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Two Dead in Mississippi: Black Power, Vietnam, Memory, and the 1970 Jackson State Shootings

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McGeorge, Heather. “Two Dead in Mississippi: Black Power, Vietnam, Memory, and the 1970 Jackson State Shootings.” (Under the direction of Dr. Katherine Mellen Charron.)

This thesis explores the 1970 shootings at Jackson State College in Mississippi to illuminate the intersections between American foreign policy, the Black Power Movement, and significant silences in the nation’s collective memory. The Jackson State shootings, in which two black students died, followed just ten days after shootings at Kent State University killed four white students in Ohio. This study demonstrates that African American students at Jackson State, like white students at Kent, objected to Nixon’s escalation of the war in Southeast Asia in the spring of 1970; however, they framed their arguments using the racially-charged rhetoric that was a defining feature of the Black Power Movement. Where Kent students protested a misguided crusade against communism, the students in Jackson asserted that Vietnam constituted yet another example of white America’s racist desire to dominate the colored races the world over. This work also provides an in-depth examination of media coverage of the Jackson State shootings and finds that it depicted the event as secondary to events in Ohio. Understanding the ways in which Kent State has become the country’s iconic shared reference point for Vietnam Era protest, while the shootings in Jackson have slipped into historical oblivion, challenges traditional mainstream narratives of the Civil Rights Movement that claim its goals had been achieved following the passage of federal legislation. Recovering the role of Black Power at Jackson State, moreover, helps to explain its absence from the nation’s collective memory. Linking race, memory, and power sheds light on the racially based discrimination that has persisted in the wake of this defining moment of the freedom struggle.

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