Kent State University and Jackson State University: Campuses Connected by Tragedy and Transformation
Before history major Emma Kelly traveled to Jackson State University for an alternative winter break trip recently, she had been well educated about the police shootings that took place on the Mississippi campus on May 15, 1970, just days after the Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine at Kent State.
Kelly, a senior history major, had taken History of Civil Rights and Black Power Movement courses in which she learned in depth about the Gibbs-Green tragedy at Jackson State.
There, police shot and killed Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, a 21-year-old Jackson State college student, and James Earl Green, a 17-year-old high school senior, and wounded 12 during mounting tensions and protests against racism.
Still, the trip to Jackson State was an eye-opening experience for Kelly, who said, “Our campuses are connected through senseless tragedy at the hands of state power.
“The resilience of their community was inspiring, and I am forever grateful that I was able to learn from the activists and community,” Kelly said. “This trip also reaffirmed my commitment to helping dismantle systemic forms of oppression.”
The Kent State students were the guests of Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center, according to Craig Berger, associate director of Kent State’s Community Engaged Learning. The center is an archive and museum dedicated to preserving and disseminating information about African American history and culture.
Students were accompanied by several Kent State staff members including Aliyah Tipton, assistant director of communications with the Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement, and Jackson State alumna.
While visiting Jackson State, the students met with two survivors of the Gibbs-Green tragedy and learned about the Freedom Riders from the youngest Rider, Hezekiah Watkins. The Freedom Riders were a group of Black and white civil rights activists who participated in Freedom Rides or bus trips through the American South in 1961 to protest segregated bus terminals.
They learned that Daniel Ray Thompson, a white member of Kent State’s class of 1966, was arrested as a Freedom Rider, and served time at the notorious Parchman Farm, which is the Mississippi State Penitentiary
Kent State students walked the Mississippi Freedom Trail and saw sites such as the Greyhound bus station where the Freedom Riders ended their ride, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the home of civil rights leaders Medgar and Myrlie Evers, which is a National Monument. Medgar Evers was assassinated in the carport of his home in 1963.
Berger said: “The (Kent State) group met in the very rooms where civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Bob Moses (with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC) and others changed the world.”