There are various theories about what happened in May, 1970 on the campus of Jackson State College. In less than 30 seconds, officers from the Jackson Police Department and Highway Patrol had fired 460 rounds. Twenty-one-year-old Phillip Lafayette Gibbs a junior at Jackson State and Jim Hill High School senior and track star, 17 year old James Earl Green were killed, 12 others injured.
James "Lap" Baker was a senior at Jackson State College and witnessed the shooting. He says there have been many stories about what happened. But he says students had grown tired of being harassed by white motorists who drove down Lynch Street which went right through the middle of campus.
He says they gathered for what was a peaceful demonstration.
"And one of the students hurled a bottle and it burst," Baker explained. "And when that bottle burst all hell broke loose. Shooting..oh, oh, oh...tat, tat,tat,tat,tat."
Baker says it is not true a shot was fired from Alexander Hall. The dorm where bullet holes are still visible today.
"If there were a sniper on the fifth floor, why were you shooting on the fourth, third, second, first floor and on the ground," added Baker.
Otha Burton was also a student. While he did not witness the shooting he says word of what happened moved throughout the nation.
"I couldn't find work. Most of the other kids couldn't either," said Burton. When we got back that fall, others if they were from.. They went some place else you know to try to find work over the summer."
Baker and Burton say there were important lessons learned that should not be forgotten today.
"The Medgar Evers, and Margaret Walker Alexander, all of these people we hold in high esteem were common people who met circumstances and they applied themselves," Burton told us.
No one has ever been prosecuted for the shooting at Jackson State College.
Jackson has a rich history in the Civil Rights movement from the Freedom Riders who were beaten, arrested and sent to Parchman for using public buses and trains; to Freedom Summer when college students came from around the country to register voters and ended with the deaths of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
The 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer will be remembered with events throughout the country and here in Mississippi this year.
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