Students at Kent State Killed - History

Students at Kent State Killed - History

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To protest the US invasion of Cambodia, there were protests throughout campuses in the United States. Protests took place at Ohio State University in Kent Ohio. Some of the events became violent, and the Governor of Ohio called out the National Guard. On May 4, 1970, the National Guard opened fire on the protesters. Four students were killed nine other wounded. The killing shocked the nation and galvanized the anti-war movement.

On April 30th President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia. The invasion unleashed protests on campuses throughout the United States. Demonstrations were particularly boisterous at Kent State University. The protest spread from the campus to the downtown. On May 1st, rioters in town threw bottles at police. The mayor of the city requested from the governor National Guard troops to help keep the peace.

In the evening of May 2nd, the ROTC building on the camps was set on fire as demonstrations continued. Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes had a press conference where he stated:

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 and the communist element and also the night riders 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.

On May 4th a protest was planned at the center of the University. The National Guard demanded that the protesters disperse. The protesters refused. The National Guard began to use tear gas on the protesters. Because of the winds, the tear gas was not effective. The guardsman then advanced with fixed bayonets. The students retreated, and the guardsmen followed. Most of the protesters had disbursed, but some remained taunted the National Guard and throwing things at them. They chanted “ pigs off the campus.” Suddenly one guard sergeant used his pistol and fired at the protesters, he was followed by 28 additional soldiers who fired 67 rounds. The rounds killed four protesters and wounded nine. The National Guard claimed that they had been fired upon. Two of those killed Allison Krause and Jefferey Miller had participated in the demonstrations while two Sandra Scheuaer and William Knox Schroeder had merely been walking two their next class.

Student strikes broke out throughout the United States. Four hundred fifty campuses were forced to close for a few days. The National Guard troops who fired were never prosecuted. The event cemented the great divide that the Vietnam War had created in the American society.

The national guardsmen fire on the student protesters at Kent state University because they refused to disperse after been warned to. The protest started as a peaceful protest to fight the government policy that causes United states’ involvement in Vietnam war.

On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students. The impact of the shootings was dramatic. The event triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close.

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The four students who lost their lives that day were Allison Krause, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder. By what seems to be nothing more than a surprising coincidence, three of the four were Jewish – surprising, because the percentage of Jews in the Kent State student body never exceeded five percent. In addition to the four deaths, the 67 rounds fired by the troops over the course of 13 seconds wounded another nine people, one of whom ended up paralyzed.

The extension of the Vietnam War to neighboring Cambodia, where Communist troops had taken up a presence with impunity, was not anticipated by the American public, as there was a general perception at the time that the war was winding down. On Friday May 1, the day after President Nixon’s television address, some 500 students demonstrated on the Kent State campus against the widening of the war. That night, there was violence in the center of Kent, with some storefront windows being broken and bottles thrown at police some students were apparently involved.

The next day, Kent’s mayor, LeRoy Satrom, declared a state of emergency and asked Ohio Governor James Rhodes to send troops from the state’s National Guard to the town to maintain order. Rhodes consented, but the soldiers arrived only late that Saturday night. In the meantime, protests continued on campus, and the local ROTC (Army Reserve Officer Training Corps) office was set on fire.

Governor Rhodes arrived in Kent on Sunday, where at a press conference he declared the student protesters “the worst type of people that we harbor here in America.” They were, he elaborated, “worse than the brown shirts and the communist element, and also the night riders and the vigilantes,” and he promised, “We are going to eradicate the problem.”

On the Monday, although university officials tried to prevent another antiwar demonstration from taking place on campus, some 2,000 students gathered at the university’s commons. The Guard tried several times to make the crowd disperse and started making arrests. They also used tear gas. A little before 12:30 P.M., as a standoff took place between members of the university population and the troops, members of the National Guard began firing.

Krause and Miller had been participants in the protest. (It is Miller’s body that we see in the iconic photograph, made by photojournalism student John Filo, of a young woman screaming over a body lying face down on the ground. Filo won the Pulitzer Prize for the image.) Scheuer and Schroeder were bystanders, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All were shot with National Guard M1 Garand rifles, but despite many different investigations of the day’s incident over the years, it has never been firmly established who gave the orders to shoot or who shot whom.

The killings at Kent State sparked additional protests across the country, with some 900 colleges and universities closing down in the wake of student strikes. Not that Americans were of one mind about the meaning of the deaths: A Gallup poll performed shortly after May 4 revealed that 58 percent of respondents blamed the students for the violence, and only 11 percent saw the National Guard as responsible.

