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Kent State 40 years on — What have we learned?

Published: Sun, April 25, 2010 @ 12:01 a.m.
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It’s been nearly 40 years since a student anti-war protest at Kent State University ended in violence with the deaths of four students and the wounding of nine others.

1970 can perhaps best be described as a turbulent time in the United States as opposition to the war in Vietnam, particularly on college campuses, grew.

“It’s (been) 40 years. Those of us who teach and talk about it realize we won’t be around forever,” said Carole Barbato, now a KSU communication studies professor who was a Kent junior from Youngstown in 1970.

There are a great many lessons to be taught and learned from what happened, she said, including the reinforcement of the First Amendment as an important part of the American way of life, respect for diverse opinions and the importance of nonviolence.

“Violence is not the answer to resolve conflict or dissent,” she said.

Anti-war protests reached a new level when then-President Richard Nixon announced April 30, 1970, that the war was being expanded with military excursions into Cambodia.

Kent State had been experiencing anti-war demonstrations for a number of years by that time, with a branch of the Students for a Democratic Society activist group functioning there before losing its campus charter in 1969.

Things heated up dramatically on and around campus between May 1 and May 4, 1970. Tensions came to a head around noon May 4 when a large group of students was confronted by about 1,000 members of the Ohio National Guard that had been sent to campus by then-Governor James A. Rhodes. The guardsmen arrived to restore order after demonstrations on campus and in the town of Kent, during which some downtown businesses were damaged.

The guard arrived May 2 about the time the campus ROTC building was burned.

Things turned deadly when a group of Guardsmen involved in dispersing a May 4 rally fired weapons into the crowd of students, killing four, including Sandra Scheuer of Boardman who was not involved in the protest but was on her way to class to take a test.

The others killed were Allison Krause of Pittsburgh, Jeffrey Miller of Plainview, N.Y., and William Schroeder of Lorain. Nine students were wounded.

Volumes have been written and a number of investigations have occurred over the years to determine what happened and who was at fault, but conclusions remain cloudy.

The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest determined that although some students were violent and criminal in their behavior, the shootings and resulting deaths were, “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”

Much depends on the individual’s point of view of armed guardsmen confronting students, some hurling rocks and verbal abuse, who were angry to see their campus suddenly occupied by the military.

Among the students, the consensus seems to be that their campus had been invaded.

Among the guardsmen who fired, they said later that they felt their lives were in danger from screaming, rock-throwing protesters. There were also confirmed reports that some students were chanting “Kill, kill, kill” before the shooting.

Some guardsmen at the scene that day later were critical of their leadership, saying there was no real need for them to be on campus. Some have also expressed disappointment that no politician ever stepped forward to take responsibility for what happened, pointing out that it was the politicians who made the decision to bring in the National Guard.

The debate and the study continues.

“What happened here at Kent State was historic, and it’s appropriate that it receives this special designation,” said current Kent State President Lester A. Lefton in recently announcing that the 17.4-acre site of the confrontation has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“The National Register recognizes those places that are significant in American history and culture, and the May 4 site definitely qualifies for this recognition,” Lefton said.

“What happened here at Kent State was an important part of American history, and 40 years later, we continue to learn from it,” said Laura Davis, an English professor at Kent State and one of the four co-authors of the National Register application. She was a freshman from Lyndhurst, Ohio, on May 4, 1970, and attended the rally that day, witnessing the shootings.

The university has shown a consistent pattern of creating resources and support for the story of May 4, she said, citing the number of memorials and related activities backed by Kent.

She and Barbato, another of the authors of the National Register application, co-teach a May 4 course for juniors each spring. Barbato had intended to attend the May 4 rally but took the advice of a professor who urged her and others not to go.

The shootings resulted in the largest student strike in U.S. history, affecting hundreds of campuses. The event also expanded the anti-war movement, becoming a rallying point as an example of a government confronting protesters with deadly force.

Kent State will mark the 40th anniversary by bringing U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a leader in the American civil rights movement since the 1960s, to speak at 6:30 p.m. May 3 in the Kent Student Center Ballroom on the second floor of the KSU Student Center.

Other university events scheduled for the next day include the official ribbon cutting and plaque installation of the May 4 National Register of Historic Places and the dedication of the May 4 Walking Tour on the historic site.

The university has launched an online newsroom at http://may4newsroom.kent.edu to provide information, event details and multimedia regarding the 40th anniversary of the event.

2010 also marks the centennial of Kent State.

“May 4 was a defining moment, but it doesn’t define Kent State,” Lefton said, noting the newsroom helps put into context the 100-year-old institution’s impact with news and information about today’s Kent State as well as providing resources related to May 4, 1970.

“The best way for the university to recognize May 4 is to do something critical to our mission by educating others about it,” said Iris Harvey, vice president for university relations. “If we don’t apply an educational lens to it, then we’re not leaving a legacy for others to learn from and be shared with others.”


