|Friday, May 1st, 1970 marked a significant
day at Kent State University
in Ohio. President Nixon’s announcement that troops
would be sent into
Cambodia trigger a slew of protests on campus at Kent State.
As of noon, over five hundred students rallied and watched as a graduate student
buried a copy of the constitution. This symbolized the murder of the
constitution by president Nixon because congress had not declared war. The same
evening, the Kent State University President, deciding that the situation is
under control, leaves Ohio on a planned trip to Iowa. However, the situation
gets slightly out of control. As dusk falls, a crowd a students and citizens
gathers near the Kent bar area and block off the street, vandalize and ignite
bonfires. Although there had been no previous effort made by the Kent Police
Department to control the situation, Kent City Mayor Stratom calls a state of
emergency, closes down the bars, and finally sends in police personnel. The
closing of the bars enrages the people inside them, which lead to an even larger
group of people to control and disperse. Because the Kent Police forces were so
reluctant to control the crowd, it becomes very difficult to disperse the crowd.
Rioters finally decided to call it a night when someone accidentally ended up
hanging from a traffic light.
On the evening of May 2nd, after various
rumours and threats abound, Mayor Stratom orders city and campus curfews. Mayor
Stratom then decides, without informing Kent State Officials, to call in the
National Guard of Ohio. In protest, a group of 600 students gather with the
intention of setting the ROTC building on fire. When the Kent City Fire
Department is informed of the fire they rush to rescue only to have themselves
stoned and their hoses slashed. Since the Kent State Campus Police offer no aid,
they are forced to retreat. An hour later, the National Guard arrives and
successfully controls the situation. The students’ resentment towards the
National Guard, due to this incident started almost immediately. The tension
between these two groups would worsen farther into the weekend. However, the
guard would not have had a situation as severe to deal with had the Kent State
Campus Police been more helpful in controlling the situation that arose with the
Governor James Rhodes arrived into Kent state to attend a
news conference and deliver a speech. This speech, however, is misinterpreted by
university officials and guard officials, and instructions are then issued to
forbid rallies or gatherings of any sort. Although an attempt is made to inform
the students of the new regulation and curfew, many students do not receive the
leaflet that had been produced until after the shootings on May 4th. When
students we seen to not be obeying the curfew, the Guard decided to take action
and proceeded by firing tear gas at crowds on the Commons (flat land area for
student leisure). However, fifteen minutes later, the crowd peacefully reunited
and walked to the gates of the University to show that a curfew was not
necessary. The crowd requested to speak with the Mayor and the University
President on the subject of the Guard’s presence on campus. Forty-five minutes
after informing the students that Mayor Stratom and President White would speak
with them, the National Guard announces that the curfew would go into effect
immediately and proceeded to descend upon the crowd with tear gas, successfully
dispersing the once peaceful crowd. This made the students loathe the presence
of the National Guard to an excessive extent.
The morning of May 4th began
with a meeting of local and state officials. The officials present conclude that
the rally scheduled protesting the presence of the National Guard is illegal and
should therefore not be allowed to take place. However, the National Guard was
not informed that the students had a class break at noon. Therefore, when about
two hundred students we seen gathering on the Common ground to go eat their
lunches or wait for their next classes, the guard started getting suspicious.
When the other students started heading towards the Common ground for their
break, the National Guard believed that the students were gathering for the
illegal rally. The Guard announces, on a bullhorn, instructions for the crowd to
disband immediately, however, those who hear the announcement become enraged,
and the crowd starts to stir. When the members of the crowd start to curse and
throw rocks, other students who want the National Guard off campus follow their
example by ringing the victory bell (normally used for sporting events). The
National Guard responded by throwing tear gas into the crowds, but this time,
the crowds fought back using gas masks and gloves from the science department
and throwing the gas bombs back at the Guard. The Guards, now feeling seriously
threatened by tear gas and rocks, herd the students onto the football field
firing into the air and staying in that same position for approximately ten
minutes, thinking that their supply of tear gas was already wasted and not know
what to do. Most of the students are next to Taylor Hall to the left of the
Guard, and still throwing objects and yelling obscenities. Many of the students
had already started heading for the parking lot thinking that the action was
over when the Guard rotated their position One hundred and eighty degrees taking
a few steps back and then firing into the crowd. It is assumed that it was
either for the Guards own protection for the unarmed kids or because one shot
triggered all 60 others. Because of the intense situation where guards were
ready to fire on the crowd if deemed necessary, students were willing to risk
their own lives to avenge the other deaths and injuries. Kent State Professors
then plead with the Guard to let them address the students to prevent any
President Nixon seemed some what affected by the events
of May 4th but did not waver in his decision to send troops to Cambodia.
James Rhodes once again appeared on the scene to give a speech explaining the
course of events from the Guards point of view and guarantee that history would
not repeat itself.
Irresponsible actions made by uninformed parties were
largely to blame. Lack of responsibility on the part of the Campus guard can be
partially found at fault. The campus guard were reluctant to aid the police or
the fire department to bring the riots under control. If they had extended a
helping hand earlier, the National Guard might never have been called in.
However, the National Guard should have assessed the situation in a more
diplomatic fashion. They should have been trained to prevent unarmed crowds from
getting rowdy, not bait their rowdiness.
Department of Special Collections & Archives. “May
4th Exhibit: Kent State University”
Jerry and Hensley, Thomas. “The May 4th Shootings at Kent State University: The
Search for Historical Accuracy”
“U.S. Justice Department’s Summary of FBI Reports: May 4, 1970”
Payne, J. Gregory Ph D. “MAYDAY:
Eszterhas, Joe and Michael D. Roberts. Thirteen Seconds:
Confrontation at Kent.
New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1970.
\"Four Random, Pointless Deaths.\"
18, 1970) 34.