Legacy of the shootings

The tragedy at Kent State galvanized the fight for the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Students had argued for the amendment, saying that if they were old enough to be eligible for the draft they should be allowed to vote for someone who might end the war. The 26 th Amendment was approved in March 1971, less than a year after the Kent State shootings.

The civil rights and anti-war protest movements were a cornerstone of American student activism and a precursor to current movements such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.

Kent State University has wrestled with its history. Controversy erupted in 1977 when the university decided to build a gym annex on part of the site of the shooting. The annex did not cover any of the spots where students were shot. In 2010, the site of the Kent State shooting was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 2016 was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

In the years since the attack on student protesters, Kent State has created a May 4 legacy scholarship for students majoring in peace and conflict studies, opened a May 4 Visitors Center, and hosted annual commemorations including a speaker series, musical and documentary film tributes, photo exhibits, and a candlelight vigil.

Kent State University had a number of events planned to commemorate the 50 th anniversary of the May 4th shooting. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic many of them were cancelled or scheduled to take place virtually.

Four Students Were Killed in Ohio. America Was Never the Same.

The Kent State shootings marked the end of the 1960s, and the beginning of our era of political polarization.

Mary Ann Vecchio kneels over the body of the student Jeffrey Miller, who was killed by Ohio National Guard troops during an antiwar demonstration at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Credit. John Paul Filo/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Dr. Perloff is a professor at Cleveland State University.

On Friday, May 1, 1970, just after noon, about 300 students at Kent State University, outside Cleveland, gathered in the grassy campus Commons to protest President Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. As part of the protest, they buried a copy of the Constitution, a symbol of their outrage that Congress had never formally declared war on Vietnam or Cambodia, and they announced another rally, set for May 4.

Later that night, when the most audacious of the young protesters destroyed commercial property in downtown Kent, the town’s mayor asked Governor James Rhodes for assistance. Rhodes called in the National Guard. The next day, around 9 p.m., the campus building used by the Reserve Officer Training Corps, one of the Army’s primary recruiting tools during the Vietnam War, was torched, probably by a very small fringe of activists.

Student activists had long been at the forefront of the antiwar movement, and Kent State, with some 21,000 students, boasted a long tradition of radical protest, partly because of its proximity to Cleveland, then a stronghold of progressive labor. Town-gown tensions were palpable at Kent the day after the burning of the ROTC building. Rhodes primed polarized sentiments, calling the protesters “worse than the ‘Brown Shirt’ and the communist element,” labeling them “the worst type of people that we harbor in America.”

On Monday, May 4, activists awaited the noon rally to protest the guard’s presence on campus, as well as Nixon’s Cambodia invasion. But with the guard in control of the campus, the university announced the rally was prohibited. The students gathered anyway, facing off across a hilly green against a phalanx of guard soldiers.

The sky was cloudless, the spring air warm and still. As the morning wore on, the growing crowd of students, now numbering in the thousands, became feisty, and some taunted the soldiers. Just after noon, a group of guardsmen suddenly huddled together, retreated briefly, wheeled toward the right, turned in tandem and fired at the students for 13 seconds.

The students were not only unarmed most didn’t realize that the guards’ rifles held live ammunition. Four students were killed: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. Nine others were injured. After 50 years, we still don’t know why the guard turned and fired.

While Kent State was not the only instance of violence against student protesters, it immediately became a byword for state-sanctioned violence. Campuses nationwide erupted in protest. Krause, Miller, Scheuer and Schroeder became martyrs, their deaths memorialized by the band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in their song “Ohio.” The tremors were felt all the way to the White House according to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, they precipitated the sense of political paranoia within the administration that set Watergate in motion.

Thomas M. Grace, one of the students shot on May 4, went on to become a historian. Among his books is a well-received history of the protests, “Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties.” In it, he argued that the shootings and the mass student strike had three immediate, tangible effects.

First, the ensuing political pressure propelled Nixon to end the unwarranted Cambodian invasion earlier than anticipated, on June 30, 1970. Second, the horror of students dying at the hands of a militaristic state helped propel Congress to pass the War Powers Act in 1973, which curbed the president’s war-making authority. Third, the protests contributed to the ratification of the 26th Amendment a year later, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Legislators recognized, not only that young adults old enough to be drafted should have the right to vote, but the civic awareness necessary for voting was evident in the acute appreciation of political problems that young people poignantly showed during the spring of 1970.

