By Jueseppi B.
Weekend Ceremonies Commemorate 1970 Kent State University Shootings
By JIM LETIZIA
Kent State University will pause this weekend to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the shooting deaths of four students during a protest of the Vietnam War.
Panel discussions are scheduled on campus tomorrow to reflect on the May Fourth, 1970 shootings and the evolution of political activism. An annual candlelight vigil in the parking lot where the students were killed by Ohio National Guard troops begins Saturday night and runs into noon on Sunday, when commemoration ceremonies begin.
Thank you WBCE.ORG.
The Kent State shootings (also known as the May 4 massacre or the Kent State massacre) occurred at Kent State University in the US city of Kent, Ohio, and involved the shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.
Some of the students who were shot had been protesting against the Cambodian Campaign, which President Richard Nixon announced during a television address on April 30. Other students who were shot had been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.
There was a significant national response to the shootings: hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools closed throughout the United States due to a student strike of four million students, and the event further affected public opinion—at an already socially contentious time—over the role of the United States in the Vietnam War.
Kent State Remembered
Published on Apr 26, 2012
One of the most tragic days in American history is described by Rita Rubin Long, a student on the Kent State Campus on May 4, 1970, when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on an anti-Vietnam War rally and killed four young people.
Richard Nixon had been elected President of the United States in 1968, promising to end the Vietnam War. In November 1969, the My Lai Massacre by American troops of between 347 and 504 civilians in a Vietnamese village was exposed, leading to increased public opposition in the United States to the war. The nature of the draft also changed in December 1969, with the first draft lottery since World War II. This eliminated deferments allowed in the prior draft process, affecting many college students and teachers.
The war had appeared to be winding down throughout 1969, so the new invasion of Cambodia angered those who believed it only exacerbated the conflict. Across the country, campuses erupted in protests in what Time called “a nation-wide student strike”, setting the stage for the events of early May 1970.
Thursday, April 30
Friday, May 1
At Kent State University a demonstration with about 500 students was held on May 1 on the Commons (a grassy knoll in the center of campus traditionally used as a gathering place for rallies or protests). As the crowd dispersed to attend classes by 1 pm, another rally was planned for May 4 to continue the protest of the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. There was wide spread anger, and many protesters issued a call to “bring the war home.” A group of history students buried the U.S. Constitution to symbolize that Nixon had killed it.
Trouble exploded in town around midnight when people left a bar and began throwing beer bottles at police cars and breaking downtown store fronts. In the process they broke a bank window, setting off an alarm. The news spread quickly and it resulted in several bars closing early to avoid trouble. Before long, more people had joined the vandalism.
By the time police arrived, a crowd of 120 had already gathered. Some people from the crowd had already lit a small bonfire in the street. The crowd appeared to be a mix of bikers, students, and transient people. A few members of the crowd began to throw beer bottles at the police, and then started yelling obscenities at them. The entire Kent police force was called to duty as well as officers from the county and surrounding communities. Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom declared a state of emergency, called Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes‘ office to seek assistance, and ordered all of the bars closed. The decision to close the bars early increased the size of the angry crowd. Police eventually succeeded in using tear gas to disperse the crowd from downtown, forcing them to move several blocks back to the campus.
Saturday, May 2
City officials and downtown businesses received threats while rumors proliferated that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and university. Mayor Satrom met with Kent city officials and a representative of the Ohio Army National Guard. Following the meeting Satrom made the decision to call Governor Rhodes and request that the National Guard be sent to Kent, a request that was granted. Because of the rumors and threats, Satrom believed that local officials would not be able to handle future disturbances. The decision to call in the National Guard was made at 5:00 pm, but the guard did not arrive into town that evening until around 10 pm. A large demonstration was already under way on the campus, and the campus Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) building was burning.
The arsonists were never apprehended and no one was injured in the fire. More than a thousand protesters surrounded the building and cheered its burning. Several Kent firemen and police officers were struck by rocks and other objects while attempting to extinguish the blaze. Several fire engine companies had to be called in because protesters carried the fire hose into the Commons and slashed it. The National Guard made numerous arrests and used tear gas; at least one student was slightly wounded with a bayonet.
