ONE YEAR AGO this month, members of the Mississippi State Highway Patrol fired into a women's dormitory at Jackson State College, and murdered Philip Gibbs and James Earl Green and wounded nine other students. The incident at Jackson, coming within two weeks of the four murders at Kent State, were immediately paralleled to the Kent killings, and used as a re-enforcement of the "Student as Nigger" metaphor. However, there was a large and important difference between what happened at Jackson and what happened at Kent, and an even larger difference in what has been the reaction to the two events. These differences illustrate not so much the parallel but the distinction between nigger and student. And they demonstrate the hindrance which the false comparison of black and poor people with the student places on our ability to deal with the problems of the two groups.
In terms of the killings themselves the most important difference was that the Jackson students, unlike those at Kent, were not engaged in any form of political activity when the Highway Patrol invaded the campus. They were not exercising any constitutional right of dissent, nor had they burned any ROTC buildings, nor, as had some of the Kent State students, had they rampaged through their campus town. The students at Jackson were, as black people have been since the beginning of their importation to this country in the 17the century, pursuing the American dream in all its mortgaged-duplex grandeur. Yet, it was just this pursuit, the fact that they were niggers as students, that constituted a political activity in the minds of the Highway Patrolmen. It was, has been and is a threat to the political and economic foundations of the South, and the Mississippi Highway Patrolmen, as guardians of the current order, responded to this threat by impressing upon the students-as did the people in South Carolina who overturned a bus of black grammar school children-that, as one student has testified, "We will still have policemen shooting down blacks with sadistic looks and grins saying, pick up this nigger here and that nigger there."
And so the Patrolmen came in and "turned and fired into the park area-simultaneously as they fired into the dormitory," Having made their point, they picked up their cartridge shells and filed a report, as fictional as Faulkner, that spoke of snipers on the roof tops and an uppity nigger beneath every bush. From time to time during the attack, Jackson students had waved white flags as they came out of cover to collect the dead and mutilated.
THIS was all nothing new. Coon-hunting is a traditional Southern pastime. Perhaps this is the reason that the Jackson killings have been so remarkably forgettable. We have sat through the movie too many times for its tragedy to be compelling. Perhaps because the killings happened so late in the year.... At any rate, only three colleges closed in sympathy to the killings at Jackson as opposed to the 479 that closed in mourning of Kent.
Moreover, in the strike speeches around the country. Jackson was included only as an afterthought, as further evidence to the perils of opposing the Nixon administration. Jackson was drawn into the public mind as the caboose to the Kent train. The fact that it had originally been on a different track was soon forgotten. Thus, as the student-as-nigger express backed out in June, Jackson-never fully into the station of public concern-led the way to oblivion. Falsely coupled to the planned obsolescence of the Kent State-Cambodia issue, the enduring problems of the Southern black went out with it.
Last Tuesday night, four days after the first anniversary of the murders at Jackson State, Vice President Agnew addressed a $100-a-plate Republican dinner in Jackson. Speaking "in the heartland of the old Confederacy... as an American who loves and would preserve our country's free institutions-to his fellow Americans who love and would preserve our country's free institutions" from "the opportunism of the new demagogues and actions of the New Left street gangs," Agnew began his speech by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen: It's good to be back in Jackson." Much was said in the twenty-minute address about "mediamorphosis" and "the national Democrats and their media-academic allies," and the notion that "this Administration enter[ed] office pledged and determined to heal the wounds inflicted upon the national spirit during the first eight years of the Sixties"; but no mention was made of the wounds inflicted by the Mississippi Highway Patrol in the very city in which Agnew was speaking. Nobody seemed to notice or care.