Looking back, 50 years later, we can also see clear but less tangible effects. Along with cultural touchstones like the Manson family murders and the concert at Altamont, Kent State marked the symbolic end of the 1960s, stretching from the optimism of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration through the March on Washington to the long hot summers of riots, assassinations and radical activism. If, as the sociologist Todd Gitlin noted, the decade was marked by both hope and rage, then the events of May 4 brought the sober recognition that neither could overcome the will of a militaristic state and a conservative political backlash.

Kent State did more than end an era it also shaped a new one. As David Greenberg, a professor of history and journalism and media studies at Rutgers, explained, Kent State “left a legacy of disillusionment. Generations like mine and those after mine grew up in the shadow of the 1960s. We grew up without great expectations that our leaders would act valiantly, without a naïve or simple view of the military, without confidence that protest could bring about political change.”

Kent State also helped unearth a growing political polarization rooted in different views about the cultural changes wrought by the 1960s. The May 4 shootings were viewed very differently by conservatives and liberals most conservatives endorsed the National Guard’s actions and at best wrote off the shooting as a tragic accident, at worst as the protesters’ just desert — a position that liberals and the left found unimaginable. “Just as many consider shootings by the police to be ridding the streets of ‘thugs,’ the killings at Kent State were also celebrated by many. ‘National Guard 4, Students 0,’ or ‘They Should have Shot 400’ were commonly voiced views,” Professor Grace wrote, finding a vicious split that is echoed today over everything from climate change to the Kavanaugh hearings.

We also need to recognize the way that Kent State is viewed through race. The students shot on May 4, all white, became martyrs most people have forgotten that less than two weeks later, Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green, two students in Mississippi, were killed by police officers in the wake of a false rumor about the death of a civil rights leader. And while Kent State stands out as an exception — National Guardsmen killing white college students — over the years, state authorities have killed far more African-American protesters than whites.

Seen through that lens, Kent State was not an aberration at all, but a dramatic continuation of national afflictions — above all the willingness by the state to use force to quash dissent.

Robert Cohen, a professor of history and social studies at New York University, sees Kent State as a point on a line running from Woodrow Wilson’s censorship during World War I, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and McCarthyism, up to the repression of antiwar activism in the 1960s, all of which set the stage for the deployment of violent tactics on the campus of Kent State. That line continues, Professor Cohen says, through the civil liberties-abusing Patriot Act and Trump’s Muslim immigration ban, which was given the benediction of the Supreme Court.

Yet the better angels of our political nature persist. Fifty years after May 4, public expression of unpopular views remains endemic to democracy. On a host of issues, from the political failures to address climate change to President Trump’s abdication of responsibility to confront the coronavirus crisis, resistance remains vital, alive — and appropriate.

Kent State had planned a series of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the shootings, but the coronavirus outbreak forced administrators to cancel them. This year’s elaborately planned ceremonies would have served as a capstone, symbolically showcasing the ways that the university, aided by activist/scholars like Jerry M. Lewis, Alan Canfora and Laura Davis, has kept historical memory alive and evolving.

But the campus, largely empty of students and faculty, is quiet. An eerie silence will mark 12:24 p.m., the exact moment, 50 years earlier, when the soldiers opened fire. It will be, perhaps, appropriate — a moment to reflect, in our own freighted era, on the fragility and significance of the democratic ideals for which these students gave their lives.

Richard M. Perloff is a professor of communication, psychology and political science at Cleveland State University. He has written books on persuasion, news and politics.

On This Day: National Guard kills four students in Kent State shootings

On May 4, 1970, in Kent, Ohio, 28 National Guardsmen fire their weapons at a group of anti-war demonstrators on the Kent State University campus, killing four students, wounding eight, and permanently paralyzing another. The tragedy was a watershed moment for a nation divided by the conflict in Vietnam, and further galvanized the anti-war movement.

Two days earlier, on May 2, National Guard troops were called to Kent to suppress students rioting in protest of the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. The next day, scattered protests were dispersed by tear gas, and on May 4 class resumed at Kent State University. By noon that day, despite a ban on rallies, some 2,000 people had assembled on the campus. National Guard troops arrived and ordered the crowd to disperse, fired tear gas, and advanced against the students with bayonets fixed on their rifles. Some of the protesters, refusing to yield, responded by throwing rocks and verbally taunting the troops.

