Jackson State killings
The Jackson State killings occurred on Friday, May 15, 1970, at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi. On May 14, 1970, city and state police confronted a group of students. Shortly after midnight, the police opened fire, killing two students and injuring twelve. The event happened only 11 days after the Kent State shootings, in which National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio, which had first captured national attention.
|Jackson State killings|
|Date||May 15, 1970 |
12:05 a.m. (Central: UTC−6)
|Victims||Phillip Lafayette Gibbs|
James Earl Green
|Perpetrators||Jackson Police Department|
Mississippi Highway Patrol
On the evening of Thursday, May 14, a group of around 100 black students had gathered on Lynch Street (named after the black Reconstruction era US Representative John R. Lynch), which bisected the campus. The students "were reportedly pelting rocks at white motorists driving down the main road through campus — frequently the site of confrontations between white and black Jackson residents." By 9:30 p.m. the students had started fires, thrown rocks at motorists and overturned vehicles including a large truck after a false rumor had spread of the death of Charles Evers. Firefighters who were dispatched to the scene quickly requested police support.
The police responded in force. At least 75 Jackson police units from the city of Jackson and the Mississippi Highway Patrol attempted to control the crowd while the firemen extinguished the fires. After the firefighters had left the scene shortly before midnight, the police moved to disperse the crowd that had gathered in front of Alexander Hall, a women's dormitory.
Advancing to within 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 m) of the crowd, officers at roughly 12:05 a.m opened fire on the dormitory. The exact cause of the shooting and the moments leading up to it are unclear. Authorities say they saw a sniper on one of the building's upper floors and were being sniped at from all directions. Later, two city policemen and one state patrolman reported minor injuries from flying glass, and an FBI search for evidence of sniper fire was negative. The students said that they had not provoked the officers. The gunfire lasted for 30 seconds and more than 460 shots were fired by a reported 40 state highway patrolmen, who used shotguns from 30 to 50 feet. Every window on the narrow side of the building facing Lynch Street was shattered.
The crowd scattered, and a number of people were trampled or cut by falling glass. Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior, and James Earl Green, 17, a senior and miler at nearby Jim Hill High School, were killed, and twelve others were wounded. Gibbs was killed near Alexander Hall by buckshot, and Green was killed behind the police line in front of B. F. Roberts Hall, also with a shotgun.
The President's Commission on Campus Unrest investigated the event and also held public hearings in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, and at Kent State. There were no arrests in connection with the deaths at Jackson State, but the Commission concluded "that the 28-second fusillade from police officers was an unreasonable, unjustified overreaction.... A broad barrage of gunfire in response to reported and unconfirmed sniper fire is never warranted."
The university has memorialized the occurrence by naming the area of the shootings Gibbs-Green Plaza. The plaza is a large, multi-level brick and concrete patio and mall on the eastern side of the school's campus that borders J. R. Lynch Street and links Alexander Hall to the University Green. A large stone monument in front of Alexander Hall near the plaza also honors the two victims. Damage to the façade of Alexander Hall caused by the rounds fired by the police is still visible.
In December 1970, a federal grand jury was discharged after it had failed to produce an indictment or written findings in a five-month recess. It had summoned about 40 state patrol men and 26 city police officers.
- Review of Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings at Jackson State College (Tim Spofford), Review author: William M. Simpson, The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 56, No. 1. (Feb., 1990), pp. 159–160.
- "Jackson State: A Tragedy Widely Forgotten". npr.org. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
- The Report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, William W. Scranton, Chairman, US Government Printing Office, 1970, pg. 422-424. Retrieved August 15, 2009 from ERIC.ed.gov
- "F.B.I. Investigating Killing Of 2 Negroes in Jackson :Two Negro Students Are Killed In Clash With Police in Jackson". New York Times. May 16, 1970. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
- President's Commission on Campus Unrest, pp. 442–444
- Presidents Commission on Campus Unrest, p. 450
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-09-04. Retrieved 2006-11-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Gibbs-Green Plaza, Jackson State, Retrieved August 15, 2009
- "A U.s. Jury Ends Jackson Inquiry". The New York Times. 1970-12-12. Retrieved 2020-06-01.
- Chronology with photos by Jackson University
- "Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings at Jackson State College" by Tim Spofford
- The Jackson State tragedy (Internet Archive; originally hosted at JSU.edu)
- 40 Years Ago: Police Kill Two Students at Jackson State in Mississippi – video report by Democracy Now!
- Program about the Jackson State Killings, Jackson, Mississippi from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting