(JACKSON, Miss.) — One tweet. One tweet about Jackson State University’s Golden Class of 1970 has gone viral on Twitter, the microblogging and social networking platform, receiving over 9,000 likes, 2,300 retweets and 5 million-plus impressions (views).
On Saturday, May 15, the tweet was posted during the Golden Class of 1970’s commencement ceremony and the 51st anniversary of the deaths of students Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Green.
The tweet read: “Finally, @JacksonStateU, the Golden Class of 1970 commencement ceremony is underway. Fifty-one years ago, a devastating tragedy prevented these graduates from walking the stage. But, TODAY, we honor them.”
Among the congratulatory tweets in response, many wanted to know why the graduates had to wait 51 years for an official ceremony.
@jamezmerise asked, “What’s the story behind this? I would love to know.”
A retweet by @Kalah_C summarizing the details of May 15, 1970, generated an additional 46,400 likes and almost 20,000 retweets.
“Social media is such a powerful tool, and the tweet is evidence of this. Unfortunately, there are many people who are not aware of the Gibbs/Green tragedy. But the popularity of that tweet has sparked intrigue and conversation amongst thousands,” said Kentrice Rush, digital media manager at JSU.
Underscoring Rush’s point, users began to reshare the story of what transpired that day, when police converged on Jackson State’s campus looking to quash students protesting racial division. The majority of witnesses contend there were no protests.
Nonetheless, state and local police fired more than 400 rounds into Alexander Hall, the women’s dormitory. Once the gunfire ceased, Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, a political science major, and Green, a Jim Hill High School student, lay dead. Twelve others were wounded.
The commencement ceremony was canceled for the class of 1970, and they received their degrees via mail.
Numerous people conveyed kind words.
@_manami said, “Omg. this is so beautiful.”
@Meccathagoat said, “Delayed not denied”
@Kandii_apple replied, “Story behind it is terrible, but this is beautiful.”
@AyaEneli said, “Powerful and still we rise.”
Many Twitter users expressed shock and dismay over the information. Others demanded to know why the story is not included in history books or classes.
@E_herreraaa said, “how did we not learn this in school?”
@Coolwitha_K responded, “They never talk about Jackson State…just Kent. This is dope.”
Their reactions spurred more retweets and Twitter conversations. Some tagged media outlets like BET requesting they tell the story. A couple of days later, BET posted an article about the Golden Class of 1970 commencement, where Gibbs and Green were awarded honorary doctorates of humane letters, posthumously.
However, it could very well be sheer coincidence.
Still, the tweet helped shed light on a historical event frequently neglected. It also further punctuates how social media can be a valuable storytelling platform and educational tool.
And, five days later, the tweet continues to be shared retelling the story of two unwilling martyrs, and a group of survivors, who finally received their pomp and circumstance.