Minutes later, without firing a warning shot, the Guardsmen discharged more than 60 rounds toward a group of demonstrators in a nearby parking lot, killing four and wounding nine. The closest casualty was 20 yards away, and the farthest was almost 250 yards away. After a period of disbelief, shock, and attempts at first aid, angry students gathered on a nearby slope and were again ordered to move by the Guardsmen. Faculty members were able to convince the group to disperse, and further bloodshed was prevented.

The shootings led to protests on college campuses across the country. Photographs of the massacre became enduring images of the anti-war movement. In 1974, at the end of a criminal investigation, a federal court dropped all charges levied against eight Ohio National Guardsmen for their role in the Kent State students’ deaths.

Today in History: Four Students Murdered at Kent State University (1970)

By 1970, Americans were fed up with the Vietnam war, and it was showing in the almost constant protests taking place across the country. The United States government could show almost no progress in the war, and any announcement about the conflict caused backlash all around the U.S.

On May 4, 1970, four students were killed by National Guardsmen during one of these protests at Kent State University in Ohio. This particular protest was in response to President Nixon ordering an incursion into Cambodia. It was seen as yet another expansion of a war that nobody in the U.S. wanted any part of.

The National Guard fire tear gas to disperse the crowd of students gathered on the commons, May 4, 1970. Slate

The protests actually started on May 1, when around 500 people rioted in downtown Kent, throwing beer bottles at police, breaking windows, and setting bonfires. On May 2, the protests continued, and the Ohio governor called in the National Guard.

By the time the Guard arrived, the ROTC building on campus had been set on fire, though it has since been found out that the fire was not set by Kent State students.

May 3 was mostly a quiet day, but tensions were high. Students who came out to help businesses clean up from the rioting were sent home due to fears that more violence would break out. By 8 p.m. that night, another rally was underway, and National Guardsmen were forced to fire tear gas into the crowd in order to get them to disperse. It wasn&rsquot until 11 p.m. that night that Guardsmen forced students to remove themselves completely from the protests, some of them at bayonet point.

May 4 saw the biggest protests yet. Nearly 2,000 students and other protesters gathered at the commons area at the university. The rally had been banned by the university, so the Guard and the Kent police department almost immediately tried to get the crowed to disperse. They were successful with some of the crowd, but many students stayed, berating and throwing things at the soldiers.

At 12:24 p.m., the Guardsmen started shooting into the crowd of students who refused to leave parts of the campus. Nearly 70 rounds were fired into the group. Four students were killed, and 11 were wounded. The Guardsmen would eventually be charged with their murders, but were found not guilty.

Two of the dead students weren&rsquot even part of the protests, but were instead walking from one class to another.

AP Was There: National Guard kills 4 students at Kent State

KENT, Ohio -- The Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed college students during a war protest at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Four students were killed, and nine others were injured. Not all of those hurt or killed were involved in the demonstration, which opposed the U.S. bombing of neutral Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

The confrontation, sometimes referred to as the May 4 massacre, was a defining moment for a nation sharply divided over the protracted war, in which more than 58,000 Americans died. It sparked a strike of 4 million students across the U.S., temporarily closing some 900 colleges and universities. The events also played a pivotal role, historians argue, in turning public opinion against the conflicts in Southeast Asia.

In the hours immediately after the shootings, reporters at the chaotic scene struggled to determine who had fired the shots and why. Among the theories was that Guard members shot after spotting a sniper, a theory later proved untrue.

Kent State’s campus, about 30 miles southeast of downtown Cleveland, will be still on the 50th anniversary Monday. An elaborate multi-day commemoration was canceled because of social distancing restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some events, activities and resources are being made available online.

Fifty years after the events, the AP is making some of its photos and a version of its text coverage from the time available.

An official of the Ohio Highway Patrol today disputed reports from the Ohio National Guard that a sniper was spotted by police helicopter before Guardsmen shot four Kent State University students to death Monday during an antiwar demonstration.

The university, ordered evacuated after the shooting, was virtually deserted this morning and under heavy police and military guard.

Earlier, fire destroyed a barn and several farm tractors in one corner of the campus, and fire officials said they believed the blaze was deliberately set.

Sgt. Michael Delaney of the guard public relations staff said after the shootings that, “At the approximate time of the firing on the campus, the Ohio Highway Patrol—via a helicopter—spotted a sniper on a nearby building.”

