Friday, February 11, 2011
Former Jackson State University President John Peoples, Jr. described with painful detail the 1970 shootings he witnessed at Jackson State University that resulted in the deaths of two students during Koinonia Coffee House's Friday Forum this morning.
"I walked into the (dorm) and there was blood running down the stairways and the smell of gunpowder in the air," Peoples said, recounting his arrival on the scene after police fired into the Alexander Center, JSU's women's dormitory.
Tension on the campus had been brewing in the weeks leading up to the incident, as frustrated black youth felt Mississippi's white society was working to keep them second-class citizens, Peoples said. The students were also growing increasingly agitated at the Vietnam War and the U.S. government's draft of black youth.
The author said students began hurling bricks and rocks at white motorists on the Lynch Street corridor bisecting the campus. Peoples asked city police to keep the campus blocked off to separate white motorists from the crowds, but the city said motorists had a right to use the road and removed the barricades.
Young people also set fires on campus, he said, including igniting a dump truck containing barrels of gasoline, but the fire department refused to deal with the flames without a police presence.
"The (fire) truck went around to the fire, but police walked straight up Lynch Street. When they got to the women's dorm there were a lot of boys and girls watching everything. Police ordered them to go back to the dorm, but the boys didn't live in the dorm. They couldn't go anywhere," Peoples said. "Then somebody, I understand, threw a bottle into the street. The cops panicked and shot all around, into the air and into the walls of the dormitory. They wounded about 23 girls and killed two people, one of them a high-school boy who was on his way home, who had stopped to look at everything."
Peoples said the National Guard quartered him at the president's home, formerly located at the corner of Lynch Street and Dalton Street. He remained under guard, he said, until "about 500 boys jumped the fence" and alerted him to the disaster.
"'Why'd you let them shoot us?' they said. 'Why'd you let them shoot us?' and I didn't know what to say," Peoples said.
Many of the injured victims received their wounds by being trampled at the height of the gunfire. The two fatalities were Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior pre-law major, and James Earl Green, 17, a senior at Jim Hill High School in Jackson. Both died from buckshot wounds.
Peoples also promoted his self-published books "How We Got Over," and "To Survive and Thrive," (Town Square Books, Inc.) this morning. Peoples' books are available at the Jackson State University bookstore. The first book, "To Survive and Thrive," is an historical account of JSU's battle with Mississippi to receive accreditation and funding, and includes an account of the college's presence in the Civil Rights Movement. "How We Got Over" is a collection of his speeches. For more information, visit the JSU bookstore website.
Rarely seen morning after photo (from Kudzu, May 1970): https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=31968026&l=acd6d6c55b&id=1027053568
- ed inman
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