It was 1970 and college campuses all over the nation were centers of anti-war protests. Students were fighting to keep their young friends home, away from a violent and bloody war in Vietnam. On May 4, 1970, a protest at Kent State University turned violent when the Ohio National Guard opened fire killing four students. Almost ten days later, when students were protesting the Kent State tragedy at the historically black college Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, two students were killed by Mississippi State Police during rioting-these two students were Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green.
The atmosphere at Jackson State was tense because of the Kent State slaying, and because of white motorists harassing students as they passed through campus on their way to downtown Jackson. Around 9:30p.m. on May 14, rioting began at Jackson State because of rumors that civil rights activist Charles Evers and his wife had been killed.
Rioting students set fire to campus buildings and overturned a dump truck. Out of fear for their lives, the firemen called for police backup. Seventy-five city policemen carrying carbines, submachine guns and other weapons came to the site. The firemen quickly put out the fires and left, but police stayed on moving toward Alexander Center, a women's dormitory.
A group of 100 students congregated in front of the dorm shouting and throwing bottles at the police. What happened next is unclear, but the police opened fire. Police fired for about thirty seconds, killing Gibbs and Green and wounding twelve other students. In the weeks that followed, schools and colleges around the country protested, and the African American community banned local white-owned businesses.
James Earl Green was a 17-year-old senior in high school passing through Jackson State on his way home from his after school job. Born on December 19, 1952, he was one of eight children in his family. His father died when he was young, and his mother recently remarried to a laborer. With dreams of attending the University of California at Los Angeles, Green was a good student, quiet and well-liked by his peers. He was also the star of his track team. He worked daily at the Rag-a-Bag grocery store giving his wages to his mother at the end of each week.
Phillip Lafayette Gibbs was born on September 1, 1948 in Ripley, Mississippi. His father worked as a share cropper and in various jobs. In the early fifties, Gibbs moved to Beloit, Wisconsin with his mother while his father worked in Iowa. When both of his parents died in the early sixties, the children moved back to Ripley. Gibbs finished at the top of his high school class and then attended Jackson State with the hopes of becoming a doctor. When he realized that medical school would require time and a lot of money, he decided to prepare for law school. He was a member of the Civil Rights Council and was active in his church and basketball. Gibbs had recently married his high school sweetheart and had an 11-month son.
While these two men were not heroes fighting for a specific cause, they were martyrs for a generation of young men and women who were fighting for equality and to save their peers from the horrors of war. In the fervor of Kent State and protests at other schools, Green and Earl have been forgotten-this is a tribute to their lives and the struggles of a generation that fought for equality on many different fronts.
- Phillip Lafayette Gibbs born on September 1, 1948 in Ripley, Mississippi.
- James Earl Green born on December 19, 1952.
- Four students are killed at Kent State in Ohio on May 4, 1970.
- Gibbs and Lafayette killed by Jackson police officers in a riot at Jackson State