MY 17TH BIRTHDAY was right around the corner when the shooting of peaceful Black students by white police occurred on the Jackson State College campus on May 15, 1970.  

As with a lot of people at the time, I lumped that terrible news of two young Black men being killed and 12 people injured with media accounts of other chaos taking place on other American colleges and universities since Richard Nixon announced on April 30 that America was expanding the war in Vietnam into Cambodia. Student protests at Kent State University on May 4 were met with gunfire by the Ohio National Guard, killing four and wounding nine. The rage everywhere about Cambodia now boiled over with a sense the government had declared war on dissenters.

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Yet I had no idea at the time that what happened at Jackson State College in Mississippi wasn’t part of this particular us-vs.-them scenario. It was an atrocity so much like those of thousands of other attacks on Black Americans over hundreds of years, since the nation was founded in part on brutal slave labor. 

But now I know the story of Jackson State, thanks to University of Puget Sound History Chair Nancy Bristow. She has written a tremendous book on the subject of the 1970 shooting at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University). The book is titled “Steeped in the Blood of Racism.” (I write about that book in my article in this week’s Pacific cover story.) The opportunity to write about Bristow and her work filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge. How was I to know that through hundreds of twists and turns in life and career, I would eventually meet her and finally know the truth?