Sunday, May 3
During a press conference at the Kent firehouse, an emotional Governor Rhodes pounded on the desk and called the student protesters un-American, referring to them as revolutionaries set on destroying higher education in Ohio. “We’ve seen here at the city of Kent especially, probably the most vicious form of campus oriented violence yet perpetrated by dissident groups. They make definite plans of burning, destroying, and throwing rocks at police, and at the National Guard and the Highway Patrol. This is when we’re going to use every part of the law enforcement agency of Ohio to drive them out of Kent.
We are going to eradicate the problem. We’re not going to treat the symptoms. And these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes”, Rhodes said. “They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. Now I want to say this. They are not going to take over [the] campus. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.” Rhodes can be heard in the recording of his speech yelling and pounding his fists on the desk.
Rhodes also claimed he would obtain a court order declaring a state of emergency that would ban further demonstrations and gave the impression that a situation akin to martial law had been declared; however, he never attempted to obtain such an order.
During the day some students came into downtown Kent to help with cleanup efforts after the rioting, which met with mixed reactions from local businessmen. Mayor Satrom, under pressure from frightened citizens, ordered a curfew until further notice.
Around 8:00 pm, another rally was held on the campus Commons. By 8:45 pm the Guardsmen used tear gas to disperse the crowd, and the students reassembled at the intersection of Lincoln and Main Streets, holding a sit-in with the hopes of gaining a meeting with Mayor Satrom and the university president, Robert White. At 11:00 p.m., the Guard announced that a curfew had gone into effect and began forcing the students back to their dorms. A few students were bayoneted by Guardsmen.
Monday, May 4
On Monday, May 4, a protest was scheduled to be held at noon, as had been planned three days earlier. University officials attempted to ban the gathering, handing out 12,000 leaflets stating that the event was canceled. Despite these efforts an estimated 2,000 people gathered on the university’s Commons, near Taylor Hall. The protest began with the ringing of the campus’s iron Victory Bell (which had historically been used to signal victories in football games) to mark the beginning of the rally, and the first protester began to speak.
Companies An and C, 1/145th Infantry and Troop G of the 2/107th Armored Cavalry, Ohio National Guard (ARNG), the units on the campus grounds, attempted to disperse the students. The legality of the dispersal was later debated at a subsequent wrongful death and injury trial. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that authorities did indeed have the right to disperse the crowd.
The dispersal process began late in the morning with campus patrolman Harold Rice, riding in a National Guard Jeep, approaching the students to read them an order to disperse or face arrest. The protesters responded by throwing rocks, striking one campus Patrolman and forcing the Jeep to retreat.
Just before noon, the Guard returned and again ordered the crowd to disperse. When most of the crowd refused, the Guard used tear gas. Because of wind, the tear gas had little effect in dispersing the crowd, and some launched a second volley of rocks toward the Guard’s line, to chants of “Pigs off campus!” The students lobbed the tear gas canisters back at the National Guardsmen, who wore gas masks.
When it became clear that the crowd was not going to disperse, a group of 77 National Guard troops from A Company and Troop G, withbayonets fixed on their M1 Garand rifles, began to advance upon the hundreds of protesters. As the guardsmen advanced, the protesters retreated up and over Blanket Hill, heading out of The Commons area. Once over the hill, the students, in a loose group, moved northeast along the front of Taylor Hall, with some continuing toward a parking lot in front of Prentice Hall (slightly northeast of and perpendicular to Taylor Hall).
The guardsmen pursued the protesters over the hill, but rather than veering left as the protesters had, they continued straight, heading down toward an athletic practice field enclosed by a chain link fence. Here they remained for about ten minutes, unsure of how to get out of the area short of retracing their path. During this time, the bulk of the students congregated off to the left and front of the guardsmen, approximately 150 to 225 ft (46 to 69 m) away, on the veranda of Taylor Hall. Others were scattered between Taylor Hall and the Prentice Hall parking lot, while still others (perhaps 35 or 40) were standing in the parking lot, or dispersing through the lot as they had been previously ordered.
