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Students Killed By Police After 1970 JSU Protest Remembered: ‘A Senseless Loss Of Two Young Lives’

Just before midnight on May 14, 1970, Jackson State University student Gailya Porter and a friend were hanging out at Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory, when they heard a commotion outside.

“What’s going on down the street? Something’s going on down the street!” Porter remembers her friend saying.

“I said, ‘Let’s go out there and see,’” she said, recalling the events in an interview with the Mississippi Free Press on May 14.

When the pair reached the glass doors facing Lynch Street, then a main public thoroughfare that dissected the campus, they saw what was happening: Jackson Police officers and Mississippi Highway patrolmen had again descended on JSU’s campus and were marching through the street, headed for the group of about 100 students and onlookers that were gathered in front of the dorm.

Police killed James Green, a 17-year-old Jim Hill High School student (left) and Phillip Gibbs, a 21-year-old pre-law student at Jackson State University in the early morning hours of May 15, 1970. Photo courtesy Margaret Walker Center

Officers were in the vicinity of the campus earlier that night to put out a fire students had set to the vehicle of a white motorist who had driven through Lynch Street taunting and shouting racial slurs at them.

Protesters, outraged after a series of racially motivated murders and assaults and fed up with years of harassment from white drivers who would speed through Lynch Street shouting racial epithets, had taken to the street the day before to share their grievances.

Among other demands, they called for the permanent closure of the section of Lynch Street that cut through their campus, along with other demands.

Although police intervention during the protests the night before ended without incident, the May 14 rally would end in bloodshed.

A little after midnight, as Porter and the others gathered outside watched, an officer issued a command over his bullhorn.

“May I have your attention please,’ the officer said, 1970 JSU graduate James Lap Baker recalled in a May 14 interview with the Mississippi Free Press.

He cupped his hands around his mouth to mimic

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