May 15, 2009

Jackson State anniversary

Posted in History, Racial issues at 3:15 pm by The Lizard Queen

Late last night/early this morning (at approximately 12:05 am) marked the 39th anniversary of the shootings at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University). I first learned about this event when I was in high school; it was given about as much attention as the Kent State shootings (which is not to say very much; the 20th century, or at least the post-WWII era, was shoehorned into the last few weeks of school). If this thread over at Crooks & Liars is any indication, however, it seems I’m in the minority insofar as having heard about the Jackson State shootings is concerned, so I wanted to take some time to discuss the event.  You can get a thumbnail sketch of what happened from Wikipedia, through which I came across this archived site, which appears to originally have been on the JSU website (please note that there’s at least one paragraph and one photo in there that are potentially triggering).

In a nutshell, what happened is that escalating tensions relating to the Vietnam war and the invasion of Cambodia, race relations in the US and especially in the South, and the shootings at Kent State University led to protests, then to a riot on the Jackson State campus on the night of May 14, 1970.  At approximately 12:05 am, police opened fire on a knot of students gathered in front of a dormitory.  Two young men — Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a Jackson State junior and the father of an 18-month-old son, and James Earl Green, 17, a student at nearby Jim Hill High School — were killed, and twelve other Jackson State students were injured.  No police officers were injured.  The students claim that the officers were not provoked.  The event was investigated, but no arrests were made in connection with the two young men’s deaths.

In all honesty, it’s hard not to feel like a big part of why people remember the tragedy at Kent State and not the one at Jackson State is simple racism — perhaps unconscious racism, but racism nonetheless.  Phillip Gibbs and James Green deserve to be remembered just as much as Alison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder do.  The spring of 1970 was a dark period in our nation’s history, and it needs to be remembered, and I say that not because I’m a right-wing caricature of a left-wing anti-American pinko hippie*, but because I believe that our country needs to learn from events like the May 1970 campus shootings in order to move in the direction of living up to its moniker of “sweet land of liberty.”

(*indeed, one might argue that the attitude that protesting the actions of the US government and/or dissenting in other ways makes one anti-American is part of what led to the Jackson State and Kent State shootings in the first place…)

A more detailed account, from the archived site referenced above, is below the fold: Read the rest of this entry »

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May 6, 2009

Hump Day Poetry: Carol Ann Duffy

Posted in Poetry at 1:58 pm by The Lizard Queen

Carol Ann Duffy is the newest Poet Laureate of the UK — the first woman to hold that post, the first lesbian, the first Scot. Very cool all around.

Mrs Lazarus

I had grieved. I had wept for a night and a day
over my loss, ripped the cloth I was married in
from my breasts, howled, shrieked, clawed
at the burial stones until my hands bled, retched
his name over and over again, dead, dead.

Gone home. Gutted the place. Slept in a single cot,
widow, one empty glove, white femur
in the dust, half. Stuffed dark suits
into black bags, shuffled in a dead man’s shoes,
noosed the double knot of a tie around my bare neck,

gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself. I learnt
the Stations of Bereavement, the icon of my face
in each bleak frame; but all those months
he was going away from me, dwindling
to the shrunk size of a snapshot, going,

going. Till his name was no longer a certain spell
for his face. The last hair on his head
floated out from a book. His scent went from the house.
The will was read. See, he was vanishing
to the small zero held by the gold of my ring.

Then he was gone. Then he was legend, language;
my arm on the arm of the schoolteacher-the shock
of a man’s strength under the sleeve of his coat-
along the hedgerows. But I was faithful
for as long as it took. Until he was memory.

So I could stand that evening in the field
in a shawl of fine air, healed, able
to watch the edge of the moon occur to the sky
and a hare thump from a hedge; then notice
the village men running towards me, shouting,

behind them the women and children, barking dogs,
and I knew. I knew by the sly light
on the blacksmith’s face, the shrill eyes
of the barmaid, the sudden hands bearing me
into the hot tang of the crowd parting before me.

He lived. I saw the horror on his face.
I heard his mother’s crazy song. I breathed
his stench; my bridegroom in his rotting shroud,
moist and dishevelled from the grave’s slack chew,
croaking his cuckold name, disinherited, out of his time.

—Carol Ann Duffy, 2001