Today, a patrol official, Maj. D. E. Manly, said, “There is nothing on the log on the sighting.” Manly said if patrolmen in the helicopter circling the campus had seen a gunman it would have been recorded.

Guard officials claimed Monday and again today that the Guardsmen were returning the fire of a small caliber weapon in defense of their lives. A student crowd had surrounded some 30 Guardsmen and were throwing rocks and chunks of concrete at them.

The Justice Department and officials of the National Guard launched separate investigations of the gunfire outburst which took the lives of two girls and two young men.

Miss Allison Krause, 19, Pittsburgh, Pa. Miss Sandy Lee Scheuer, 20, Youngstown, Ohio Jeffrey G. Miller, 20, Plainview, N.Y., and William K. Schroeder, 19, Lorain, Ohio.

Portage County Coroner Dr. Robert Sybert said all four had been shot from the side, “left to right.” All died of a single bullet wound, he said.

Miss Krause was hit in the left shoulder, Miss Scheurer in the neck, Schroeder in the left underside of the chest and Miller in the head.

Dr. Sybert said the final autopsy report wouldn’t be completed for about a week.

Three students remained in critical condition today. One of them, Dean Kahler, of East Canton, Ohio, was paralyzed from the waist down, according to Paul Jacobs, administrator at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna.

Eight other persons, including two guardsmen were hospitalized. One of the two guardsmen was treated for shock and the other had collapsed from exhaustion.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper, called editorially for “an immediate investigation and prompt steps to prevent a recurrence of the most tragic campus violence ever in the United States.

“Many questions will have to be answered: Why were these people shot? Who shot first? How could these deaths have been avoided?

President Nixon deplored the campus deaths. In a White House statement, he said:

“This should remind us all once again that when dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy. It is my hope that this tragic and unfortunate incident will strengthen the determination of all the nation’s campuses, administrators, faculty and students alike to stand firmly for the right which exists in this country of peaceful dissent and just as strongly against the resort to violence as a means of such expression.”

The campus and the City of Kent were sealed off following the shootings.

School officials ordered the faculty, staff and 19,000 students to leave. Classes were suspended indefinitely by University President Robert I. White.

Later, Portage County Prosecutor Ronald Kane, armed with a court injunction, officially closed the university until further notice.

Patrols of guardsmen and state patrolmen roamed the campus and blocked all entrances Monday night.

Businesses in the City of Kent and the approaches to the city were cordoned by police and guardsmen.

Nixon said that he would order a Justice Department investigation if the state so requested and Gov. James A. Rhodes then asked for the FBI to carry out an inquiry.

The governor had ordered the Ohio National Guard to the campus Saturday night following a demonstration by some 1,000 students during which the Army ROTC building was destroyed by fire.

Jerry Stoklas, 20, a campus newspaper photographer, said he witnessed the shootings from a rooftop.

He said about 400 students were harassing the guardsmen and “they turned and opened fire. I saw five people go down.”

Other witnesses said the demonstrators were pelting the guardsmen with rocks and chunks of concrete.

Stoklas said the troops had backed away, but the demonstrators followed. He said the guardsmen had “turned around several times, apparently trying to scare them.”

Sgt. Michael Delaney of the guard public relations staff said 20 to 30 rounds of MI rifle ammunition were fired.

“At the approximate time of the firing on the campus,” he added. “the Ohio Highway Patrol—via a helicopter—spotted a sniper on a nearby building.”

Some students contended the “sniper” actually was one of several student photographers atop Taylor Hall.

Guard spokesmen said 900 to 1,000 persons had been involved in the demonstration at the university’s Commons and that guardsmen had exhausted their tear gas supply in dispersing the crowd.

The state’s National Guard commander, Adj. Gen. Sylvester T. Del Corso, said the troops began firing from semiautomatic rifles after a rooftop sniper had shot at them.

Gene Williams, a member of the student newspaper staff, said he saw the troops turn “in unison, as if responding to a command,” and fire into the crowd.

Brig. Gen. Robert H. Canterbury, who was in direct command of the guard contingent on the campus, said no order was given to shoot.

“A military man always has the option to fire if he feels his life is in danger,” he said. “The crowd was moving in on the men on three sides.

“The shooting lasted about two or three seconds. Officers at the scene immediately called for a cease-fire.”

Canterbury said an investigation into the shooting would attempt to determine which guardsmen fired first, what others fired and actually hit students, and how many rounds of ammunition they expended.

The shooting climaxed student demonstration and disturbances on the campus and in the city that began Friday in the wake of President Nixon’s address to the nation Thursday night on sending U.S. troops into Cambodia.

