Mayor, Senator apologize for Jackson State University shooting in 1970
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The mayor of the Mississippi capital and a state senator both apologized on Saturday for shootings 51 years ago by city and state police that killed two people and injured 12 others on the campus of a historically black college.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and Senator Hillman Frazier from Jackson spoke at a graduation ceremony for the class of 1970 of what was then Jackson State College, now Jackson State University.
Lumumba has apologized on behalf of the city to the families of the two men whose lives were cut short by the violent police response to the protest against racial injustice. Jackson State student Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, and James Earl Green, 17, a high school student who was on campus as he walked home from work, were killed.
Jackson State’s inception in 1970 was canceled due to bloodshed, and graduates that year received their degrees in the mail, if at all. On Saturday, 74 of the more than 400 1970 graduates donned caps and gowns and stood in the sun to receive the recognition they were denied a lifetime ago.
As James Baldwin once wrote: ‘When we can’t tell the truth about our past, we are trapped in it, “Lumumba said.” I believe that as a city we have to atone publicly the sins of our past and proclaim a new identity of dignity, equity and justice. ”
The May 15, 1970 shootings in Jackson State had been largely overshadowed by the violence of the earlier days, when Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four Kent State University students in the middle of a demonstration against the Vietnam War.
Lumumba and Frazier are both black, and both represent a city now over 80% black. Jackson was predominantly white in 1970, and the Jackson Police Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol officers heading to campus were white.
Lumumba said officers from the Jackson Police Department “unjustly shot dead two young, innocent black men, terrorized and traumatized a community of black college students, and committed one of the gravest sins in our city’s history.”
Frazier was a Jackson State student in 1970. He said he went to dinner that night and was delayed to return to campus. But he thinks he could have stood near his friend Gibbs during the shot, if not for the delay.
“The state of Mississippi never apologized for the tragedy that occurred on this campus that night – never apologized,” Frazier said. “So since I represent the State of Mississippi here as a State Senator, I would like to apologize to the families, the Jackson State family, for the tragedy that happened that night because they took very precious lives. “
Officers marched on Jackson State on the night of May 14, 1970 to quell protests against racial injustice. According to a report by President Richard Nixon’s Commission on Campus Troubles, students in Jackson State were throwing stones at white motorists. Class of 1970 James “Lap” Baker told The Associated Press on Wednesday that students were fed up with white people walking across campus shouting racist slurs, throwing bottles and endangering pedestrians. black.
Students had gathered outside the Alexander Hall Women’s Dormitory and BF Roberts Dining Hall across the street – some were protesting, others just enjoying each other’s company as the women made their way back to the dorm before curfew.
After midnight on May 15, a highway patrol officer used a megaphone to address the students, Baker said. Someone in the crowd threw a bottle and officers started shooting indiscriminately, later mistakenly claiming that they had seen a sniper in a dormitory window.
A Jackson TV reporter recorded 28 seconds of gunfire. In the end, Gibbs and Green were dead and 12 other people were bleeding. Alexander Hall’s windows smashed and its walls were left with pocket marks still visible today.
John A. Peoples Jr., who was Jackson State President from 1967 to 1984, said at Saturday’s ceremony that he remembered the “foul smell of blood” flowing down the stairs of Alexander Hall after the shooting.
“We sat on that lawn the rest of the night singing songs of freedom,” Peoples said.
Baker crawled through the grass after the shooting to return unscathed to his off-campus apartment after what he calls a planned “massacre.” No officer has ever faced criminal charges, and an all-white jury has awarded no money to the families of the black victims in a civil trial.
Jackson State awarded posthumous honorary doctorates on Saturday to Gibbs and Green, and their sisters accepted them. The graduation ceremony took place at the site of the once busy street that was closed years ago and transformed into a pedestrianized area named Gibbs-Green Memorial Plaza.