FROM THE VAULT: 1970 Gibbs-Green Shootings at JSU
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - In May of 1970, ten days after deadly campus unrest got the nation’s attention at Kent State University in Ohio, something happened here in Mississippi that is memorialized at Jackson State University.
Just after midnight on the morning of May 15, law-enforcement officers fired more than a hundred shots at Alexander Hall, a dormitory at what was then called Jackson State College. They had been called to the campus to help keep the peace after several days of unrest. At that time, Lynch Street was open to traffic, and people could drive right through the center of campus. There had been some minor confrontations between students and some of the white drivers.
At some point in the overnight hours of the 15th, a bottle broke in the midst of the crowd near the dormitory. At least one witness reported hearing a gun blast at about the same time.
It was then that officers started shooting at the dorm, killing James Earl Green, 17, and Phillip Gibbs, 20. Twelve other people were injured.
A Hinds County grand jury said the officers were justified in opening fire, but the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest called their actions unreasonable and an over-reaction.
No one was ever charged.
In 1995, there was a ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the shootings, and WLBT carried it live in a special report called “JSU: Reflections of Pain, Images of Progress.” Among the people interviewed during the special report were three reporters who were on the scene on the night of the shooting: Bert Case, Corrice Collins and Jack Hobbs. They gave a first-hand account of what they saw and heard, just as they had done for investigators shortly after the shooting.
“I heard a shot,” recalled Hobbs on the 1996 program. He was a reporter for WJTV in 1970 and later worked for WLBT for many years. “I heard a bullet go past my ear.” Hobbs said it happened before the barrage of gunfire from law-enforcement. “Many people disagree with me, but it’s as clear to me as it was 25 years ago.”
“When the shooting started, I sprinted for the alley,” recalled Collins in 1996. “I couldn’t mix-in with the reporters, because I was a Black person. And so I went down the side of the building and I dove for cover.” Collins was a reporter for WLBT in 1970 and continued to work at the station into the 1990s.
“They fired into Alexander Hall for 29.5 seconds,” recalled Case in 1996. “How do I know that? I had a tape recorder on my side and was able to exactly time it.” Case worked for WJTV in 1970 but joined WLBT in 1974.
The 1970 graduation ceremony had to be canceled after the shooting. Fifty-one years later, the surviving seniors from that year were finally given the opportunity to walk across the stage.
The area where the shootings happened was eventually closed to traffic and is now called Gibbs-Green Plaza, with a memorial to the two young men who died.
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