In the months leading up to May 1970, Jackson State students staged a series of protests over their treatment at the hands of white motorists speeding through campus on John R. Lynch Street. Those white drivers were notorious for shouting racial epithets, throwing things from their cars, accelerating towards students crossing the street, and hitting at least one student.
By the late-1960s, the tenor of these protests was more aligned with the burgeoning Black Power Movement than the non-violent, direct action campaigns of the modern civil rights movement. In a more strident fashion than ever before, Jackson State students called for the closing of John R. Lynch Street through the campus, among other demands.
On the night of May 14, 1970, no students were protesting on campus. A large dump truck had been parked in the middle of John R. Lynch Street, and an unknown person had set it on fire. Before responding to the fire, Jackson city police and Mississippi highway patrolmen responded in full riot gear, approaching midnight. They were accompanied by the “Thompson Tank,” a fully armored personnel carrier purchased by Allen Thompson, the segregationist mayor of Jackson, ahead of what he termed the “invasion” of civil rights activists during Freedom Summer in 1964.
The police and highway patrol turned on Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory. They later claimed that a sniper had fired on them from the 4th floor, a claim fully debunked. Eyewitnesses have said that a student threw a bottle at the police, and, when it broke at their feet, they opened fire, spraying nearly 400 rounds of bullets and buckshot over 28 seconds in every direction.