We all remember Kent State but, as someone pointed out recently, no one talks about Jackson State.
In the Spring of 1970, campus communities across this country were characterized by a chorus of protests and demonstrations. The issues were the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia; the ecology; racism and repression; and the inclusion of the experiences of women and minorities in the educational system. No institution of higher education was left untouched by confrontations and continuous calls for change.
At Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi, there was the added issue of historical racial intimidation and harassment by white motorists traveling Lynch Street, a major thoroughfare that divided the campus and linked west Jackson to downtown.
It didn't take much to trigger a march of protest in those days, and these students had ample cause to be protesting. The spark seems to have been when "rumors were spread that Fayette, Mississippi mayor Charles Evers (brother of slain Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers) and his wife had been shot and killed."
This wasn't Kent State's brief outburst of violence that, I've always suspected, shocked the shooters as much as it did the victims. This was a night of protests, a confrontation with local and state policemen that drove students back to gather in front of a dormitory.
There may or may not have been a shot fired toward police. There was...a noise, maybe shot, maybe a bottle dropping. Reports differ. A policemen was hit by a thrown rock and fell.
On May 4th, 1970, U.S. National Guardsmen opened fire on students demonstrating against the war in Southeast Asia at Kent State University in Ohio. The National Guard had been sent in to prevent riots and regain control of the campus but began shooting after some of the students began throwing rocks. More than 60 shots were fired and when the dust had settled four students were dead and nine wounded.
The five-story dormitory was riddled by gunfire. FBI investigators estimated that more than 460 rounds struck the building, shattering every window facing the street on each floor. Investigators counted at least 160 bullet holes in the outer walls of the stairwell alone -- bullet holes that can still be seen today.
The injured students, many of whom lay bleeding on the ground outside the dormitory, were transported to University Hospital within 20 minutes of the shooting. But the ambulances were not called until after the officers picked up their shell casings, a U. S. Senate probe conducted by Senators Walter Mondale and Birch Bayh later revealed.
You can't help but wonder if the cover-up would have waited until after medical aid was given...if the students had been white.
Jackson State didn't get the big headlines. It didn't become a rallying cry for a generation. I suppose the nation was in shock from hearing about Kent State and police shooting black students in the south just wasn't news like white students getting shot was.