About 500 students attended a peaceful demonstration on the campus at noon Friday but late that night about 500 persons, most of them students, went on a rampage downtown. Bonfires were set in the streets and several windows of stores and cars were broken.

About 1,000 students demonstrated on the campus Saturday night and some of them set fire to the ROTC building with railroad flares. That was when the National Guard, which had been on standby at Akron, was ordered to the city.

About 1,200 students staged a sit-in at a street intersection Sunday night in defiance of an emergency order from Rhodes banning any outdoor meetings in the city or on the campus. They were driven back to the campus by guardsmen with bayonets on their rifles.

Earlier Sunday night the guard used tear gas in breaking up a march on the campus by an estimated 1,500 students who were violating the governor’s emergency order.


Announcement of Cambodian campaign Edit

On April 30, 1970, President Nixon announced the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. [1] [2] On May 1, protests on college campuses and in cities throughout the U.S. began. In Seattle, over a thousand protestors gathered at the Federal Courthouse and cheered speakers. Significant protests also occurred at the University of Maryland, [3] the University of Cincinnati, and Princeton University. [4]

Kent State shootings and reactions Edit

At Kent State University in Ohio, a demonstration with about 500 students was held on the Commons. [5] On May 2, students burned down the ROTC building at Kent State. On May 4, poorly trained National Guardsmen confronted and killed four students while injuring ten other by bullets during a large protest demonstration at the college. Soon, more than 450 university, college and high school campuses across the country were shut down by student strikes and both violent and non-violent protests that involved more than 4 million students. [6] [7] [4]

Continued protests Edit

While opposition to the Vietnam War had been simmering on American campuses for several years, and the idea of a strike had been introduced by the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, which advocated a general strike on the 15th of every month until the war ended, the Kent State shootings seemed to provide the spark for students across the US to adopt the strike tactic.

On May 7, violent protests began at the University of Washington with some students smashing windows in their Applied Physics laboratory and throwing rocks at the police while chanting "the pigs are coming!" [4]

On May 8, ten days after Nixon announced the Cambodian invasion (and 4 days after the Kent State shootings), 100,000 protesters gathered in Washington and another 150,000 in San Francisco. [8] Nationwide, students turned their anger on what was often the nearest military facility—college and university Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) offices. All told, 30 ROTC buildings went up in flames or were bombed. There were violent clashes between students and police at 26 schools and National Guard units were mobilized on 21 campuses in 16 states. [9] Walkouts and protests were reported by the National Strike Information Center at over 700 campuses across the country, with heavy concentrations in New England, the Midwest, and California. [10]

For the most part, however, the protests were peaceful — if often tense. Students at New York University, for example, hung a banner out of a window which read "They Can't Kill Us All." [11]

Ohio University Edit

On May 4, 1970, an estimated 3,000 Ohio University (OU) students met to discuss the possibility of a peaceful strike on the Athens campus in response to the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings. 2,500 students voted in favor of the strike. The same day Taylor Culbert, Vice President of Academic Affairs, read aloud a speech to the gathered students written by OU President Claude Sowle. In his remarks, Sowle spoke in favor of peaceful discussions at OU and offered to help facilitate them. Still, he made it clear that the administration would not tolerate acts of violence. [12]

On May 5, the student strike began. 4,000 students took part in a rally in the Grover Center. The two main speakers at the rally were President Sowle and life photographer Gordon Parks. Sowle praised the protesters for the lack of violence, but he said he would not close down the university for the strike. He stated, “We will protect the freedom of those who want to go to class. The University has a responsibility to protect the rights of those students who wish to attend class as much as your right not to attend classes.” The students at the rally agreed to hold a “March Against Death” the following day. [13]

On May 6, over 2,500 people participated in a “March Against Murder”. It began on the College Green and traveled past the Athens County Selective Service Office and the National Guard Armory. The peaceful protest “marked the climax of a two-day ‘student strike’ on campus.” Following the march, students held sit-ins and marches on Athens streets. At night, another mass meeting of some 3,000 people was held to determine what, if any, further protests should be held but no consensus was reached. In a statement, President Sowle expressed support for the peaceful protests and said he was “confident” OU would remain open. “Each student,” stated Sowle, “must express his concern in whatever way he deems appropriate. However, we must leave the opportunity for those who want to attend class.” [14]

