Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, a 21-year-old Jackson State College student,
and James Earl Green, a 17-year-old Jim Hill High School senior,
were killed May 15, 1970, in a hail of gunfire.
Today, the area of the shooting is known as the Gibbs-Green Pedestrian Walkway.
A popular gathering place for students and the site of many activities, it is
located on the eastern side of campus. Bordering John R. Lynch Street, named after
Mississippi’s first black congressman, it further links Alexander Hall to the University Green.
A monument in front of Alexander Hall also honors the two young men.
Bullet holes in the façade of Alexander Hall remain visible to this day.
In the spring of 1970, protests dominated campuses across the U.S. as the war in Vietnam brought the invasion of Cambodia, and the push for social justice expanded. The deaths of four Kent State University students at the hands of Ohio National Guardsmen on May 4, 1970, only served to galvanize such efforts.
Against this backdrop — and historically overshadowed by it — was the Jackson State College shooting. Tension on campus had been mounting for some time, not from Vietnam but from something much closer to home — racism, which frequently was played out on Lynch Street, a major thoroughfare dividing campus and used by white motorists.
On May 13, students amassed on Lynch Street, wanting their concerns to be heard. Law enforcement was called in without incident. The following day, students and others in the neighborhood gathered. Rioting began about 9:30 p.m., sparked by a culmination of tensions between white motorists, police and students.
The Jackson Fire Department responded and then called city police who were joined by State Troopers. The National Guard, present from the prior day, remained on the west end of Lynch Street. They had weapons but no ammunition.
After the fires from rioting were extinguished, some 75 heavily armed officers marched toward Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory, with a crowd of about 100 students in front of them. Accounts describing what ensued are varied. Some say the officers opened fire without warning; officers claimed there was a sniper in the dormitory. Yet, others say the sound of a breaking bottle set off the gunfire. What cannot be disputed is the aftermath.
The shooting started at 12:05 a.m. on May 15 and continued for about 30 seconds. At least 140 shots came from shotguns a distance of 30 to 50 feet. Every window on the narrow side of the building facing Lynch Street was shattered.
Students scattered, some running for the trees in front of the library, but most scrambling for the doors of Alexander Hall West. A few students were trampled. Others, wounded, were dragged inside or left moaning in the grass.
When the gunfire ended, Phillip Layfayette Gibbs, 21, a junior pre-law major with a wife, a child and a baby on the way, lay dead 50 feet east of the door. He had been hit four times. Across the street, behind the line of police and highway patrolmen, James Earl Green, 17, was sprawled in front of B. F. Roberts Dining Hall. Green, a senior at Jim Hill High School, had stopped to watch the action on his walk home from work at a grocery store. He had been hit once in the chest. Police later claimed they had taken fire from the direction of B.F. Roberts Hall.
Twelve others, all students, were struck by gunfire. Several students required treatment for shock and injuries from shattered glass. Those taken to local hospitals included Fonzie Coleman, Tuwaine Davis, Climmie Johnson, Leroy Kenter, Gloria Mayhorn, Andrea Reese, Patricia Ann Sanders, Stella Spinks, Lonzie Thompson, Vernon Steve Weakley, Fred Wilson Jr., Willie Woodard, Gladys Dinkins Johnson and Gaylia Porter.
There were no arrests in connection with the slayings, and the FBI found no evidence of a sniper. The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest found police action was an “unreasonable, unjustified overreaction.”