Soul Sessions Podcast: Dr. Robby Luckett
On this episode, we hear from Dr. Robby Luckett, professor for the Department of History, Director for the Margaret Walker Center, and the Director of the COFO Civil Rights Education Center at Jackson State University.
Dr. Luckett is a historian and advocate for promoting the City With Soul’s Civil Rights history.
Note: Soul Sessions is produced as a podcast first and designed to be listened to. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes the emotion and inflection meant to be conveyed by human voice. Our transcripts are created using human transcribers, but may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Yolanda: This is Soul Sessions, conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. I'm your guest host, Yolanda Clay-Moore, bringing you a look at the people, places, and events that make us the City With Soul.And on today's show, Dr. Robby Luckett, Professor for the Department of History, Director for Margaret Walker Center, and the COFO Civil Rights Education Center at Jackson State University. Dr. Luckett is a wonderful historian and an advocate for promoting the City With Soul's civil rights history.
Yolanda: Dr. Luckett, thanks for being with us today. First of all, those who don't know you, just tell us a little bit about yourself.
Robby: I'm Professor of History and Director of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University. I am a civil rights historian by training. I've been at Jackson State for 13 years now, about to start year 14. I teach civil rights history, African American history.
I'm originally from Mississippi, born and raised; product of public schools here. I left for college and graduate school, and came back to take a job in 2009 at Jackson State, and have been here ever since. Got three kids who are seven, nine, and 11, that keep me busy when I'm not at my other full-time job.
Yolanda: As I think about the history, the civil rights history ... We're so rich in civil rights history. And by you being a historian, how often do you get chance to tell the world about what we have to offer here in Jackson, Mississippi?
Robby: Well, I'm lucky that I get to do that on a daily basis. Particularly through my work at the Margaret Walker Center, which is a Black Studies research center, archive and museum that also operates the COFO Civil Rights Education Center at Jackson State, which is a really beautiful, special place.
It was in 1964, the state headquarters for the Council of Federated Organizations. And it was the place, the site that Freedom Summer in 1964 was operated out of. It's really hallowed ground.
You go in and there are images of Dr. King, there are images of Bob Moses, of all these great activists on the walls, in the room that you're standing in. And you really get a sense of history and place.
And we're lucky to have people from all over the world who come to visit COFO. Now that we're emerging from the pandemic, we're starting to see those people come back in a very strong way.
Yolanda: I was saying off of recording that I crashed one of your presentations recently. I had a group of journalists with me, and it was just a wonderful, wonderful addition to the itinerary that I had planned.
Robby: Yeah. And we were grateful to see you that day. We're always grateful and happy to have visitors come of all ages, from literally across the country and around the world who want to learn about the history of Mississippi, want to learn about the history of that space, who want to stand in that space. There's something very powerful about just being in a place where you know so much history took place ... so much important American history.
You know, we think about the state of American democracy. There really were American heroes who were taking their lives in their own hands to do work there to guarantee that this country lived up to its ideals. And it's just a powerful thing to see and to be around, and to learn about those stories and to get to tell about it.
Again, now that we're emerging from the pandemic, we hope people will flood COFO Center and the Margaret Walker Center. And frankly, the whole corridor here at Jackson State that, in many ways, was the organizational home for the civil rights movement in Mississippi. All the major organizations had their offices here, including Medgar Evers and the NAACP. And the state NAACP still has its state offices there.
Yolanda: I mean, it doesn't get any richer than that, as far as I'm concerned. I know that you do have a lot of history there at Jackson State University. And one of the things that's coming up is the Gibbs-Green Memorial Plaza. Just tell us a little bit about what will be going on for that anniversary.
Robby: So in 1970, Jackson City Police and Mississippi Highway Patrol marched on our campus late into the evening of a Thursday, May 14th, 1970. They marched onto our campus in full riot gear. They were accompanied by the Thompson Tank, which was a fully armored personnel carrier that the segregationist, the mayor of Jackson, Allen Thompson, had purchased ahead of Freedom Summer in 1964.