On May 7, the protests grew more confrontational and violent. Students occupied Athens businesses, nearly thirty of which closed. There was a firebombing at the ROTC supply room in Peden Stadium, which caused an estimated $4,000 damage. FBI investigators were called in to investigate the firebombing. There was also a bomb threat that led to the evacuation of Woolworths. At the same time, hundreds of students peacefully gathered on campus throughout the day and night. [15]

On May 8, twenty-five students from the newly formed Committee on Issues and Action (COIA) met with President Sowle at the university airport after he returned from Washington where he appeared on a national television program on Vietnam and campus protests. The students wanted to find ways to keep the university open but still have peaceful protests and discussions. The president said that he was “glad” that the COIA requested the meeting and that they would meet again in the next twenty-four hours. Also, students tried to get Athens businesses to close. Most of the businesses they approached were already closed. However, the BBF restaurant refused to close, so about 100 students participated in a sit-in. An OU professor who was in the restaurant asked the students, “What is to gain by shutting down the stores. Your intimidation is a form of violence.” The students eventually left the restaurant and made a couple more stops before being met by the police who asked the students to return to the College Green, where students continued to gather until late at night. [16]

On Saturday, May 10, COIA members met with President Sowle about cancelling classes on Tuesday for a campus discussion on national problems, but he refused to do so. The administration also banned two out of three speakers scheduled to speak at a rally sponsored by the Athens Peace Committee (APC), which was to be held at the Grover Center on Monday night. Sowle later allowed the two to speak. [17]

On May 11, an outbreak of more violence threatened to close the university. After the APC held a mass rally at the Grover Center, a group of about seventy-five students forced their way into the Chubb Library, occupied it, and issued a list of demands. The list included the end of ROTC and other expressions of the “war machine” on campus. The students remained in the building throughout the night. The same night someone firebombed the Nelson Commons cafeteria causing more than $100,000 dollars in damage. It took the Athens fire department an hour to put the fire out. Someone also started a trash fire in the basement in the South Green dormitory. [18]

By May 12, the ability to maintain peace on the campus was quickly deteriorating. There were bomb threats, trash fires, and false fire reports. A group of fifty students presented a list of proposals to President Sowle. They demanded he to act upon seven of their proposals, which called for new classes on “the military industrial complex” and other topics, within twenty-four hours or the students threatened to “close the University down physically since it is already closed down academically.” More than 100 student and faculty marshals were placed around the university with the specific instructions to watch for “suspicious characters and happenings.” Athens police banned the use of gasoline in containers in order to stop acts of arson. [19]

On the night of May 13, a group of about 350 students met at Baker Center to discuss President Sowle’s suspension of seven students for creating a “clear and present danger” on campus. The Faculty Senate passed a resolution to reinstate the students until a hearing could be held, but Sowle rejected it. After two hours of discussion, the group walked around the residence greens in a “solidarity march”. The group then moved to Cutler Hall, where rocks and bricks were thrown through building windows. Sowle tried to negotiate with the group but was shouted down and left after more rocks were thrown. The group tried to move into the downtown area but was met by Athens Police in riot gear. After rocks and bricks were thrown at the police, they responded by firing canisters of pepper gas. Confrontations between students and the police went on throughout the night. Seven students were arrested. [20]

In the early morning of May 15, President Sowle, following a second night of violence, announced the closing of Ohio University for the remainder of the term and requested the National Guard be sent to Athens. In recorded remarks, Sowle said it was “sad indeed that this inspiring period in the history of Ohio University must end in such an unfortunate way,” but he praised “the magnificent efforts of the great majority of faculty, students and staff to keep the University open. We tried, but we failed.” A few hours later, the first of 1500 National Guardsmen began to arrive in Athens. The violence started around 11:05pm when approximately 800 students broke away from a larger, campus gathering and attempted to move into the downtown area. Athens police fired tear gas at the group of students, and they fired rocks, bricks, and other objects at police and downtown stores. Many store windows were broken. Confrontations between police and students went on for several hours, and there was considerable damage. A university vehicle was firebombed and destroyed. There was also a small fire in a university lab. Windows on several university buildings were broken. Twenty-six students were treated for injuries. [21] In the words of one anonymous student protestor, “Ohio University had to close.” “It was necessary, almost inevitable, that the University close for the simple reason that for the last ten years students and others have been peacefully protesting the war in Vietnam and where has it got them—into Cambodia.” [22]

