Hot Air: An Anniversary, Remembered

[ Scroll down to Gloden, Glab, Gabbing entry for info on this podcast. ]

Mississippi Firing

Today is the 49th anniversary of a campus incident just as tragic as that of Kent State just ten days prior.

Unlike the trouble at the Ohio campus that’d been roiling for days and days, a small riot broke out, suddenly and unexpectedly, at Jackson State University, one of the largest historically black colleges in the nation. Keep in mind this was the year 1970, a mere five years after the “eve of destruction” annum when the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles blew up, ushering in a series of “long, hot summers” as well as inspiring tens of millions of panicky white working class voters to dedicate their entire political philosophy to the draconian containment and institutionalized discipline of urban blacks.

The cause of the mini-riot was a rumor that Fayette, Mississippi mayor Charles Evers and his wife, Nannie, had been assassinated. This just seven years after civil rights activist Medgar Evers, Charles’ brother, had been killed by a rifle-toting troglodytic member of one of Mississippi’s many White Citizens’ Councils.

Several dozen college and high school students gathered on the campus in the Mississippi capital city Thursday evening, the 14th, and reportedly threw stones at passing cars driven by whites. Jackson city police and Mississippi Highway Patrol officers responded to the disturbance and formed skirmish lines. Shortly after midnight numerous state troopers, armed with shotguns, opened fire on the crowd as well as the nearby five-story tall Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory. Some 150 shotgun blasts were fired within 30 seconds resulting in every facing window of Alexander Hall being blown out. When the smoke cleared, two students were dead: Phillip Gibbs, a junior at Jackson State and James Green, a senior at Jim Hill High School.

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Afterward, several police and troopers claimed one of them had seen a sniper on the roof of the residence hall  and several other officers swore they’d come under fire from all directions. A federal investigation turned up no evidence that any shots had been fired at the officers. The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest concluded the following September that the “fusillade from police officers was an unreasonable, unjustified overreaction.” The Commission even allowed for the possibility that one or more officers might have seen what they thought was a shooter on the roof (although no evidence that one existed was ever produced); even so, the report stated, a response like the one that early May 15th morning “was never warranted.”

Kent State became an historically iconic symbol of the strife afflicting this nation during the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggle. Jackson State was quickly forgotten. Today if people other than its students and their families think about Jackson State University they know only that the 142-year-old institution was the alma mater of pro football Hall of Famer Walter Payton.

Phillip Gibbs and James Green? Mere footnotes in a long-faded history.

Gibbs (L) & Green

None of the shotgun-shooting officers, nor their commanders, was indicted or otherwise disciplined. Like the Kent State killings less than two weeks before, scared young men carrying loaded long guns responded the only way they knew how to a threatening situation. They hadn’t been trained not to fire indiscriminately at shadows on roofs nor had their on-scene leadership imposed rules of engagement. The officers, of course, were all white; the protesters black.

Jackson State illustrates only that law enforcement personnel firing guns at black people for the flimsiest of reasons is nothing new.

Gloden, Glab, Gabbing

Did you catch Big Talk Extra on the WFHB Daily Local News this week?

BTE is an approximately eight-minute feature every Monday on the ‘FHB’s daily newscast at 5pm offering added conversation from the previous week’s Big Talk. My guest on Big Talk last week was Gabe Gloden, managing director of the Cardinal Stage Company. So, naturally, Monday’s Extra presented more chitchat between him and me.

If you did indeed miss the Monday Gloden/Glab jawfest, fret not, the podcast’s at the top of this post.

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM. Big Talk Extra airs every Monday at about the 14-minute mark of the Daily Local News at 5pm on the same airwaves. Come here for podcast links to both the full Thursday program and the Monday feature each week.

BTW: My guest this coming Thursday on Big Talk will be Adam Nahas, founder and executive director of Artisan Alley.

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