Forty years ago in 1970, two major incidents on two different college campuses turned the tide in student protests against a government that had for its dismal record the Vietnam War, the smothering of the Civil Rights Movement, and the stifling of women’s right to be equal citizens. Those two incidents, during the administration of then President Richard Milhouse Nixon, were the clashes between students and law authorities at Jackson State and Kent State.
On May 4, 1970, at Kent State, National Guard soldiers fired on a crowd of students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four. Just ten days later, on May 14-15, 1970, two young men — one a student, another a high school senior — were shot to death when state and local police entered onto Jackson State grounds, firing shotguns into a dormitory.
President Nixon’s Commission on Campus Unrest called the actions of the police at Jackson State an “unreasonable, unjustified overreaction,” but no charges were filed. The commission called the National Guard’s shootings at Kent State “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.” Civil lawsuits and criminal investigations occurred, but there were no criminal convictions.
That decade saw the rise of women who challenged the stifling and soul-crushing hand of patriarchy. The Combahee River Collective. The right to better work conditions, equal pay for equal work, the groundbreaking lawsuits, such as Williams vs. Saxbe, that fought against sexual harrassment. Women showed in many ways they were up to the challenge and America did indeed hear women roar.
That decade saw the rise of the “Silent Majority”, “law and order”, a rising racist conservative climate, and the extreme strife and division within many families as tension, anger and frustration raged to create a divide of those against Nixon and his war of aggression that was making further inroads into Cambodia, and those who blindly supported a rapacious government whose imperilaism knew no boundaries. To add more pain to people across America, the news coverage of the Vietnam War brought war to Americans citizens in a way that had never happened before—– live and recorded news reports of so many 19-year-old young men dying for a war that had no victors in the end.
That decade saw the racial unrest that exploded ten days later on Jackson State’s campus further escalated the disgust with a society that treated its young citizens as so much expendable fodder, especially its Black citizens. For years, the slaughter of Black people, whether student or not, was a constant in the lives of millions of Black people, and the Jackson State students said “No more!” in their protest of racial hate.
To this day, Jackson State is never mentioned nor remembered for the impact those students made on an America which had for so long rendered them invisible, and in the case of Jackson State, still ignores and disregards its legacy.
Until then, this country showed callous disregard for the thoughts and ideas of young people who challenged a country filled with malaise and conformity worship. That is until the students of Jackson State and Kent State made America sit up and realize that this country’s young people at that time had put America on notice.
In honor of those brave students, let their names never be forgotten.
Let their fight against injustice, apathy and complacency be remembered.
Let their names be said, for to speak the names of the dead is to not only to remember them, but, to keep alive their memory.
Lest we forget.
Names of the deceased and the wounded:
Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior: died from buckshot pellets that punctured his head while a third pellet entered just beneath his left eye and a fourth just under his left armpit
James Earl Green, 17, a senior at nearby Jim Hill High School: died from a shotgun blast to the right side of his chest
Twelve other Jackson State students were struck by gunfire, including at least one who was sitting in the dormitory lobby at the time of the shooting. Several students required treatment for hysteria and injuries from shattered glass. Injured and carried to University Hospital for treatment were Fonzie Coleman, Redd Wilson Jr. , Leroy Kenter, Vernon Steve Weakley, Gloria Mayhorn, Patricia Ann Sanders , Willie Woodard, Andrea Reese, Stella Spinks, Climmie Johnson, Tuwaine Davis and Lonzie Thompson.
Names of the deceased and the wounded:
- Jeffrey Glenn Miller: shot through the mouth – killed instantly
- Allison B. Krause: fatal left chest wound – died later that day
- William Knox Schroeder: fatal chest wound – died almost an hour later in hospital while waiting for surgery
- Sandra Lee Scheuer: fatal neck wound – died a few minutes later from loss of blood
- Joseph Lewis Jr, hit twice in the right abdomen and left lower leg
- John R. Cleary, upper left chest wound
- Thomas Mark Grace, struck in left ankle
- Alan Michael Canfora, hit in his right wrist
- Dean R. Kahler, back wound fracturing the vertebrae – permanently paralyzed from the chest down
- Douglas Alan Wrentmore, hit in his right knee
- James Dennis Russell, hit in his right thigh from a bullet and in the right forehead by birdshot – both wounds minor (died 2007)
- Robert Follis Stamps, hit in his right buttock (died June 11, 2008)
- Donald Scott MacKenzie, neck wound