Kent State Protest
KENT STATE PROTEST
KENT STATE PROTEST. On 4 May 1970 Ohio national guardsmen opened fire on Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War. In a mere thirteen seconds four students were killed, and nine others wounded. What had begun as a small campus demonstration turned Kent State into a symbol of the Vietnam era worldwide.
Kent State students protested President Richard M. Nixon's 30 April announcement that troops would invade Cambodia to strike against suspected guerrillas. Nixon's declaration set off a chain reaction, and 1.5 million students protested around the country. The president fueled the confrontation by calling them "bums" who were "blowing up the campuses." Tensions in Kent, Ohio, escalated in the days leading up to 4 May. Mayor Leroy Satrom declared the city under a state of emergency after a disturbance downtown got out of hand. On 2 May Satrom requested that the Ohio National Guard deploy.
Despite the presence of armed soldiers, Kent State students continued to hold rallies. The situation spiraled out of control when a fire burned down the university Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) building. Governor James Rhodes arrived on 3 May and condemned student radicals, comparing them to nazis and communists. In response protesters gathered on campus but were teargassed.
On 4 May a rally drew approximately two thousand students, many merely curious onlookers. National Guard officers ordered the protesters to disburse, shooting tear gas into the crowd. Next more than one hundred armed guardsmen advanced on the students. The troops moved toward the protesters, up a hill, and then down to a practice football field. Reaching a fence at the far end, some knelt and aimed their weapons. Students retreated into a parking lot between several buildings, but some lobbed rocks and tear gas canisters back at the guardsmen.
After ten minutes the troops moved back up the hill. When they reached the crest, a group of twenty-eight guardsmen turned quickly and shot in the direction of the parking lot and the main group of protesters. They fired sixty-one rounds of ammunition. Of the thirteen people killed or injured, only two were actively participating in the confrontation. One student was killed while walking to class, and another ironically was an ROTC student. Others were more than one hundred yards away.
As news spread Kent State and nearly five hundred other colleges were closed. Ten days later another shooting occurred, this time at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Police and state patrolmen fired into a dormitory at the all-black school, killing two students and wounding nine others. The lack of attention given to the deaths at Jackson State embittered many in the African American community.
Kent State immediately transformed from a sleepy midwestern college into the symbolic epicenter of student protest in the Vietnam era. Lingering romantic notions of the 1960s ended with the Kent State shootings. The incident has been immortalized in countless books and even a television movie, but nothing was more stinging than the song by the group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, "Ohio," with its haunting lyrics, "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming. … Four dead in Ohio!"
Bills, Scott L., ed. Kent State, May 4: Echoes through a Decade. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1982.
Davies, Peter. The Truth about Kent State: A Challenge to the American Conscience. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1973.
Eszterhas, Joe, and Michael D. Roberts. Thirteen Seconds: Confrontation at Kent State. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970.
Gordon, William A. The Fourth of May: Killings and Coverups at Kent State. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990.
Heineman, Kenneth J. Campus Wars: The Peace Movement at American State Universities in the Vietnam Era. New York: New York University Press, 1993.
Michener, James A. Kent State: What Happened and Why. New York: Random House, 1971.