Jackson State shootings, May 1970

If given a word association test, many would respond to “civil rights struggle” with “Mississippi.” How much do you really know about the past struggles, the on-going struggles, for racial justice in my home state?

On 4 January 2010, I noted in “Greed and ghosts of Mississippi” that one of my heroes, Bobby DeLaughter, was headed off to prison for lying to the FBI during a corruption investigation.

DeLaughter, portrayed by Alec Baldwin in the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi,” was the prosecuting attorney who finally won a conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Having come of age in Jackson, Mississippi, during the turbulent civil rights struggles, all of this was very close to my heart. I was stunned, therefore, when people I deem informed had never heard of the case, the movie or Medgar Evers.

May 4 marked the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State in Ohio, but did my readers know that 10 days later, on May 14, 1970, there was a similar incident at Jackson State University, then all-black Jackson State College, in Mississippi – a law enforcement barrage which left two student dead and many more injured?

Growing up I lived in such proximity to Jackson State to hear the Tigers marching band and the cheers of football fans.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Jackson State shootings, Democracy Now! hosts Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman interviewed longtime Mississippi civil rights activist Gene Young. Young, by a twist of fate, was born on the Jackson State campus and became a hero on that fateful midnight.

I thank my friend Clara for sending me the transcript of the interview, and I would encourage readers to spend some time this weekend reading it in its entirety. It is a window to the past, replete with all the players and the places which helped bring about Dr. King’s dream.

I have added personal notes throughout the interview from my own recollections and experiences.

As to the question of why the media paid and still pay more attention to the Kent State slayings, I agree with Mr. Young’s assessment that whites shooting white students was bigger news, in the context of the times, than whites shooting black students.

And particularly heart-warming are Young’s words of tribute to our Mississippi home.

Step back into the struggle. This enthralling and enlightening interview is in The Reading Room.


Tiny said...

Job well done, BJ. I knew you had to have ties to some of these people since you were from Mississippi. I hope no one will ever forget those horrible days when the black people had to fight to be treated like the human beings they are.

I hope everyone will read this and help put a stop to those who are yet today stirring the pot of racism and hatred. We do not need for people to repeat this type of history, especially those who claim to be such moral Christians. It seems the Christian Crusades are on the brink of repeating that history, thanks to a bunch in Texas who are hell bent on changing history books.

Let us help to solve the problems facing humanity instead of being a party to the problems. Share BJ's post with everyone that you can.

bbj said...

Yes, BJ, I will definitely read and share this. Thanks!

tnlib said...

I'm reading it but in small incliments. I remember being just as appalled at the Jackson shooting as the Kent State debacle.
I don't know why it didn't get more coverage. Maybe it was a black-white thing but the amount of coverage that was given to the shootings of the four children at the Birmingham church, the murder of Medgar Evans, and the murders and disappearances of those Civil Rights workers kind of contradict this assertion.

B.J. said...

First, the interview is about so much more than the JSU shootings, covers so much of interest.

How the story of the shootings was played depended on what else was in the news that day. Since the shootings occurred at midnight May 14-15, 1970, I’ve included both days as anything after 6:30 p.m. ET would not have been on the three network news programs until the next night. I don’t see anything that would overwhelmed the news on either day:

May 14, 1970:
1970 Cops kill 2 students in racial disturbance (Jackson State University, Mississippi)
1970 Harry A Blackmun appointed to the Supreme Court
1970 NYC local newspaper "Our Town" begins publishing
1970 RAF-leader Andreas Baader freed after serving 2 years in West Berlin

May 15, 1970:
1970 Beatles' last LP, "Let It Be" is released in US
1970 Elizabeth Hoisington & Anna Mae Mays named 1st female US generals
1970 France performs nuclear test at Muruora Island
1970 South-Africa excluded from Olympic play

Infidel753 said...

Thanks for posting this. It's especially timely right now, when Rand Paul is actually challenging the legitimacy of the Civil Rights Act as it applies to private business -- saying, in effect, that that hotel barber should not have had to cut Gene Young's hair. The problem with libertarians like him is that they think in terms of bloodless abstractions and absolutes, not in terms of the human reality that laws create, and the daily humiliations which people were willing to risk their lives to abolish.

I have to admit I'm not familiar with these events in detail. In early 1970 I was nine years old and living in California. I remember the Vietnam war being a big issue, but the civil-rights struggle was far away.

And kudos to Jackson State College for preserving the bullet marks on the building there. That's part of history and should always be there to help keep memory alive.

Tiny said...

Tiny has to agree with Infidel753's assessment of the ordeal. Rand Paul doesn't seem to grasp the reality and enormitity of the entire episodes of that part of history. Maybe Rand is helping to rewrite the history books in Texas!

The verification word below might fit Rand and the Texas bunch "shetati."

Lets string it out a bit: shet-a-ti!

Just couldn't resist that one!

Sue said...

I'm stopping half way BJ, I'll be back for more. It's so compelling and so heartbreaking. My heart overflows with empathy for the blacks and what they endured. I was one of the naive ones who thought race relations would improve after the election Of Barack Obama, but I didn't take into consideration how racist our country still is. They were in the closet and now are out in the light of day once more. It's frightening. I'm coming back with a sentence from a blogger Rational Nation, he posted a bit about Rand Paul and I want to tell you what he said...

Sue said...

here's what RN said,

"Before I start first let me reiterate I am a solid believer in the principals Rand Paul was addressing after his primary win last Tuesday in Kentucky.

The principal of private property, whether it be individual or business, and the inherent right to do with it as one pleases in so long as it does not threaten the life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness of another is a valid ethical and moral principal. Period. Government has no ethical basis on which to interfere."

As you can tell RN is a conservative. I asked him if he thought treating blacks like second class citizens was threatening their pursuit of happiness. I think it does, but one of his guests commenters did not and chewed me out!

These libertarians/Republicans are coming out of the darkness and want leadership roles, I hope the American people reject them!

B.J. said...

Yeah, Sue, and he needs a dictionary, too.

Thanks to all of you who are taking the time to read the post and interview. I think it is such a clear overview, and the hosts were so well prepared.

Rand Paul should enjoy his 15 minutes of fame while it lasts. He will become as ineffectual as Sarah Palin.

I realize that some readers were quite young when these Mississippi moments occurred. If possible, buy, beg, rent or borrow “Ghosts of Mississippi” starring Alec Baldwin as Bobby DeLaughter, Whoopi Goldberg as Medgar Evers’ widow Merlie (she later became national president of the NAACP) and James Woods as the murderer Byron De La Beckwith. Outstanding film!


Sue said...

LOL, I didn't catch that!

I was 15 in 1970, in NJ, in a mostly white community.

I hope you are right about Rand Paul, we sure don't need his kind in leadership roles!