Saturday, May 14, 2005

Jackson State, May 14, 1970: In Memory

On this day, 36 years ago, police opened fire upon unarmed protesters at a historically-black university in Mississippi. By the time they finished firing two young men lay dead, and over a dozen young men and women were injured, most of whom were in a dormitory that the local police riddled with gunfire.

Two young men died there. You do not know their names. And that, perhaps, is the real story.

These are their names:
Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, pre-med.
James Earl Green, 17, high school student walking home from the grocery store.

The five-story dormitory was riddled by gunfire. FBI investigators estimated that more than 460 rounds struck the building, shattering every window facing the street on each floor. Investigators counted at least 160 bullet holes in the outer walls of the stairwell alone -- bullet holes that can still be seen today.

The injured students, many of whom lay bleeding on the ground outside the dormitory, were transported to University Hospital within 20 minutes of the shooting. But the ambulances were not called until after the officers picked up their shell casings, a U. S. Senate probe conducted by Senators Walter Mondale and Birch Bayh later revealed.

Unlike when National Guardsmen killed white students at Kent State, there was no real investigation. No white policemen were arrested for murder. It would have been futile. A white policeman being put on trial in Mississippi in 1970 for murdering a black man who was "being uppity" would have been instantly acquitted. Even today, justice in Mississippi is only for those who are well connected, not for those who are poor white trash, or black, or gay, or otherwise reviled and hated.

And unlike Kent State, nobody remembers Jackson State. Thousands showed up last year for a memorial to honor the victims of the Kent State murders. Fewer than 40 people showed up last year at a 35th anniversary memorial to honor the victims of the Jackson State murders. It is as if history has been redacted to wipe it from the collective conciousness. Or as if the people who died there were simply offal, garbage, to be buried and forgotten and certainly never mourned, for after all, they were uppity Negros, not fine upstanding white people like you or I or the young people killed at Kent State. If anybody remembers Jackson State at all, it is as a footnote to Kent State, not as an atrocity all its own, and the people who died there? Nameless. Forgotten.

These are their names:
Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21
James Earl Green, 17

But they have no names in today's America, except to the few who knew them, and remember. And to historians of the era, who grimly count the toll, and then shake their heads, knowing that few would wish to know, or care.

And so it goes in the United States of Delusion, where we pretend that all lives have equal value -- yet our actions, and our memories, prove otherwise.

- Badtux the Historian Penguin


  1. Demetrius Gibbs, son of one of the two victims, has said, "In order for us to be acknowledged, it had to happen at Kent State first." Well, I may miss a lot of historical events, but I blogged about this one.

    My 2 cents.

  2. I wrote most of this one on May 5, after deciding that everybody else had already covered Kent State quite well, thank you. The remainder was written Wednesday, and lurked in the queue until I posted it last night. As to why Jackson State is only barely acknowledged, and only as a footnote to Kent State... I have theories, but no proof. But that is how it usually is, when dealing with things like this...

  3. I'm certain that you have more proof on this count than you realize, considering how black people have been getting crapped on since the first shipment of slaves arrived in 1619. I know about Kent State partly because Neil Young wrote a song about it. I only know about Jackson State because from time to time I go out of my way to learn American history, such as in the late 90s, when I first heard about it. It's not like I have any memories of this event -- the shootings took place three months before I was born. But it's damned embarrassing that a lot of people who were alive at the time know nothing about it.

    (And by the way {heh heh}, I may have been your fourth reader, but I was definitely not the first to add you to my blogroll. I found you through The Heretik. He's the one you need to thank...)

  4. Penguin, thanks for noting this other day of infamy. Yours is the only blog I've seen that has remembered. I live up the pike from Kent State and sent a Jackson State post out yesterday, but I had to find the info on the official Jackson State website, not from the progressive sites (oh, wait, Counterpunch does have an article, sorry). Where are you?
    Yes, yes, in the Antarctic Ocean, I know, but where really?

  5. Catherine, Daily Kos also posted a rememberance, albeit only on the 'Recommended Diaries' list rather than on the front page. And Mimus Pauly of course blogged about it. So I am but one penguin amongst many strange birds.

    As for where I live, I have lived in a multitude of places so it is not particularly of interest. I am a native of the Southern United States, though I have no inclination to ever live again in JesusLand. My current landing spot is not particularly secret but not particularly relevant either, so "Some Iceberg, South Pacific" is as good an answer as any.

  6. Thank goodness we have historian penguins!

  7. I don't know if I knew about Jackson State at the time it happened. I did read about Kent State contemporaneously, in Reader's Digest of all places, and was sick.

    My thoughts on Jackson State are filtered through the experience of growing up surrounded by racism in Houston. Jackson State seems to be more related to the Klan, lynchings, Jim Crow, etc. than with the violent supression of youth counter-culture seen at Kent State, Chicago, etc.

    Just another bunch of murderous crackers engaging in state sanctioned murder of non-whites.


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