While on the practice field, the guardsmen generally faced the parking lot which was about 100 yards (91 m) away. At one point, some of the guardsmen knelt and aimed their weapons toward the parking lot, then stood up again. For a few moments, several guardsmen formed a loose huddle and appeared to be talking to one another. They had cleared the protesters from the Commons area, and many students had left, but some stayed and were still angrily confronting the soldiers, some throwing rocks and tear gas canisters. About ten minutes later, the guardsmen began to retrace their steps back up the hill toward the Commons area. Some of the students on the Taylor Hall veranda began to move slowly toward the soldiers as they passed over the top of the hill and headed back down into the Commons.
At 12:24 pm, according to eyewitnesses, a Sgt. Myron Pryor turned and began firing at the students with his .45 pistol. A number of guardsmen nearest the students also turned and fired their M1 Garand rifles at the students. In all, 29 of the 77 guardsmen claimed to have fired their weapons, using a final total of 67 rounds of ammunition. The shooting was determined to have lasted only 13 seconds, although John Kifner reported in the New York Times that “it appeared to go on, as a solid volley, for perhaps a full minute or a little longer.” The question of why the shots were fired remains widely debated.
The Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard told reporters that a sniper had fired on the guardsmen, which itself remains a debated allegation. Many guardsmen later testified that they were in fear for their lives, which was questioned partly because of the distance between them and the students killed or wounded. Time magazine later concluded that “triggers were not pulled accidentally at Kent State.” The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest avoided probing the question of why the shootings happened. Instead, it harshly criticized both the protesters and the Guardsmen, but it concluded that “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”
The shootings killed four students and wounded nine. Two of the four students killed, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, had participated in the protest, and the other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths. Schroeder was also a member of the campusROTC battalion. Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 m) to the guardsmen. Of those killed, the nearest (Miller) was 225 feet (69 m) away, and their average distance from the guardsmen was 345 feet (105 m).
Kent State Documentary
Two men who were present related what they saw.
Unidentified speaker 1:
Suddenly, they turned around, got on their knees, as if they were ordered to, they did it all together, aimed. And personally, I was standing there saying, they’re not going to shoot, they can’t do that. If they are going to shoot, it’s going to be blank.
Unidentified speaker 2:
The shots were definitely coming my way, because when a bullet passes your head, it makes a crack. I hit the ground behind the curve, looking over. I saw a student hit. He stumbled and fell, to where he was running towards the car. Another student tried to pull him behind the car, bullets were coming through the windows of the car.
As this student fell behind the car, I saw another student go down, next to the curb, on the far side of the automobile, maybe 25 or 30 yards from where I was lying. It was maybe 25, 30, 35 seconds of sporadic firing.
The firing stopped. I lay there maybe 10 or 15 seconds. I got up, I saw four or five students lying around the lot. By this time, it was like mass hysteria. Students were crying, they were screaming for ambulances. I heard some girl screaming, “They didn’t have blank, they didn’t have blank,” no, they didn’t.
May 4, after the shootings
Immediately after the shootings, many angry students were ready to launch an all-out attack on the National Guard. Many faculty members, led by geology professor and faculty marshal Glenn Frank, pleaded with the students to leave the Commons and to not give in to violent escalation:
I don’t care whether you’ve never listened to anyone before in your lives. I am begging you right now. If you don’t disperse right now, they’re going to move in, and it can only be a slaughter. Would you please listen to me? Jesus Christ, I don’t want to be a part of this … !
After 20 minutes of speaking, the students left the Commons, as ambulance personnel tended to the wounded, and the Guard left the area. Professor Frank’s son, also present that day, said, “He absolutely saved my life and hundreds of others”.
