During the late 1960’s the United States was raging a war on two fronts. One front in Vietnam fighting the communist North Vietnamese forces, the other on the campuses and streets fighting the students and protesters across America. The anti-war movement was one of the most successful moments in US history. For 11 years from 1964- 1975 Americans protested a war they believed they did not need to be in. The movement while mostly peaceful, sometimes violent groups or actions on both sides fueled a modern uprising. An uprising that would define not only the people or the generation but the decade.
On April 30th, 1970 President Nixon announced that United States forces had begun a Cambodian Incursion, a effort to defeat 40,000 People’s Republic of Vietnam troops protected behind Cambodian borders. Nixon believed that by expanding our forces that we could contain North Vietnam and begin pushing back. A majority of Americans on the other hand believed that this was just one more death sentence to the men on the fronts. On May 1st at Kent State University, 500 students gathered in the Commons (a central open air quad used for meetings and leisure) for a demonstration.
At the demonstration a widespread anger floated the crowd. Protesters called to “bring the war home.” Symbolizing their protest to Nixon’s decision to send troops, a group of students burned a copy of the U.S. Constitution burned their while another group of students burned their draft cards. When the time for student to attend afternoon class came an announcement was made that on Monday May 4th, a protest would take place on the Commons when the Victory Bell ( a bell in the center of campus traditionally rang when teams won a sporting event) rung. Later in the evening just after the 11 pm news broadcast violence erupted as news of the first deaths of American soldiers in the Cambodian Incursion reached american televisions. Students in the bars called for “acts worth recognition”.
Recognition from the government letting them know that a majority of americans disagreed with the war. Car windows were smashed, buildings were vandalized, businesses looted. Around 12:30 am on May 2nd, the entirety of the Kent,Ohio police force and six other municipalities brought excess police forces in to control the nearly 150 person crowd. Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom declared a state of emergency ordering the bars to close by 1 am. Once the bars closed the remaining patrons joined the crowd fueling the anger and riot. Seeing no hope in demands, police ordered tear gas to be fired into the crowd. The crowd was pushed from downtown Kent to the area around campus where the crowd controlled themselves.
On the morning of May 2nd, the same students who had terrorized the city earlier that morning went back to clean up. This was a effort to show that they are not savages as they will be portrayed in the media. While the cleanup was going on the streets a meeting was held between Mayor Satrom, Kent city officials, a representative of the Ohio National Guard, and Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes.
At the meeting it was decided that the Ohio National Guard as well as the Kent State ROTC be put on campus to control the peace. At 5pm the order was placed into effect, although the forces did not arrive until after 10 pm that evening. Upon hearing the news of the order students gathered on the Commons to protest the troops arrival. Around 9:30 pm that evening the ROTC building on campus was set on fire, luckily nobody was in the building when it was set ablaze. Due to the crowd of the arsonists were never caught. Once the Kent Fire department arrived on scene they could not extinguish the building due to the crowd of nearly 1,000 students surrounding the building. Once the National Guard arrived protesters were able to disarm 3-5 soldiers using their bayonets to pierce the fire hose. During this disarmament 1 student was badly cut by a bayonet.
The next day, Sunday May 3rd, a press conference was held by Governor Rhodes in the Kent Firehouse when in a emotional speech he gave these words as he pounded on the podium “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 (referring to the Nazis) and the communist element and also the night riders (referring to the Ku Klux Klan) and the vigilantes”… “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.” He also stated that he would work to obtain a state of emergency in which any forms of public protesting would result in repercussions.
This was never obtained due the the shooting occurring before he could formally declare any action. At 8:45 a group of students left the campus due to tear gas attacks but reconvened near the office of the mayor in which the University President, and Governor Rhodes were meeting. at 11 pm when curfew came into effect the National Guard drove the students back to campus with tear gas and their bayonets. In a mass confusion 3 students caught in the gas were impaled by the soldiers The Next morning May 4th, 1970 is day that will go down in history unbeknownst to the people who would encounter this tragic event. At 12:00 noon the victory bell had rung. Students flooded the Commons stepping over signs and pamphlets (nearly 12,000) made by the university saying that the protest was canceled in a effort to prevent any more incidents. In the first ten minutes of the protest the National Guard had assembled. The stood in formation at the top of the hill overlooking the commons.
They ordered that everyone return to their dorms. They Guard then stated that they had the right to arrest anyone on the Commons and when arrests began protesters threw bottles, rocks and other objects at the guard. The Guard began shooting rubber bullets to force the crowd back. The next few moments are a mystery in which no one knows the true story. The result of those moments left 4 dead and 9 wounded. The deaths of Jeffrey Glen Miller age 20, Sandra Lee Scheuer age 20, Alison B. Krause age 19, and William Know Schroeder age 19, left Americans in grief and shock but also called for peace and the end to the war. Their lives were never forgotten.
To this day the Kent State Massacre is remembered in history as a moment when hostilities overran a small town. Hostilities caused by a incident thousands of miles away, yet aching hearts worldwide. The students set out to bring attention to their cry of peace, a cry that would not be heard until after the death of 4 innocent young men and women had to occur. Their movement was effective as it did bring attention to the call of a generation. A call we need to hear before the echoes of tragedy strike.