Susie Erenrich
Speech on May 4, 2001
Kent State University

I am not from Mississippi and I am not Black. I am not going to pretend that I actually know what happened shortly past midnight on May 15, 1970 when the Mississippi Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers opened fire on the Jackson State college campus. Or how it felt to all of those students when 230 bullets riddled that campus in a matter of thirty seconds. Or how the families of Phillip Gibbs, a twenty-one year old pre-law student from Ripley, Mississippi and James Earl Green, a senior at Jim Hill High School in Jackson, reacted when they heard the news that they were dead. Or try to convey how the countless others, who were wounded by the fusillade, and the eyewitnesses were traumatized. So why am I standing at this podium? What gives me the right to represent these students? And why should a white woman from Pittsburgh, PA even care about some event that happened thirty-one years ago?

In 1975, when I was a freshman at Kent State University, I joined a new student group on campus, the May 4th Task Force. It was there that I first became familiar with the names Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green. I marched around this campus, on more occasions than I would like to remember,saying, LONG LIVE THE  SPIRIT OF KENT AND JACKSON STATE. But at the time, I never really understood what it meant. l wasn't a history major; and even if I was, I would have only been introduced to a Eurocentric view of the world, with the exception of learning a segment of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, I Have A Dream  Speech during the shortest and coldest month of the year.

It took fifteen years and an invitation to edit an anthology for the twentieth anniversary until the Jackson State story began to sink in. When I started my research for the book, there was little documentation on the Mississippi incident and what did exist was laden with untruths. For instance, every source said the shootings occurred on May 14th. Some thought one person died, several said three and a few actually got it right. When it came to the calculation of wounded students, the numbers again were totally inaccurate. Vernon Steve Weakley, who was shot in the leg, told me that there were more than fifty, but due to fear of reprisals, the students treated themselves and remained silent. As a result, I only located a handful of people and there was disproportionate attention given to the Jackson section of the book. Out of twenty-nine participants, only four were from Mississippi. When the publication was released, my friend and colleague, Tom Grace, said that I should be proud of my efforts because it was the first time that Jackson State had really been represented, with the exception of a book done by Tim Spofford, titled, Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings At Jackson State. My pride in doing the book, however, was tempered by the inadequate representation of the Jackson tragedy. I was disappointed and the imbalance was very unsettling.

One year later, I was doing a graduate research paper on the music of the Civil Rights Movement. While going through old Broadsides, a topical song magazine of the 1960s, I ran across an article written by Bob Cohen, the director of the Mississippi Caravan of Music He was discussing his experiences during Freedom Summer 1964. 1 had no idea what that was. It could have been a summer camp. I never realized that what happened at Jackson in 1970 was not an isolated incident, but a continuation of the racist violence that had been perpetuated throughout the state.

At that moment, I decided to devise an intensive national project on the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement where participants could document their memories and stories in a non-commercial, unrevised and uncensored format. it took me eight years to complete the 56- 'O During that period, I had hundreds of conversations with the ninety people who contributed. It was through those interactions that I finally began to put the Jackson State shootings into perspective.

One of the most courageous women that I spoke with was Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley. Her fourteen year old son from Chicago, Emmett Louis Till, was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi. In the twilight,hours of August 28, 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam dragged him out of bed, made him lie face down in the back of a pick -up truck, took him to a tool house, pistol-whipped him, drove him to a gin near Boyle, where he was forced to lift a heavy fan onto the truck. Then they drove to the Tallahatchie River, made him carry the fan to the riverbank and strip. Milam shot him in the head. Bryant helped tie the fan around his neck and they dumped him in the river. A modern day lynching for supposedly whistling at a white woman.

Emmett's mother held a five-day wake where six hundred thousand people were allowed to view his mutilated body. She believes her son's death contributed to the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted after an all white jury had been advised: "I know that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you will set these men free." The foreman said that it wouldn't have taken them one hour and five minutes to bring in a verdict, but they were told to make it look good. So they drank soda water and told jokes to pass the time.

Jack Newfield, a columnist for the New York Post, introduced me to the legacy of Herbert Lee, a fifty-two year old father of nine from Amite County. He had attended voter-registration classes and attempted to register at the courthouse in Liberty, Mississippi. On September 21, 1961, E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi state legislature, whose property was adjacent to Lee's shot him in the brain with a .38 caliber revolver. It happened about noon in front of a dozen witnesses. Lee, wearing his farmer's overalls and field boots, was sitting in the cab of his pick-up truck, and fell out into the gutter when he was shot. For two hours his body lay in a pool of blood, uncovered and swarmed over by insects. A coroner's jury in Liberty met and ruled that Lee was killed in self-defense.

