Last Saturday, 74 out of 400 graduates from Jackson State University’s Class of 1970 put on their caps and gowns and stood in the sunshine to take part in the ceremony denied them for over 50 years.
Jackson State, formerly Jackson State College, was the site of a large-scale incident of police brutality. On May 15, 1970, officers began shooting indiscriminately at students who were protesting against the Vietnam War on campus. In the mayhem, 21-year-old Phillip Gibbs and 17-year-old high school senior James Green were killed, and 12 others were injured.
As a result of the bloodshed, the university’s 1970 commencement was cancelled and graduates received their diplomas in the mail. The shooting at Jackson State was overshadowed by another shooting incident several days earlier, when Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four Kent State University students.
Officers later claimed that they had started shooting because they spotted a sniper in a dorm window. However, CNN reported that a federal investigation found no evidence of anyone shooting from the locations that the police targeted. No police officer was held accountable.
Wow. Jackson state university just honored graduates from 1970 who never got to cross the stage because of a police shooting of two black students. They waited 51 years to cross the stage. That’s insane.
— Neil Enlick (@thefinalsip) May 17, 2021
Reparations for the Class of 1970
The class of 1970 was meant to hold their graduation ceremony last year, on the 50th anniversary of the shooting. However, it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and state Senator Hillman Frazier participated in the event, apologizing to graduates on behalf of the state.
“The state of Mississippi never apologized for the tragedy that occurred on this campus that night — never apologized. So, since I’m here representing the state of Mississippi in my role as state senator, I’d like to issue an apology to the families, the Jackson State family, for the tragedy that occurred that night because they took very valuable lives,” he said.