James Earl Green, who was killed by law enforcement on May 15, 1970. (Photo special to JSU)
By L.A. WARREN
Family members of one of the young men killed during the tragic 1970 shooting on the Jackson State College campus gathered during the annual “For My People Awards” in January to reflect on the short life of their 17-year-old sibling.
At the event that coincides with JSU’s MLK Birthday celebration, Mattie Hull, 75, the eldest of nine siblings, described James Earl Green as a “sweet child. He loved his sisters and brothers. He loved to share with others.”
Hull accepted the For My People award on behalf of Green, the fifth of the siblings. The award given by the Margaret Walker Center honors individuals, living or dead, and institutions for preserving African American history and culture in the U.S.
Hull recalled the fateful event that occurred just after midnight as Green headed home from his job. “We were living on Dalton Circle. We had to walk through the Jackson State campus.”
On that night after Earl had not arrived home at his usual time, one of his brothers asked about Earl’s whereabouts, she said.
“Earl hadn’t made it home yet?” Hull said, quoting her brother. She replied, no.
“My other brother was a man of few words. But he walked around Jackson State’s campus again looking for Earl because he had heard a commotion going on.”
When Earl’s brother returned home the second time, he asked about Earl’s whereabouts again and grew more alarmed. Hull quoted him asking her, “Didn’t you hear all that shooting that was going on at Jackson State.”
Hull responded, no.
For a third time, Earl’s brother walked around the campus in another desperate search. Eventually, he would learn that two males had been killed.
“The victims were Earl and (Phillips L.) Gibbs. I was in a state of shock. I was never a big emotional person. But, with this situation, it took a while to get over the initial shock,” Hull said.
One of Hull’s younger sisters, Gloria Green McCray, remembers Earl as “a good child who had the love of God in his heart. I’ve never heard him say even one curse word.”
McCray said at the time of Earl’s death she was 16, and Earl was 17.
“Earl had the love of all people, and it wasn’t about race. Even though we went through a lot of racial injustice, it meant so much to him that he loved all people. There were so many people at his funeral service. The Rev. Jessie Jackson gave his speech about I Am Somebody.”
Numerous national political figures from Washington, D.C. and elsewhere came to Jackson to pay their respects, she said.
McCray reflected: “The night they killed Earl they also killed his dream. MLK had a dream, but my brother also had a dream.”
McCray said Earl was an average student and a great athlete. “He ran track and was one of the best. He was called ‘Wing feet’ as a nickname because he moved so fast that it seemed like he had wings on his feet. Sadly, he was killed two weeks before his graduation.”
McCray said Earl was planning for his future after his graduation from Jim Hill High School and had talked about attending UCLA and competing in the Olympics.
McCray named her son, James Wesley McCray, 33, after the uncle he never met. While in high school, the nephew would follow in his uncle’s footsteps by attending Jim Hill High School and running track. “My son has that humble spirit just like Earl,” McCray said.
McCray said his brother’s other goals were to get married and to become a father. Although none of those happened, she said, “I thank JSU for keeping his name alive. My family and I are so grateful.”
An annual commemoration occurs each spring to pay homage to James Earl Green and Phillips L. Gibbs, the 21-year-old JSU pre-law major who also was killed on May 15, 1970. After JSU closed the section of Lynch Street that runs through the campus, the area was named the Gibbs- Green Memorial Plaza, and that’s where students gather for hotspots and fraternities and sororities display their Greek symbols.
The two slain students will be honored with posthumous honorary degrees on a date to be determined.
McCray said, “I’m looking forward to this year’s graduation as they receive the highest degree that a university can bestow, an honorary doctorate. I am so grateful that the Margaret Walker Center thought enough of Gibbs and Green, who both made the ultimate sacrifice like Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and others. I’m hoping this year that those who have not heard of them will come to know James Earl Green and Phillip Lafayette Gibbs.”
Hull also expressed her appreciation to JSU for honoring all the victims. She addressed her family’s dismay with how the deadly cases were handled at the time and bemoans the insensitivity of law enforcement during that turbulent era.
“The city police and the state of Mississippi never came by our home to tell us that our child was dead. Yet, we had dignitaries visit from all over the country to express their sorrow, but no one locally in power,” Hull said.
Although disappointed, Hull said she refused to live her life trapped in the past and fueled by hatred.
“I’m sure I have anger. With me being a spiritual person, I had to pray dearly and strongly for God to remove any bitterness so that I would not carry that in my spirit. It can consume you, and all you think about is revenge. And that’s not a good way to live,” said Hull, who looks forward to having her brother’s college degree bestowed posthumously.