Myrlie Evers graciously talked with me about her husband Medgar Wiley Evers. He had served his country in World War Two, only to return home and find that he was still considered less than a first class citizen. He was still addressed as "boy"; he could not vote; although he paid taxes, he could not use public facilities such as libraries, swimming pools, parks, and recreational centers; he could not try on clothes or shoes at department stores or eat in restaurants; he could only sit in the "buzzard roost" at movie theaters; housing and jobs were sub-standard; and quality education was a joke. Medgar was a pioneer in the Civil Rights Movement. As the first NAACP field secretary in Mississippi, he was on the firing line when there were no cameras, no media to cover his bravery,
when so many were afraid to be seen with or near him. He was the first African American to apply for admission to the University of Mississippi (law school); the first to file a suit to integrate the public schools of Mississippi; the first to investigate and secure witnesses in the Emmett Till murder; the first to boldly challenge a Mississippi system designed to forever keep "darkies in their place." For this, Medgar was assassinated in front of his home in view of his wife and children in the early morning of June 12, 1963. His accused killer, Byron de la Beckwith was found guilty after a third trial on February 5, 1994. He recently died while in prison.

Jerry Mitchell, an award winning reporter for The CIarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, gave me a copy of Horace Doyle Barnette's FBI confession concerning his participation in the June 22, 1964 murders of three civil rights workers; James Chaney, a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) volunteer from Meridian, Mississippi, Michael Schwerner a CORE worker from New York, and Andrew Goodman, a New York volunteer. They had joined other local Civil Rights workers and approximately 1000 northern college students in an ambitious project called Freedom Summer. Barnette told the FBI, that Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price stopped the workers' 1963 Ford Fairlane Station Wagon in the middle of the night after they had been released from jail on some trumped up charge. Price forced them into his car and drove to some gravel road. They were joined by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Wayne, one of the Klan members (Barnette didn't know his last name) pulled Michael Schwerner out of the car and said, "Are you that nigger lover"  and Schwerner said, "Sir, I know just how you feel." At that point, Schwerner was shot. Then Wayne went back to Price's car and got Andrew Goodman and shot him. By this time, Jim Jordan, another Klan member, said, "save one for me." He pulled James Chaney out of the car and shot him. Barnette said that he did not remember how many times Jordan shot him. He does remember Jordan saying, "You didn't leave me anything but a nigger, but at least I killed me a nigger." The three civil rights workers were then put into the back of their 1963 Ford Wagon and driven to a dam site in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was about 2:00am. Their buried bodies were found on August 4, 1964. According to Julian Bond, one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), by summer's end, four project workers had been killed; four people had been critically wounded; eighty workers had been beaten; there had been over one thousand arrests; thirty-seven churches had been bombed or burned; and thirty black businesses or homes had been burned.

Due to time constraints, the last person that I am going to talk about today, is Benjamin Brown, a Mississippi civil rights worker. On May 11, 1967, he was shot and killed by the local police during a demonstration and disturbance near the campus of Jackson State College. He was twenty-two years old. According to a report filed by Alvin Bronstein, the attorney attained by Brown's wife and mother, eyewitnesses saw him "come out of a restaurant on Lynch Street, where he had gone to eat, a few seconds before he was shot in the back; that he was on the sidewalk and the people skirmishing with the police were in the street; that he was not involved in any demonstration during the brief period prior to his having been killed, and that a number of police officers aimed and shot their guns directly at Negroes, rather than over their heads."

Some things have changed in Mississippi since the 1970 Jackson State shootings. Vincent Harding, a Civil Rights Movement activist pointed out, "if you don't think that things have changed, then you just don't know what had gone before." The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement has also served as a catalyst for other social and political movements which followed; the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, the May 4th Movement, the Environmental Movement, the American Indian Central American Sanctuary Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and most recently, the outcry against globalization.

My job is still not finished. I have embarked on another major project; this time with 120 participants. The title of the anthology is, Too Many Martyrs: Student Massacres At Orangeburg, Kent & Jackson State. On February 8, 1968, law enforcement officers opened fire on the campus of South Carolina State College at Orangeburg. When the shooting stopped, Delano Middleton, Henry Smith and -Samuel Hammond, Jr. were dead. Twenty-seven others were seriously wounded. Another example of inexcusable, unnecessary and unwarranted force used against students because they wanted to integrate a bowling alley.

You may still be wondering why I am giving this speech and why I care so much about preserving the people's history of the United States. To answer this question, I will end with a quote from Ella Baker, one of the most important unsung heroines of the Civil   Rights Movement. "We who believe in freedom can not rest until the killing of black men, a black mother's son, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens."

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