posted on May, 4 2010 @ 07:38 AM
It was most certainly a tragic day in our history. As a Kent State Graduate, I was certainly educated on the topic of May 4 by the university, in
orientation, and by Jerry Lewis in his sociology class. The incident and the events that led up to it are often misunderstood. This brief moment
in history was several days in the making.
In response to the US invasion of Cambodia
Protests occurred the next day, Friday, May 1, across United States college campuses where anti-war sentiment ran high. At Kent State University,
an anti-war rally was held at noon on the Commons, a large, grassy area in the middle of campus which had traditionally been the site for various
types of rallies and demonstrations. Fiery speeches against the war and the Nixon administration were given, a copy of the Constitution was buried to
symbolize the murder of the Constitution because Congress had never declared war, and another rally was called for noon on Monday, May 4.
Friday evening in downtown Kent began peacefully with the usual socializing in the bars, but events quickly escalated into a violent confrontation
between protestors and local police. The exact causes of the disturbance are still the subject of debate, but bonfires were built in the streets of
downtown Kent, cars were stopped, police cars were hit with bottles, and some store windows were broken. 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 Governor James
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.
The next day, Saturday, May 2, Mayor Satrom met with other city officials and a representative of the Ohio National Guard who had been dispatched to
Kent. Mayor Satrom then made the decision to ask Governor Rhodes to send the Ohio National Guard to Kent. The mayor feared further disturbances in
Kent based upon the events of the previous evening, but more disturbing to the mayor were threats that had been made to downtown businesses and city
officials as well as rumors that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and the university. Satrom was fearful that local forces
would be inadequate to meet the potential disturbances, and thus about 5 p.m. he called the Governor's office to make an official request for
assistance from the Ohio National Guard.
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE KENT STATE UNIVERSITY CAMPUS ON SATURDAY MAY 2 AND SUNDAY MAY 3 AFTER THE GUARDS ARRIVED ON CAMPUS?
Members of the Ohio National Guard were already on duty in Northeast Ohio, and thus they were able to be mobilized quickly to move to Kent. As the
Guard arrived in Kent at about 10 p.m., they encountered a tumultuous scene. The wooden ROTC building adjacent to the Commons was ablaze and would
eventually burn to the ground that evening, with well over 1000 demonstrators surrounding the building. Controversy continues to exist regarding who
was responsible for setting fire to the ROTC building, but radical protestors were assumed to be responsible because of their actions in interfering
with the efforts of firemen to extinguish the fire as well as cheering the burning of the building. Confrontations between Guardsmen and demonstrators
continued into the night, with tear gas filling the campus and numerous arrests being made.
Sunday, May 3rd was a day filled with contrasts. Nearly 1000 Ohio National Guardsmen occupied the campus, making it appear like a military war zone.
The day was warm and sunny, however, and students frequently talked amicably with Guardsmen. Ohio Governor James Rhodes flew to Kent on Sunday
morning, and his mood was anything but calm. At a press conference, he issued a provocative statement calling campus protestors the worst type of
people in America and stating that every force of law would be used to deal with them. Rhodes also indicated that he would seek a court order
declaring a state of emergency. This was never done, but the widespread assumption among both Guard and University officials was that a state of
martial law was being declared in which control of the campus resided with the Guard rather than University leaders and all rallies were banned.
Further confrontations between protestors and guardsmen occurred Sunday evening, and once again rocks, tear gas, and arrests characterized a tense
WHAT TYPE OF RALLY WAS HELD AT NOON ON MAY 4?
At the conclusion of the anti-war rally on Friday, May 1, student protest leaders had called for another rally to be held on the Commons at noon on
Monday, May 4. Although University officials had attempted on the morning of May 4 to inform the campus that the rally was prohibited, a crowd began
to gather beginning as early as 11 a.m. By noon, the entire Commons area contained approximately 3000 people. Although estimates are inexact, probably
about 500 core demonstrators were gathered around the Victory Bell at one end of the Commons, another 1000 people were "cheerleaders" supporting the
active demonstrators, and an additional 1500 people were spectators standing around the perimeter of the Commons. Across the Commons at the burned-out
ROTC building stood about 100 Ohio National Guardsmen carrying lethal M-1 military rifles.
Substantial consensus exists that the active participants in the rally were primarily protesting the presence of the Guard on campus, although a
strong anti-war sentiment was also present. Little evidence exists as to who were the leaders of the rally and what activities were planned, but
initially the rally was peaceful.
WHAT EVENTS LED DIRECTLY TO THE SHOOTINGS?
Shortly before noon, General Canterbury made the decision to order the demonstrators to disperse. A Kent State police officer standing by the Guard
made an announcement using a bullhorn. When this had no effect, the officer was placed in a jeep along with several Guardsmen and driven across the
Commons to tell the protestors that the rally was banned and that they must disperse. This was met with angry shouting and rocks, and the jeep
retreated. Canterbury then ordered his men to load and lock their weapons, tear gas canisters were fired into the crowd around the Victory Bell, and
the Guard began to march across the Commons to disperse the rally. The protestors moved up a steep hill, known as Blanket Hill, and then down the
other side of the hill onto the Prentice Hall parking lot as well as an adjoining practice football field. Most of the Guardsmen followed the students
directly and soon found themselves somewhat trapped on the practice football field because it was surrounded by a fence. Yelling and rock throwing
reached a peak as the Guard remained on the field for about ten minutes. Several Guardsmen could be seen huddling together, and some Guardsmen knelt
and pointed their guns, but no weapons were shot at this time. The Guard then began retracing their steps from the practice football field back up
Blanket Hill. As they arrived at the top of the hill, twenty-eight of the more than seventy Guardsmen turned suddenly and fired their rifles and
pistols. Many guardsmen fired into the air or the ground. However, a small portion fired directly into the crowd. Altogether between 61 and 67 shots
were fired in a 13 second period.
With all of this being said there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the event.
The following question has always bugged me because these events were the tipping points that led to the disaster.
Who was responsible for the violence in downtown Kent and on the Kent State campus in the three days prior to May 4th? As an important part of
this question, were "outside agitators" primarily responsible? Who was responsible for setting fire to the ROTC building?
My answer to the above question is YES and YES.
The fact that outside/non student agitators were present and even bussed into Kent has been talked about by many. My grandparents lived in Kent
during this time and often talked about the violence and the fires in the streets prior to May 4. Without these agitators the whole event could have
There is a famous photo of a young girl kneeling over a body screaming. That young girl was a 14 year old runaway who was most likely traveling with
Vecchio, who had taken a bus from Florida to participate in the antiwar demonstrations on the Kent State campus during that May in 1970, was
kneeling with her arms raised in shock and screaming above the body of student Jeffrey Miller a few seconds after the shots were fired at 12:24
Agitators still exist today. We see evidence of them most recently in some of the larger Tea Party rallies and in the calls to agitate prior to the
demonstrations. Time to learn from our past.
For probably the best account of the event in detail read Lewis' article.
[edit on 4-5-2010 by jibeho]