Steeped in the Blood: On The May 15th, 1970 Jackson State KillingsHistorians in the News
tags: racism, civil rights
On the night of May 14, 1970, Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green made their way to Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory, on the campus of Jackson State College. Although a protest was taking place down the street, in which a dump truck was set on fire, the two young men were on campus to pay social calls. In the early morning hours of May 15, a group of law enforcement officers approached the students standing outside the building, which included Gibbs and Green, firing upon the congregation after a bottle crashed behind the armed men. Separated by a chain link fence, the unarmed students did not pose a direct threat to police officers, yet notions of Black criminality, white racism, and an effort to preserve order created an atmosphere of danger. In the end, Gibbs and Green were both killed, while twelve others suffered injuries as a result of the shooting. The tragic events in Jackson, however, were overshadowed by the shooting at Kent State University nearly two weeks earlier, the latter standing out in historical memory as the primary example of violence that occurred during the student movement of the 1960s and 70s.
Historian Nancy K. Bristow’s Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order and the 1970 Shooting at Jackson State College explores the relationship between Black Power activism, racially-coded notions of law and order, and the shooting at Jackson State College in 1970. Bristow argues that demands for law and order, from Washington, D.C. to Jackson, Mississippi, intensified during the era of Black student activism, which, in turn, resulted in the shooting at Jackson State College. The race-neutral appeal to maintain order in a society undergoing social transformation was part of the broader campaign of resistance to Black civil rights and the preservation of white supremacy in the mid-twentieth-century. For many white Americans, it felt as though their country was unraveling due to the concurrent social movements of the time. The logical response to anti-war protestors, Black Power advocates, and student activists, according to President Richard Nixon and his supporters, was to minimize violence by acting violently towards these groups. In Bristow’s work, the author claims that it was only a matter of time before Black students became the victims of an idea that supported violence against Black communities.
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