green, 17, a local high school senior who was walking through campus.

Some officers said a sniper or snipers fired first, but the FBI found no evidence of that. The President's Commission on Campus Unrest called the shootings an "unreasonable, unjustified overreaction."

No one was charged. A local grand jury blamed the students, saying that "when people engage in civil disorder and riots, they must expect to be injured or killed when law enforcement officers are required to establish order."
There is a long account of the incident in The Report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest (1970), page 411 of the report and page 296 of the linked PDF document. Also available here.

See also:

Ed Gordon Jackson State Shootings, 35 Years Later NPR 05/14/10

Whitney Blair Wyckoff, Jackson State: A Tragedy Widely Forgotten NPR 05/03/10

Jackson State May 1970 undated

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