‘Steeped in the Blood of Racism’Historians in the News
tags: racism, civil rights, White Supremacy, Jackson State
On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired on Kent State University students during an antiwar protest, killing four students and wounding nine others. But Kent State was not the only tragedy of the era. Eleven days later, (white) employees of the Jackson, Miss., police and the Mississippi Highway Patrol opened fire on a protest outside a women's dormitory at historically black Jackson State College (now University). Two were killed, and 12 were injured.
The Jackson State incident received far less attention than the Kent State shootings. No one was punished for the shootings. And most people have never heard of them.
Nancy K. Bristow, a professor of history at the University of Puget Sound, hopes to change that with her new book, Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 at Jackson State College (Oxford University Press). She responded via email to questions about her book.
Q: What drew you to Jackson State? Why did the case speak to you?
A: This story unfortunately reflects so many themes in the history of state-sanctioned violence against African Americans -- the impunity with which law enforcement opens fire against black people, the white supremacy at the core of those actions, the immunity to prosecution the officers responsible generally find, the trauma such violence means for the victims, their families and their communities, and the unwillingness of too many in the white community to acknowledge or remember violence.
Like so many white Americans, I knew very little about the shootings. When one of my students wrote a paper on the topic, my interest was sparked. I initially approached the shootings from the wrong angle, imagining it as a story focused on antiwar activism. My first visit to Jackson State quickly corrected my error. These students were shot because they were black students attending school in what was, at the time, the most racially repressive state in the nation. Given the white amnesia about this story, and the way that forgetting facilitates the ongoing crisis of police violence against people of color, it seemed vital to share this story with a broad audience.
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