1Attis(942 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

for anyone interested in something beyond this typical cover story, check out www.truthtribunal.org

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2Photoman(1030 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

First Amendment Rights are currently being stifled by the present administration and may well escalate into another situation much like the Kent State tragedy. Our President does not take kindly to views differing from his.

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3MrRupp(1 comment)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I harbour no doubts that there WILL be some who will find this offensive, but all things being equal, I can only speak for myself. 40 years ago Mrs. Rupp's 18 year old was serving within the ranks of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, and guess where we were????????? We were NOT antagonizing the National Guard ( whom by the way were doing THEIR duty).We were NOT looting, rioting and destoying private property days earlier, all with the blessings of the local "Students for a Destructive Society"!!!!!!!! All which by the way seems to go ignored. Do you really think these Big Bad Guardsmen just happen to drive by the Campus and say,." Let's go Shoot some peace loving students who are minding their own business!!???????????"Yet, to those who were doing their sworn duty 10,000 miles away from the comfort of home were villified, and MUCH worse. Where is the tax-paid Memorial to those who fell in the LINE of Duty on May 4th at????? Please don't say Washington,..because We, the Veterans paid for that out've our OWN pockets! Tell the ENTIRE story, or don't start at all.And, in closing,..........just a side thought,..why did all the campus calamities CEASE after 1972? Perhaps the reason is that the draft ceased to be, and that the war wasn't as importmant anymore? It has all the appearances of being an Anti-Draft movement instead of an Anti-War one.

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4rocky14(745 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I was in the military for 4 years during Nam. The problem with the National Guard back then was that most of them was in it just so they didn't have to go to Vietnam.i had enough friends in it then to know this.
At Kent State these young kids had no leadership.At the first sign of trouble---they didn't know what to do.The students didn't throw rocks--they were throwing some stones.
Very sad.

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5Puma2u(2 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Mrs.Rupp's son does not have his facts straight. He was in Vietnam, so perhaps he needs to read up on what happened on that day and the days before hand.

1) No Guardsmen were seriously injured, so none of them 'fell in the line of duty' on May 4. None of them were shot, wounded or killed. No students carried any weapons and only threw rocks and bottles, or tear gas canisters shot at them by the Guard. The nearest wounded student to the National Guard when they fired was nearly 100 ft away, The closest killed student was about 100 yards away. The Guardsmen were not in danger for their lives. The shooting was unjustified.

2) Two of the students killed were not protesters- they were on their way to class. They were 'minding their own business' before they were killed. One was in the ROTC.

3) There is evidence of premeditated intent to shoot by the Guardsmen from witnesses to the event based upon personal encounters.

4) The Memorial to killed students at Kent was not taxpayer funded.

5) While some Vietnam vets were villified in some cities upon their return, this can not be generalized as the typical response of ALL Americans.

6) In fact- protests continued on various college campuses over a variety of causes after 1972. I would assert that the anti-war sentiment never stopped. Vietnam forced the US military to re-assess and change they way it trained soldiers, and changed their fundamental attitude that soldiers were expendable like a broken weapon. Sadly, it is clear that treatment and support for Vietnam vets has been lacking or inadequate.

In the case of Kent State, the opportunity for healing is still there- for each person, on any side of this issue. I hope that in their own way, and in yours, you can find peace.

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61970mach1(1005 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

"No students carried any weapons and only threw rocks and bottles,"

Bounce a few of those off of your face before you categorize them as "only."

Awful that people were 4 were killed and others wounded there. It shouldn't have happened. It wouldn't have happened if the rioters hadn't rioted in the first place. The Guard did a poor job too, but they wouldn't have been there if there wasn't already a problem started by the hippies.

3 died last night in a car crash in Campbell. Will those three being debated 40 years later?

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7JIMANDERSON(13 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

One guardsman did die that day at Kent State , he had a heart attack. But it was probably not caused by rock or bottle attacks,but who knows.They were sent there because of riots and vandalism. And how many were realy part of the campus or brought in from elsewhere?

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8boardmanres(40 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

One thing we certainly have not learned in all those years, is how to keep from sending young men to their deaths in unjustified wars.

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9havinmysay(155 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Photoman said:
"First Amendment Rights are currently being stifled by the present administration and may well escalate into another situation much like the Kent State tragedy. Our President does not take kindly to views differing from his."
Photoman, please provide evidence to support the above statement.

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10Silence_Dogood(1416 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

What have we learned?

How about don't throw rocks at Soldiers with guns for a starter !

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11paulydel(1361 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I am a veteran of 26 years and before you call a war unjust do some homework. We did what we had to do to stop communism because contrary to popular belief nobody likes us. They just want what we have or/and destroy this country. Nobody disputes the first amendment rights but that doesn't include theft and destruction and acting in a disorderly manner. Before shooting off your mouth go take a look at all the memorials for the men and women who gave their lives so that we can have free speech. Instead of selling your country down the river like is being done now how about defending it.

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12300(573 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Vietnam had nothing to do with our freedoms here, it all had to do with certain segments of our government wanting to be imperialists. We lost Vietnam, so why didn't we lose any of our freedoms? Because, our freedoms weren't at all at stake there.

