SOCIAL SCIENCES

Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College

Oxford Univ. May 2020. 328p. ISBN 9780190215378. $34.95. SOC SCI
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On May 15, 1970, white city police and highway patrol officers opened fire on black students outside a woman’s dormitory at Mississippi’s Jackson State College, killing Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green and wounding 12 others. Bristow (history, Univ. of Puget Sound, WA; Making Men Moral) unfolds the event’s advent and aftermath. Situating the murderous attack in a long black liberation struggle against white supremacy, she exposes it as part of the nation’s relentless campaign “to keep blacks in their place.” Rightly remembering the episode requires reclaiming the neglected tragedy from misleading narratives, Bristow argues. Its racist core should stand in the nation’s shared public memory apart from the general unrest linked with the Kent State shooting on May 4, 1970, and from white leaders’ efforts to criminalize blacks who were insisting on their human dignity and right of self-determination. Bristow’s personal interviews with survivors and her meticulous documentation move beyond journalist Tim Spofford’s un-footnoted 2011 Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings at Jackson State College.
VERDICT For readers intent on social change, Bristow’s chronicle of events and analysis of developments, particularly the contest over the shootings’ meaning, palpably demonstrate how much historical memory matters.

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