51 Years Later, Jackson State Grads Get an Apology

Mayor addresses 1970 shooting by police on campus that left 2 dead
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 16, 2021 3:58 PM CDT
51 Years Later, Jackson State Grads Get an Apology
A Jackson State member of the Class of 1970 reads the commemorative program prior to being one of 74 graduates honored by the historically Black university Saturday.   (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The mayor of Mississippi's capital city and a state senator both apologized Saturday for shootings 51 years ago by city and state police officers that killed two people and injured 12 others on the campus of a historically Black college. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and state Sen. Hillman Frazier of Jackson spoke during a graduation ceremony for the Class of 1970 of what was then Jackson State College, now Jackson State University, per the AP. Lumumba apologized on behalf of the city to the families of the two men whose lives were cut short by the violent police response to the protest against racial injustice. Killed were 21-year-old Jackson State student Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and 17-year-old James Earl Green, a high school student who was on campus while walking home from work.

Jackson State’s 1970 commencement was canceled because of the bloodshed, and graduates that year received their diplomas in the mail, if at all. On Saturday, 74 of the 400-plus 1970 grads donned caps and gowns and stood in the sunshine to receive the recognition denied to them a lifetime ago. “As James Baldwin once wrote: ‘When we cannot tell the truth about our past, we become trapped in it,’” Lumumba said. “I believe, as a city, we must publicly atone for the sins of our past and proclaim a new identity of dignity, equity and justice.” The May 15, 1970, shootings at Jackson State had largely been overshadowed by violence from days earlier, when Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four Kent State University students amid a Vietnam War protest.

(More Jackson State stories.)

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