They came in the middle of the night. There was nothing going on. They approached a women's dormitory. There were students hanging out at the women's dormitory, just close to midnight. And they turned onto Alexander Hall, that dorm, and they opened fire.
They fired over 500 rounds of ammunition in 28 seconds. Miraculously, they only murdered two young people. They shot 12 others, but dozens and dozens of others were injured. You can imagine that much ammunition, the flying brick and glass; just the explosion of debris injured a bunch of people. Then there's the psychological trauma for the people who lived through it.
So for the better part of the past decade, the Margaret Walker Center has been responsible for commemorating what took place on our campus in 1970. Really remembering the lives of the people who were lost, and celebrating the lives of the people who were still with us. And really looking at them as survivors, not as victims, but as people who've had remarkable lives of importance, of courage and dignity.
Robby: So coming up Saturday, May the 14th, which is the 52nd anniversary of the Gibbs-Green tragedy; Gibbs-Green comes from the names of the two young men who died that day. Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, who was a junior political science major at Jackson State, and James Earl Green, who was a senior at nearby Jim Hill high school.
So we'll be commemorating that here at Jackson State at 11:00 a.m. We actually are going to be opening a new exhibit that we just produced about the civil rights movement here on the Lynch Street Corridor from 1961 to 1970.
It's a story that we don't talk a lot about in terms of the history of Jackson, the history of Mississippi, and everything that took place on about a three-block area from Alexander Hall down to the COFO Center. That really we're hoping to lift up, and are looking forward to the launching of that exhibit.
So we'll have an official opening of the exhibit. We will have our traditional wreath laying at the site of the 1970 shootings that is right here at Alexander Hall. And we'll have a reception afterwards as well.
Yolanda: Well Robby, I actually have a personal connection to that story. My uncle, Captain M.R. Stringer, was over security during that tragedy. So to hear some of the personal recounts that he had sharing with our family, it's something that I'll never forget. And always want to ensure that I keep their memories alive.
Robby: That's really powerful. I tell you, the stories of all these people ... It's become something incredibly important to me. I've gotten to know the families of Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green very well. Then some of the people who were injured, who were shot, many of the survivors ... just getting to know them and their stories.
And the Class of 1970 at the time, they had not had commencement yet. They didn't get to have a graduation. They just got their diplomas mailed to them. And last May, a year ago, we organized a special commencement ceremony just for them on the Plaza, here at Jackson State in front of Alexander Hall.
Robby: Their president, Dr. John A. Peoples, who's still alive, was there as their commencement speaker. And they got to walk across the stage in cap and gown for the very first time and get their diplomas.
So this work, every year, it's some of the most important work we do year round. It's an incredibly important part of our history at Jackson State, our legacy, and the legacy for our students, right? And actually, for everybody in this community.
Yolanda: All right, Dr. Luckett: tell us what makes Jackson a special place?
Robby: For me as a historian, it is a place where history is still very much a living thing. You can actually see how the past continues to impact the present here. And how so many people in this city are very conscious of that, and are intentional about remembering the past. And using the past to help us learn about ourselves, and try to make this place a better city, a better state, and a better community for all of us. I think that's incredibly special and powerful.
And you just look at the resources around the city that enables us to do that. COFO, Margaret Walker Center ... That's just part of the puzzle there. I'm grateful for them and for what we get to do, but it really is where that history and that past meets the present.
Yolanda: We certainly appreciate everything that you offer to our city, and information that you've shared with us today: that we can celebrate the legacy and the history that we have. I mean, the rich history that we have here in the City With Soul.
So again, we thank you, Dr. Robby Luckett, Professor for the Department of History at Jackson State University, and Director for the Margaret Walker Center and COFO Center at Jackson State University.
Thank you again so much for your time.
Robby: Thanks for having me. Glad to do it.
Yolanda: Soul Sessions is a production of Visit Jackson. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettis and Rickey Thigpen. To learn more about our organization and mission, head to visitjackson.com. I'm your guest host, Yolanda Clay-Moore, and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.