Killed (and approximate distance from the National Guard):
- Jeffrey Glenn Miller; age 20; 265 ft (81 m) shot through the mouth; killed instantly
- Allison B. Krause; age 19; 343 ft (105 m) fatal left chest wound; died later that day
- William Knox Schroeder; age 19; 382 ft (116 m) fatal chest wound; died almost an hour later in a hospital while undergoing surgery
- Sandra Lee Scheuer; age 20; 390 ft (120 m) fatal neck wound; died a few minutes later from loss of blood
Jackson State killings
The Jackson State killings occurred on Friday May 15,1970, at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi. On May 14, 1970, a group of student protesters against the Vietnam War, specifically the United States invasion of Cambodia, were confronted by city and state police. Shortly after midnight, the police opened fire, killing two students and injuring twelve. The event happened only 11 days after National Guardsmen killed four students in similar protests at Kent State University in Ohio, which had first captured national attention.
A group of around a hundred African-American students had gathered on Lynch Street (named after John R. Lynch), which bisected the campus, on the evening of Thursday, May 14 to protest the United States invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. By around 9:30 p.m. the students had started fires, thrown rocks at white motorists and overturned vehicles, including a large truck. Firefighters dispatched to the scene quickly requested police support.
The police responded in force. At least 75 Jackson police units from the city of Jackson and the Mississippi Highway Patrol attempted to control the crowd while the firemen extinguished the fires. After the firefighters had left the scene, shortly before midnight, the police moved to disperse the crowd then gathered in front of Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory.
Advancing to within 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 m) of the crowd, at roughly 12:05 a.m., officers opened fire on the dormitory. The exact cause of the shooting and the moments leading up to it are unclear. Authorities claim they saw a sniper on one of the building’s upper floors and were being sniped in all directions. Later two city policemen and one state patrolman reported minor injuries from flying glass, and an FBI search for evidence of sniper fire was negative. The students say they did not provoke the officers. The gunfire lasted for 30 seconds, and at least 140 shots were fired by a reported 40 state highway patrolmen using shotguns from 30 to 50 feet. Every window on the narrow side of the building facing Lynch Street was shattered.
The crowd scattered and a number of people were trampled or cut by falling glass. Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior, and James Earl Green, 17, a senior and miler at nearby Jim Hill High School, were killed; twelve others were wounded. Gibbs was killed near Alexander Hall by buckshot, while Green was killed behind the police line in front of B. F. Roberts Hall, also with a shotgun.
The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest investigated this event and also held public hearings at Kent State, in Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. There were no arrests in connection with the deaths at Jackson State, although the Commission concluded “that the 28-second fusillade from police officers was an unreasonable, unjustified overreaction…A broad barrage of gunfire in response to reported and unconfirmed sniper fire is never warranted.”
The University has memorialized the tragic occurrence by naming the area of the shootings Gibbs-Green Plaza. The Plaza is a large, multi-level brick and concrete patio and mall on the eastern side of the JSU campus that borders J. R. Lynch Street and links Alexander Hall to the University Green. A large stone monument in front of Alexander Hall near the plaza also honors the two victims. Damage to the façade of Alexander Hall caused by the rounds fired by the police is still visible.
From Remember the Jackson State Killings, Too. By Mr.
Beginning on May 12, 1970, a week after the Kent State killings, students at Jackson State College in Mississippi (it became Jackson State University in 1974) began to demonstrate for the same reason students in Ohio and elsewhere were demonstrating—against Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. Most of the students demonstrating at Jackson State were black. It was an affront to police, but also to residents, who took to riding by the demonstrators and launching racist insults. In return, students began launching stones at the passing cars. The night of May 14, students set a dumpster on fire. Firefighters responded, so did the Mississippi Highway Patrol — in riot gear, supposedly to protect the firefighters. The fire was put out. The troopers didn’t leave. They roamed.
They came about a group of 100 students outside a women’s dormitory, or 400, according to the patrol. It was midnight. The same excuse was heard: a “sniper” fired at the Highway Patrol from the dormitory. The patrol responded by letting loose with shotguns, firing 275 rounds into the dormitory. Of course, no evidence of a sniper was found. The dormitory’s every window was blown out. Nine black students were wounded. Two were killed: Philip Gibbs, a junior in a prelaw program, married, father of one child, who was about to turn 11 months, wife expecting another, and James Earl Green a 17-year-old high school student who had just finished his shift at a grocery store and was just walking through campus.
