Published on Sunday, May 14, 2000 by the Associated Press
30 Years Ago Today:
Jackson State Deaths Recalled
JACKSON, MS - Time has diminished much of the anger and terror of that night 30 years ago. Two young people died in a barrage of police gunfire after white motorists clashed with black students at Jackson State University
Today, only the bullet-scarred walls of Alexander Hall still attest to the violence that forced Mississippi to look at race relations and at the way its police respond.
May 14, 1970, marked the tragic climax of a week of demonstrations and nightly clashes between students and motorists harassing them along Lynch Street, which cut through the then-3,500-student campus.
The student protests had started over the Jackson Police Department's refusal to shut down the street.
That night, when students refused to disperse, police gunfire set off by the sound of a bottle breaking killed Phillip L. Gibbs, a 21-year-old Jackson State student, and James Earl Green, a 17-year-old passer-by. Both victims were black.
Ten days earlier, four white students had been killed at Ohio's Kent State University when the National Guard opened fire on anti-Vietnam protesters.
"I can still recall the awful screaming and yelling and the gunfire," said Jack Hobbs, a television reporter who filmed the shooting at Jackson State. "It was deafening. I thought 'Oh my God, they're shooting these kids.'"
Like their northern, white counterparts, many of the Jackson State students were angry about the Vietnam War, but in a Southern city divided by a long and bitter civil-rights struggle, the unrest was more about simmering racial tension.
Jackson State instructor Gene Young witnessed the shooting as a 19-year-old sophomore and traveled to Kent State on May 4 for a service to remember the victims of both tragedies.
"It's therapeutic to meet with other people coming to terms with conflict," he said. "Students on other campuses suffered great losses also."
Young said he hopes that Jackson State will do a better job of educating a new generation about the shootings. Thousands turned out for ceremonies at Kent State, but fewer than 50 attended a candlelit vigil at Jackson State.
Students living in Alexander Hall today said they know little about the shooting.
A dozen students were hospitalized, but a federal investigation revealed that ambulances were not called until after the officers had picked up their shell casings.
Then-university president John Peoples heard news of the shooting from National Guardsmen who arrived at his on-campus house with fixed bayonets.
James Earl Green's younger sister, Gloria Green McCray, now 46, went to Kent State this year. She said vivid memories of distant gunfire, chaos and waiting in vain for her brother still haunt her.
McCray earned a degree at Jackson State last year.
"I always felt I lost something at Jackson State which could never be returned," she said. "But I gained something which can never be taken away."
Copyright 2000 Associated Press.