Tuesday, March 30, 2021

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

Just after midnight on May 15, 1970 two young black men, James Green and Phillip Gibbs, were killed by police fire on the Jackson State College campus in Mississippi. Several other students were wounded and a women's dorm at the historically black college was left riddled with bullet holes. 

While often likened to the killings at Kent State University (see my post on When Truth Mattered by Robert Giles) on May 4 of the same year, the shootings at Jackson State were not the result of a Vietnam War protest, 

but rather another chapter in the long history of state violence against African Americans, a story inseparable from their identities as students attending a black college in the capital city of the nation's most racially repressive state.

 Roy Wilkins the national director of the NAACP stated in 1963 that 

There is no state with a record which approaches that of Mississippi in inhumanity, murder, brutality, and racial hatred. [It was] absolutely at the bottom of the list.

Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act six years before the shootings little had changed in Mississippi. And at Jackson State where "the administration, controlled by the state's all-white Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning, worked hard to keep the campus quiescent" even as a growing number of students and faculty were starting to protest. 

While there was local and national coverage of the event at the time, including reports in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and even an article in Playboy magazine the tragedy has largely been forgotten since, even as the shootings at Kent State University which happened less than two weeks earlier are remembered each year on its anniversary. There are other parallels with the Kent State shooting, including false reports of rock throwing and sniper fire before police opened fire.

Bristow's book places the shootings within the historical context of a state founded on enslavement, racism, segregation, and white supremacy.

Of particular interest to this blogger was that in 1961 students from another historically black institution, Tougaloo College "attempted to desegregate the downtown's white library with a 'study-in'" as part of a protest of the city's Civil War Centennial celebration.

The students began by visiting the local black library to request volumes they knew the branch did not hold before entering the white library to request those same books. The police were quick to arrive, arresting nine students...They spent the night in the city jail before being released on bail...On the evening following the "study-in" youth from around the city protested the arrest of the group they dubbed the "Tougaloo Nine". At Jackson State College perhaps as many as 800 students gathered outside the campus library...President Reddix attempted to disperse the students and was undone when they resisted. Eventually he was seen just "snatching students at random and shoving them toward a [campus] policeman or deal with orders to expel them".

Documents about the shootings can be found at the College archives, and on display at the library, but "they do not captivate attention as they once did". Even annual memorial events draw low attendance. Although largely forgotten by society at large, the victims still remember. They remember the loss of friends and family, and they live with their own wounds both physical and psychological. There was no justice for the victims of the Jackson State shootings. There were no indictments against any member of law enforcement present that night, and a civil case brought by five of the victims and their families found for the defendants. Although the decision was appealed and a three judge panel found that "the barrage of gunfire far exceeded the response that was appropriate" it was further determined that "despite their guilt, the state and local governments, their officials, and their law enforcement personnel were insulated by 'sovereign immunity', the doctrine protecting the state and its representatives from suits or any penalties that could result". This same doctrine is still in place today and what still allows law enforcement to murder people of color with impunity.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Beyond the Bright Sea - by Lauren Wolk

In the early twentieth century twelve-year-old Crow lives on an isolated island off of Cape Cod with Osh, who found her as a newborn in a boat. Their neighbor Miss Maggie is one of her few other companions. Curious about where she came from Crow asks questions and wonders why others decline to shake her hand, why she is refused admittance to the local school on Cuttyhunk, and why the librarian told Miss Maggie that if books were meant for Crow's hands then she could keep them rather than returning. Crow ultimately unravels the mystery of her origins and discovers her legacy when she learns about the patients in a hospital that was once located on a nearby island. 

The public library does have some information in its archives that Miss Maggie uses to help Crow do some research. They also find an address for a doctor who used to work in the hospital. Crow posts a letter for the first time when she writes to the doctor to see if she can find out more about where she came from.

While this is not a book I would normally pick up, it is the current selection for our One Book One Community program and I am looking forward to hearing the author speak next month.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Labor Day (the movie)

On Labor Day weekend 1987 a mysterious wounded man, Frank (Josh Brolin) coerces Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) into bringing him into their home. When Adele and Henry learn that Frank is an escaped convict they are understandably quite fearful at first, but as Stockholm syndrome kicks in the predictable love story ensues. Once Adele and Frank's lust takes over they manage to get Henry out of the house by sending him to the library to look up information on Prince Edward Island. Adele has heard it's lovely there and so they make a plan to escape New Hampshire together to build a life in PEI. (This is of course in the days when one didn't need a passport to go to Canada.) 

I have been unsuccessful in verifying that the gorgeous interior library scenes were filmed in Fairhaven, Massachusetts' gorgeous Millicent Library, but my husband and I are both convinced that they were. The imdb page for this film lists seventeen filming locations for this movie, sixteen of which are in Massachusetts.

We did not watch this movie on Labor Day, but we did watch it from our Fairhaven home on Pi Day (3.14). This film has a wonderfully sensuous peach-pie-making scene. I found out about the movie by googling "movies about pie". The library scene was a bonus.