MARY BRASWELL: Looking Back, May 4,2014

HISTORY: Four unarmed students were shot to death by Ohio National Guardsmen on the campus of Kent State.

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

On June 8, 1969, President Richard Nixon announced his plan to begin withdrawing American troops from Vietnam. The last U.S. ground troops finally left for home on March 29, 1973. Stateside, anti-war groups protested the U.S. involvement in Vietnam with mostly- peaceful demonstrations. That all changed on the campus of Kent State (Ohio) May 4, 1970.

Before May 1970

— A chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was organized as a campus group in the spring of 1968.

— Black United Students and SDS staged a five-hour sit-in to protest police recruiters on campus on November 13, 1968.

— In the spring of 1969, SDS launched a campaign to abolish campus ROTC and a law- enforcement degree program, and to remove the Liquid Crystals Institute (partially funded by the Defense Department) and state crime lab from campus.

— On April 8, 1969, SDS members planned to post their demands at the administration building but clashed with police.

— Just a few days later, disciplinary hearings at the Music and Speech Building ended with fist fights among demonstrators and counter-demonstrators and 58 arrests. Conflicting claims emerged about whether students tried to take over the building or were trapped inside when police locked the doors. Kent State banned the SDS.

— University faculty members published findings that faulted the administration for its handling of the April incidents, but left open questions about what happened at the Music and Speech Building. It was by then October 1969.

— Yippie Jerry Rubin spoke at Kent State on April 10, 1970 but got little support for his call to join “the revolution.”

— President Nixon announced he had ordered U.S. troops into Cambodia.The date was April 30, 1970.

May 1

— Friday, at noon, a small group of history graduate students calling themselves World Historians Opposed to Racism and Exploitation (WHORE) held an antiwar rally on the Commons, a grassy field in the center of the campus.

— Near the Victory Bell, normally rung to celebrate Kent football victories, rally leaders buried a copy of the U.S. Constitution, declaring that it had been “murdered” when troops had been sent into Cambodia without a declaration of war or consultation with Congress. About 500 persons attended the rally and no disorder occurred.

— The meeting closed with a call for another rally at noon Monday to discuss the attitude of the university administration toward the Cambodian incursion as well as the abolition of the on-campus ROTC program.

— The first disturbance began that evening on North Water Street, a downtown area where six bars were located. A sizable crowd of young people gathered in and around the bars. About 11:00 pm, some began to jeer passing police cars.

— Kent’s police force had fewer than 10 men when the disturbance began. Four of these men in two patrol cars were specifically assigned to North Water Street. Some of the crowd started a bonfire in the street. Some demonstrators began to break store windows with rocks. In all, 47 windows in 15 establishments were broken. At 12:30 a.m. the mayor of Kent declared a state of emergency and ordered the bars closed.

May 2

— Early Saturday, the mayor formalized his proclamation of a civil emergency. He banned the sale of liquor and beer, firearms, and gasoline unless pumped directly into the tank of a car. He established an 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.curfew in Kent which was to take effect Saturday night. He set the curfew on the campus to begin at 1:00 a.m.

— Leaflets informed students of the injunction and of the 8:00pm curfew in Kent but failed to mention the 1:00 am curfew on campus. The leaflet said specifically that peaceful campus assemblies were not banned.

— A crowd assembled on the Commons around the Victory Bell about 7:30 p.m. As the crowd of nearly 1,000 neared the ROTC building, some shouted, “Get it,” “Burn it,” and “ROTC has to go.

— A young man dipped a cloth into the gasoline tank of a parked motorcycle. Another young man ignited it and set the building afire. The building began to burn about 8:45 p.m.

— While the building was burning and live ammunition was exploding inside, the campus police appeared in riot gear. Someone shouted, “Here come the pigs.” The police fired tear gas at the crowd. Most of the crowd moved across the Commons to the tennis courts.

— At about 9:30 p.m. campus police, sheriff’s deputies, highway patrolmen, and National Guardsmen had assembled on campus. The National Guard cleared the campus, using tear gas freely. At 11:55 p.m. it was reported that the situation was under control.

May 3

— The university prepared and distributed another 12,000 leaflets including curfew hours and stated that said the governor through the National Guard had assumed legal control of the campus. All outdoor demonstrations and rallies, peaceful or otherwise, were prohibited by the state of emergency.

— On Sunday afternoon, the campus was generally quiet, and many students felt the worst was over. Sightseers visited the ruins of the ROTC building, and some students talked with the Guardsmen.

— Students began gathering on the Commons about 8:00 p.m. The crowd was peaceful and included a group of coeds kicking a soccer ball around. But by 8:45 p.m., it had grown so large that the Ohio Riot Act was read to the crowd on the Commons and they were given five minutes to disperse. When they did not, police proceeded to disperse them with tear gas.

— The students, previously nonviolent, became hostile. They cursed the guardsmen and police and threw rocks at them. Tear gas was fired…again.

— Fifty-one persons were arrested Sunday night, most of them for curfew violations. This brought the total of arrests to more than 100 since the disturbances had begun.

May 4

— The Education Building was closed at 7:45 a.m., before classes began, because of a bomb threat. A call for a noon rally on the Commons was passed around the campus by word of mouth and by announcements chalked on classroom blackboards. The precise purpose was not made clear, but most students assumed it was to protest the presence of the National Guard.

— By 11:45 a.m. the crowd of students had grown to more than 500. All Guardsmen were instructed to lock and load their weapons .

— At 11:58 a.m., Guardsmen and police officers were ordered to form a skirmish line, shoulder to shoulder, and to move out across the Commons toward the students. The crowd on the Commons was estimated at about 800 with another 1,000 or more persons sitting or milling about on the hills surrounding the Commons. The goal was to disperse the crowd.

— The first shots rang out at 12:25 p.m. Twenty-eight guardsmen acknowledged firing their weapons. Of those, 25 fired 55 shots from rifles, two fired five shots from .45 caliber pistols, and one fired a single blast from a shotgun. Sound tracks indicate that the firing of these 61 shots lasted approximately 13 seconds.

— Four persons were killed and nine were wounded. Two were shot in the front, seven from the side, and four from the rear. All 13 were students at Kent State University.

— No officer gave the order to open fire and it remains an uncertainty as to why/how the firing began.

The aftermath

— The Kent State deaths triggered at least 100 student strikes a day at college campuses around the U.S. By May 10, nearly 450 campuses saw limited strikes or were shut down completely.

— On May 14, protesters at Jackson State College in Mississippi set fires. People mistaken for students threw bricks and bottles at motorists, and the state police moved in. Officers fired more than 400 rounds at students and into a residence hall, killing two students and wounding at least a dozen others.

— By the end of May, student strikes hit some 800 U.S. colleges. Campus violence following the Kent and Jackson State shootings included police killing a student at the University of California trying to extinguish a fire, National Guard troops used bayonets on protesters at the University of New Mexico, police fatally shot a student and former student at University of Kansas and an Army research center at the University of Wisconsin was bombed, killing a graduate student.

— President Nixon’s Commission on Campus Unrest released its report on September 26 with the following conclusion: “Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.”

— After years mired in the legal system, the case of Krause v. Rhodes, representing many of the students and families, a retrial began on December 5, 1978. A financial settlement was reached along with an admission of regret by the state.


b) $675,000 was disperse among 13 plaintiffs. The largest amount went to the injured student who was permanently paralyzed.