Friday, December 29, 2006

Kent State Wasn't the Only — or Even the First — Massacre of College Students During the Vietnam Era

It's one of the defining moments of the Vietnam era and, more than that, twentieth-century US
history in general. On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed Kent State
University students protesting the war. Four were killed, eight were wounded, and another was
left paralyzed. It's so ingrained in the country's psyche that it even appears in American history
textbooks, and the anniversary is noted each year by the major media.
Yet this wasn't the only time the authorities slaughtered unarmed college kids during this time
period. It happened on at least two other occasions, which have been almost completely

A mere ten days after the Kent State massacre, students at the historically black Jackson State
University in Mississippi were protesting not only the Vietnam War and the recent killings at
Kent, but racism as well. On the night of May 14, 1970, during the protests, a small riot broke
out when a false rumor swept the campus: The black mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, was said to
have been assassinated. As at Kent State, some students or provocateurs threw bricks and stones
and set fires. Firefighters trying to put out a blaze in a men's dorm were hassled by an angry
crowd, so they called for police protection. The campus was cordoned off.
Jackson State's Website devoted to the incident says: "Seventy-five city policemen and
Mississippi State Police officers armed with carbines, submachine guns, shotguns, service
revolvers and some personal weapons, responded to the call." After the fire had been
extinguished, the heavily armed cops marched down the street, herding students towards a
women's dorm. As the notes: "No one seems to know why."
Seventy-five to 100 students were pushed back until they were in front of the dorm, where they
began yelling and throwing things at the police. "Accounts disagree as to what happened next.
Some students said the police advanced in a line, warned them, then opened fire. Others said the
police abruptly opened fire on the crowd and the dormitory. Other witnesses reported that the
students were under the control of a campus security officer when the police opened fire. Police
claimed they spotted a powder flare in the Alexander West Hall third floor stairwell window and
fire in self-defense on the dormitory only. Two local television news reporters present at the
shooting agreed that a shot was fired, but were uncertain of the direction. A radio reporter
claimed to have seen an arm and a pistol extending from a dormitory window."
Two people — both outside the dorm — were killed in over 30 seconds of sustained gunfire
from the cops. Jackson student Phillip Lafayette Gibbs was shot in the head, and a bystander —
high-school senior James Earl Green — took it in the chest. A dozen students were nonfatally
shot, and many more were injured by flying glass. Over 460 rounds had hit the dorm. No
member of law enforcement was injured.
Aim the carnage, Inspector "Goon" Jones radioed the dispatcher, saying that "nigger students"
been killed. When the dispatcher asked him about the injured, he said: "I think there are about
three more nigger males there.... There were two nigger gals — two more nigger gals from over
there shot in the arm, I believe."
Even less known is the Orangeburg massacre, which took place two years earlier. Students at
South Carolina State University in Orangeburg —joined by students from another black college,
Claflin University — were protesting the failure of the town's only bowling alley to racially
integrate. February 8,1968, was the fourth night of demonstrations, and students had lit a bonfire
on campus. Police doused it, but a second one was started. When the cops tried to extinguish this
one, the crowd — in a scene to be replayed at Kent and Jackson — started throwing things at
them. One highway patrolmen fired warning shots into the air, and all hell broke loose as the
assembled police opened fire on the unarmed crowd.
After a barrage of weapons-fire, three people were dead — eighteen-year-olds Henry Smith and I
Samuel Hammond, and high-school student Delano Middleton. Twenty-seven other

demonstrators were wounded. The vast majority of them had been shot in the back as they ran
South Carolina's Governor praised the police for their handling on the situation, giving all of
them promotions. Nine patrolmen were eventually tried on federal charges, and all were
acquitted. It! was only 33 years later — on the 2001 anniversary of the carnage — that a
Governor of the state admitted the heinous nature of what happened that night. Governor Jim
Hodges said, "We deeply regret" the mass-shooting, but he stopped short of apologizing for it.

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