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Steeped in the Blood of Racism

Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College

Professor Nancy K. Bristow

Publication Date - May 2020

ISBN: 9780190215378

320 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock


Minutes after midnight on May 15, 1970, white members of the Jackson city police and the Mississippi Highway Patrol opened fire on young people in front of a women's dormitory at Jackson State College, a historically black college in Jackson, Mississippi, discharging "buckshot, rifle slugs, a submachine gun, carbines with military ammunition, and two 30.06 rifles loaded with armor-piercing bullets." Twenty-eight seconds later two young people lay dead, another 12 injured. Taking place just ten days after the killings at Kent State, the attack at Jackson State never garnered the same level of national attention and was chronically misunderstood as similar in cause. This book reclaims this story and situates it in the broader history of the struggle for African American freedom in the civil rights and black power eras.

The book explores the essential role of white supremacy in causing the shootings and shaping the aftermath. By 1970, even historically conservative campuses such as Jackson State, where an all-white Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning had long exercised its power to control student behavior, were beginning to feel the impact of the movements for African American freedom. Though most of the students at Jackson State remained focused not on activism but their educations, racial consciousness was taking hold. It was this campus police attacked. Acting on racial animus and with impunity, the shootings reflected both traditional patterns of repression and the new logic and rhetoric of "law and order," with its thinly veiled racial coding.

In the aftermath, the victims and their survivors struggled unsuccessfully to find justice. Despite multiple investigative commissions, two grand juries and a civil suit brought by students and the families of the dead, the law and order narrative proved too powerful. No officers were charged, no restitution was paid, and no apologies were offered. The shootings were soon largely forgotten except among the local African American community, the injured victimized once more by historical amnesia born of the unwillingness to acknowledge the essential role of race in causing the violence.


  • Publishing on the 50th anniversary of the shootings at Jackson State University.
  • The fullest narration of the tragic shooting of black college students that has been less remembered than the Kent State shootings the same month.
  • Based on interviews with students, law enforcement, and others involved in the incident.
  • Examines an incident of state violence against people of color, an ongoing national issue.

About the Author(s)

Nancy Bristow is Professor of History at the University of Puget Sound. She is the author of American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic (OUP, 2012) and Making Men Moral: Social Engineering during the Great War.


"Crisp, readable....Steeped in the Blood of Racism is a clarion call to acknowledge Jackson State's signal place in U.S. culture and, more importantly, to better examine how discourses of structural racism create the conditions that enable state violence and the factors that shape its apprehension and remembrance." -- David Kieran, Journal of American History

"Steeped in the Blood of Racism is a luminous revelation. Nancy K. Bristow's groundbreaking book represents a remarkable and long overdue history of the Jackson State shootings and their critical importance to the way we understand the Black Power era and our own. A must read." -- Peniel E. Joseph, author of The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr

"In this meticulous reconstruction of the May 15, 1970 shooting at Jackson State University in Mississippi, Nancy Bristow offers a compelling account of the events of that day and their subsequent erasure from American national memory. Mischaracterized as another 'Kent State' or dismissed through a dangerous law and order narrative, the shootings at Jackson State were instead part of a much longer history of white supremacist violence directed at the black community. Steeped in the Blood of Racism is an important book that demonstrates why this shooting has been so easily forgotten and why it is so important that it be remembered." -- Renee Romano, Oberlin College

"Finally we have an honest, deeply researched, searing account of the police killings of two Black students at Jackson State. Yes, Mississippi Goddamn! But sadly, the impunity of law enforcement for antiblack violence remains a nationwide crisis." -- Martha Biondi, author of The Black Revolution on Campus

"For readers intent on social change, Bristow's chronicle of events and analysis of developments, particularly the contest over the shootings' meaning, palpably demonstrate how much historical memory matters." -- Library Journal

"Bristow's erudite and evocative text on the Jackson State massacre is an important and essential addition to the library of books on the 1960s and 1970s in the United States." -- Counterpunch

Table of Contents

    Introduction: "They're taking these scars away"
    Chapter One: "A well conceived scheme to maintain segregation": Jackson State College and the Struggle for Freedom
    Chapter Two: "A revolution in our books": Civil Rights, Black Power, and a Changing Campus
    Chapter Three: "Buckshot, rifle slugs, a submachine gun": The Shootings at Jackson State College
    Chapter Four: "An open season on Negroes": The Struggles over the Aftermath
    Chapter Five: "The law says they can do it, and they did it": The Civil Suit and the Triumph of the Law and Order Perspective
    Chapter Six: "Largely unknown to the public": Race, Law and Order, and the Struggle over Memory
    Conclusion: "It was not a story to pass on": The Ongoing Trauma of State Violence

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