The sad truth is that every single soldier who died in Vietnam, did so in vain.

You should be angry at those politicians and business leaders who send the young to wars that have got nothing to do with day-to-day life in the US, not those voicing dissent.

I understand Afghanistan, but Iraq is proof that our government doesn't fear sending our young off to die. If they did, we'd not have invaded it. And, yet again, we've got a war in which soldiers are dying 100% in vain.

It seems that 40 years on, we've learned nothing.

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13cambridge(3175 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

paulydel.....More than a million people lost their lives in the Vietnam "conflict". If your going to take a look at the memorials take a look at all of them because all of that blood is on our hands.

The premise of that war was that if we didn't go to Vietnam and fight the Communist we would have to fight them here. After eight years and a million deaths we gave up the fight and you know what, not a single Vietnamese came to this country and forced anyone to do anything.

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14cambridge(3175 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

My bad. The actual death count in Vietnam was more than 5 million.


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15cambridge(3175 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Jessiedavid....Actually times haven't changed. The Vietnam war was a war for oil just like Iraq with the same BS premise "fight em there or fight em here".


Bottom line, we went to the other side of the world and waged war on people that were no threat to us in any way. Sound familiar?

What is amazing to me is that the people that would be against protesting an unjust war that took 5 million lives are the same people that themselves would protest health care for every American.

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16cambridge(3175 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Jessiedavid......5 million dead and it's all good because it says so in the bible? Thanks for clearing that up.

At the same time as Vietnam all of Eastern Europe, China, North Korea and Cuba were Communist. Why didn't we fight there? Why Vietnam? If it was such a rightest fight why did we stop?

This country was then and is now run by corporations. They even got the Supreme Court to pass a law saying that they are people.

We finally have a President that is willing to stand up to them in fights against the insurance industry, wall street and bank rip offs and the republicans in congress unanimously vote against every bit of it. It's not hard to figure out who works for the interest of these corporations over the interest of the people, then and now.

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17Silence_Dogood(1416 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

cambridge you and you ilk never cease to amaze me with your selective reading of history. It was Nort Viet Nam that invaded South Viet Nam. It was North Viet Nam that invaded Cambodia. It was North Viet Nam that invaded Laos.How is it that you can overlook these FACTS.Are you really that blinded by your socialist tendencies to overlook the obvious.You sound like a selfrightious smug lefty that would in fact throw a rock at the very people that guarantee you your rights to free speech..
Let me ask you this, are you one of those Americans that SPIT on the Soldiers that came home from that war.Hundreds of thousands of americans did that , but none have the courage to admit it now. Why is it that these lefties dont have the courage to stand by and admit to thier convictions (ie admit that they SPIT on and denigrated our soldiers), is it because deep down they were cowards then ,and they are cowards now ?

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18cambridge(3175 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Silence_Dogood.....And we invaded North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I don't have socialist tendencies and i don't overlook the obvious. The self righteous are the ones waving the the flag and falling instep for big oil and the military industrial complex because that's what that war was about.

I have two close friends whose names are on that wall one friend who lost a foot and another whose life was ruined by agent orange. All but one felt the same way I do about that war. So you have a lot of nerve asking me if I spit on our soldiers and inferring that I'm a coward afraid to admit my convictions. A coward is someone who would imply those things while hiding behind a keyboard.

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19Silence_Dogood(1416 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

" I don't have socialist tendencies and i don't overlook the obvious."

You have got to be kidding ,right ?
Look back at your positions on health care that you posted. You have been one of the strongest advocates for socialized health care on this forum. You have done nothing but beg for America to have a health care system like Italy or France.You would love for the government to dictate to the people how and when we get care. You would love for the government to dictate to the Doctors how much they can charge for care.You have been advocating for a single payer system for the last year, What the heck would you call that , the FREE market.
As for "And we invaded North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia" it is a very simple example as to how you choose to look at the world. Why the heck do you think we did those things AFTER the North Vietnamese. As for Cambodia it was Viet Nam that invaded and took over complete control of that country AFTER we left in 74. Giving rise to the POL POT era.
I have friends too. One's that I SERVED IN UNIFORM WITH.One's that bleed for our country and for thier reward were SPIT upon by thier fellow (leftist) Americans. Freedom is a great thing that is provided by those that are willing to stand on the LINE for all of us. It is not fair to spit on them, throw ROCKS on them nor throw BOTTLES at them. History has accurately recorded how the LEFT has treated our Vets in the past, it is something that they would love to hide from, but can"t.

One thing for sure is this , A coward is NOT someone who WORE the uniforn in times of trouble.

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20TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Maybe it was people on the right spitting because they didn't win the war

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21TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

As long as victims of the shooting live, it's still part of the present. Ask Alan Canfora.

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22NilesOhio(795 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

This was an interesting article by the Akron Beacon Journal last year of the famous girl over Johnny Miller picture.


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