Green worked six hours a day for $12 a week to help his widowed mother, three younger brothers and a sister. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana visited the scene days later with Walter Mondale, then a senator from Minnesota. “What we have seen,” Bayh said, “is enough to make a grown man cry, that this can go on in the United States of America.” And Mondale: “An assault on the dignity of this country was made here in an utterly disgraceful fashion.”
A federal commission would eventually call the patrol’s action at Jackson State “clearly unwarranted.” But those were just words. The commission also found that the officers did what they did because they thought they’d never be disciplined. And they never were. Not a single person was prosecuted. A $13.8 million civil suit by the victim’s families was dismissed. To this day of course, the Jackson State killings continue to be virtually ignored (as I had ignored them), although there seems to be a continuing moral in there if one were to take that line—“The uncontrolled use of firearms by police and National Guardsmen has become a menace to internal security”—and apply it to Americans wielding arms in Iraq. Northing much has changed except the rioters’ color and identity.
Not even the ease with which American “authorities” from Nixon to the current crop of commanders call their opponents thugs or terrorists has changed. Those students back in 1970 weren’t called any less. The bullets are only demonization’s climactic crown jewels.
Thank you Remember the Jackson State Killings, Too.
Wounded (and approximate distance from the National Guard):
- Joseph Lewis Jr.; 71 ft (22 m); hit twice in the right abdomen and left lower leg
- John R. Cleary; 110 ft (34 m); upper left chest wound
- Thomas Mark Grace; 225 ft (69 m); struck in left ankle
- Alan Michael Canfora; 225 ft (69 m); hit in his right wrist
- Dean R. Kahler; 300 ft (91 m); back wound fracturing the vertebrae, permanently paralyzed from the chest down
- Douglas Alan Wrentmore; 329 ft (100 m); hit in his right knee
- James Dennis Russell; 375 ft (114 m); hit in his right thigh from a bullet and in the right forehead by birdshot, both wounds minor
- Robert Follis Stamps; 495 ft (151 m); hit in his right buttock
- Donald Scott MacKenzie; 750 ft (230 m); neck woundIn the Presidents Commission on Campus Unrest (pp. 273–274) they mistakenly list Thomas V. Grace, who is Thomas Mark Grace’s father, as the Thomas Grace injured.
All those shot were students in good standing at the university.
Although initial newspaper reports had inaccurately stated that a number of National Guard members had been killed or seriously injured, only one Guardsman, Sgt. Lawrence Shafer, was injured seriously enough to require medical treatment, approximately 10 to 15 minutes prior to the shootings. Shafer is also mentioned in a memo from November 15, 1973. The FBI memo was prepared by the Cleveland Office and is referred to by Field Office file # 44-703. It reads as follows:
Upon contacting appropriate officers of the Ohio National Guard at Ravenna and Akron, Ohio, regarding ONG radio logs and the availability of service record books, the respective ONG officer advised that any inquiries concerning the Kent State University incident should be direct to the Adjutant General, ONG, Columbus, Ohio. Three persons were interviewed regarding a reported conversation by Sgt Lawrence Shafer, ONG, that Shafer had bragged about “taking a bead” on Jeffrey Miller at the time of the ONG shooting and each interviewee was unable to substantiate such a conversation.
Kent State shootings
- Aftermath and long-term effects
- 5 Memorials and remembrances
- 6 Cultural references
KENT, Ohio – A large crowd gathered just after 11 p.m. Saturday behind the Taylor Hall at Kent State University to honor the fallen. The crowd stood near the Victory Bell holding candles in remembrance of May 4th, 1970.
It was 44 years ago that four students were killed after 67 shots were fired in 13 seconds by the National Guard.
The students were pushed over to the parking lot of Prentice Hall as they were protesting the Vietnam War.
Students and volunteers are still standing in the parking lot area where the four students died. The students will stand there for 12 hours honoring the victims in the very spot where they were shot and killed.
Filed under: Politics Tagged: | 44 Years After Kent State, Kent State Massacre, Kent State University, Mary Ann Vecchio, Ohio, Ohio National Guard, Pulitzer Prize, Richard Nixon, United States, Vietnam War