Today’s blog post was written by Bob Nowatzki and Joshua Schroeder in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland
“completely unwarranted and unjustified” -President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, 1970
From May 13th to May 15th, 1970, Jackson State College, by then a nearly century-old Historically Black College and University (HBCU), erupted in protest. Nation-wide student disaffection with the Nixon administration’s extension of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, college students’ disgust at the murder of Kent State student protesters two weeks prior, and long-running racial tensions between the politically active black student population with the white local population created a set of circumstances that ended with the wounding of twelve and death of two black students following a barrage of gunfire from the Mississippi Highway and Safety Patrol.
On the night of May 14th, 1970, rumors began circulating that Fayette, Mississippi mayor, Charles Evers, had been murdered. The brother of Medgar Evers, talk of the mayor’s murder prompted groups of African-American students (from Jackson State as well as other local schools) to begin protesting. Tensions rose as fires were set and white local residents claimed the demonstrators had thrown rocks at cars and flipped a truck. Members of the Mississippi Highway and Safety Patrol, other area police departments, and the National Guard responded and proceeded to push many of the protestors back to the campus. In the early hours of May 15th, the heavily armed and armored police faced the remaining protestors outside Alexander Hall. Claiming there was a sniper among the students, the police fired around two hundred shots for about thirty seconds into the crowd of students. Twelve students were wounded by the gunfire and 21-year-old Philip Lafayette Gibbs, a junior at Jackson State College, and 17-year-old James Earl Green, a senior at nearby Jim Hill High School, were killed.
Nationally, the Jackson State killings were overshadowed by the Kent State shootings. Mississippi politicians displayed little desire to investigate, with Senators Walter Mondale of Minnesota and Birch Bayh of Indiana being the only high-profile politicians to personally inspect the aftermath. While President Nixon and his administration tried to shift public opinion against student protestors, the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest found that the police’s action had no reasonable justification. No single police officer involved was punished or charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
The National Archives and Records Administration’s Archives II facility holds the series Records of the Jackson State College Investigative Team, 1970 – 1970 (Record Group 220: Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards), which consists of 1,100 folders. About 970 of these items are transcriptions of interviews, about 550 of which are with students; the others are with faculty, administrators, police officers, National Guard personnel, Mississippi State Highway Patrolmen, and other witnesses. The series also includes the Campus Unrest report (which includes a section on Jackson State) prepared by the Commission and submitted to President Nixon in September 1970. In addition, the National Archives holds the series Class 144 (Civil Rights) Litigation Case Files and Enclosures, 1936 – 1997 (Record Group 60: General Records of the Department of Justice) and the series Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Case Files, 1956 – 1998 (Record Group 65: Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation), both of which contain files pertaining to the Jackson State killings. For information about these records, please email National Archives at College Park – Textual Reference (RDT2) at Archives2reference@nara.gov.
- Nancy K. Bristow, “Remembering the Jackson State Tragedy.” The Nation. May 4, 2020.
- Nancy K. Bristow, Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College. Oxford University Press, 2020.
- Robert Cohen and Michael Koncewicz, “‘Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s Coming:’ The Shooting at Kent State and Jackson State at 50.” The Nation. May 5, 2020.
- Jackson State University, “Gibbs-Green shooting: May 15, 1970.”
- Jill Lepore, “Kent State and the War That Never Ended.” The New Yorker. April 27, 2020.
- Tim Spofford, Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings at Jackson State College, Kent State University Press, 1988
- Whitney Blair Wyckoff, “Jackson State: A Tragedy Widely Forgotten.” NPR. May 3, 2010.