Homecoming Street Jam. Face painting. Student government elections. Mayfest. International Week. The list for activities that occur annually on Gibbs-Green Plaza in the heart of Jackson State University's campus could go on and on. Students hang out on the "plaza" day in and out discussing everything from what happened in their last class to the game next week. But many of those students are uninformed of the catastrophic events that occurred nearly 33 years ago, unaware of the reason we call it Gibbs-Green Plaza.
It was May 14, 1970, not quite a decade since the peak of the Civil Rights Movement that had taken the nation by storm. Riots by several students had erupted due to rumors that Charles Evers and his wife had been shot. Firefighters, accompanied by police for protection, rushed to the scene to put out several fires set by the rioters. The National Guard was already on the scene due to trouble from the previous night. However, the city policemen, state troopers and National Guardsmen far outnumbered the students, and certainly had more gunpower.
As the firefighters finished their duties with the fires and started leaving, the police and troopers marched up Lynch Street toward Alexander Hall. Students assembled themselves, ready for whatever was to come. Some began to pick up rocks, bottles and anything else that could be used to defend themselves against the guns and rifles of the officers that were closing in on them.
What would happen over the next few minutes can be compared to students in South Africa fighting apartheid. There was confusion and chaos. Students ran in every direction for protection. Hundreds of gunshots sounded. Nearly 500 bullets riddled the windows and walls of the dormitory in the background. The result: Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, dead from multiple shots to the head and chest. James Earl Green, 17, dead from a shotgun blast to the chest. Twelve other students injured from the gunfire. No one was arrested for the shootings.
Gibbs-Green Plaza was named to honor those young men. To pay further homage, during the week of April 20-25, a number of activities are planned to make sure students and Jacksonians don't forget what happened on May 14, 1970, and, perhaps, to avoid such tragedies in the future.
The events include a convocation on Monday, April 21, at noon in the Campus Union General Purpose Room and testimonies of witnesses to the events on the catastrophic evening Tuesday, April 22 at noon in the General Purpose Room.
On Friday, April 25, at 11:30 a.m., the public can attend "Preparing for Sanctuary: Without Sanctuary and the Legacy of Racial Violence in Mississippi" in the General Purpose Room. Speaker James Allen will discuss and display some of his truly gut-wrenching collection of postcard/photographs of actual lynchings that occurred across this nation in the past century, often with onlookers (including children) laughing and pointing.
All of the events are open to students and anyone else who wants to partake in this week of dedication and tribute. For more information call 979-2323.