University of North Carolina Edit

UNC had reputation in the state, particularly among conservatives, as a center of liberalism and activism. The campus began building this reputation under Frank Porter Graham, its president from 1930 to 1949, who was a strong advocate of social welfare and improving the work conditions in the state's textile mills. [23] The Cold War, with its rampant anti-communism rhetoric, raged during the fifties and sixties. UNC found itself the focus of verbal attacks by conservative commentators like future senator Jesse Helms, an executive at Raleigh's WRAL-TV who finished each night's local news with virulent editorials and viewed the campus as a den of Marxists. While UNC did have a Marxist presence, such as the Progressive Labor Club, it was far from the bastion of liberalism that Helms portrayed. [24]

University of Virginia Edit

Strike activities at UVA were highly attended, and led to traffic disruptions and arrests. Marching students halted traffic on highways 250 and 29, and during the worst of the strike, Mayflower moving vans were used as temporary holding cells for arrested protesters. On May 6, students, locals, and people who traveled from across Virginia gathered for a day of rallies at UVA, where state protests were now centered. [25] UVA President Edgar Shannon spoke to the crowd, and was pelted with marshmallows. [25] Shannon had been presented with a list of nine demands from the Student Council, led by its first African American president, James Roebuck. [25] That night, Yippie Jerry Rubin and civil-rights lawyer William Kunstler spoke to an audience of 8,000 at University Hall, a basketball arena not far from the university's historic center in Charlottesville, encouraging students to close down universities nationwide. [25]

On May 5, the University received an injunction to prevent students from occupying Maury Hall, the ROTC building despite this, a small number of protesters remained there until a small fire broke out in the early hours of Thursday, May 7, forcing them to evacuate. [25] By Friday, May 8, the protests led to police action. [26] The strike had lasting consequences in the months that followed. Student reporting at the time argued that a new Alumni Association was being founded directly in response to strike supporters' activities in an effort to ensure that conservative donors continued to give to the university. [27]

Virginia Commonwealth University Edit

On May 6, 500 students boycotted classes after Virginia Commonwealth University president refused their request that he close the university. [25]

Virginia Polytechnic University Edit

On May 13, 1970, 3,000 Virginia Tech students protested and 57 participated in a hunger strike. [28]

Richmond College Edit

The student-led Richmond College (now the University of Richmond) Senate adopted a resolution condemning Nixon's move into Cambodia. [25]

Yale University Edit

Yale's students were divided during the 1970 protests. Kingman Brewster, Jr. was Yale's president at the time he had recently risen in popularity among the student body for his tacit support of students' activism in support of fair trials of accused Black Panther Party members. [29] In the lead up to protests over involvement in Cambodia, Brewster urged students not to participate in the strikes and protests and continue going to class as usual, as Yale students had been boycotting classes to join the national student strike against the invasion of Cambodia. By May 4, the Yale Daily News announced that it didn't support involvement in the students strikes occurring across the nation. [30] This decision made it the only Ivy League paper to disagree with the protests. [30] Consequently, fifty protestors visited the News offices and called the editors fascist pigs. In its editorial, the Yale Daily News warned that "radical rhetoric and sporadic violence, such as marked the weekend demonstrations at Yale, only added fuel to the ‘demagoguery of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, John Mitchell and the other hyenas of the right.'" [30]

Fears of insurrection Edit

The protests and strikes had a dramatic impact, and convinced many Americans, particularly within the administration of President Richard Nixon, that the nation was on the verge of insurrection. Ray Price, Nixon's chief speechwriter from 1969–74, recalled the Washington demonstrations saying, "The city was an armed camp. The mobs were smashing windows, slashing tires, dragging parked cars into intersections, even throwing bedsprings off overpasses into the traffic down below. This was the quote, 'student protest. That's not student protest, that's civil war'." [6]

Not only was Nixon taken to Camp David for two days for his own protection, but Charles Colson (Counsel to President Nixon from 1969 to 1973) stated that the military was called up to protect the administration from the angry students, he recalled that "The 82nd Airborne was in the basement of the executive office building, so I went down just to talk to some of the guys and walk among them, and they're lying on the floor leaning on their packs and their helmets and their cartridge belts and their rifles cocked and you’re thinking, 'This can't be the United States of America. This is not the greatest free democracy in the world. This is a nation at war with itself.'" [6]

Attempted dialogue with students Edit

The student protests in Washington also prompted a peculiar and memorable attempt by President Nixon to reach out to the disaffected students. As historian Stanley Karnow reported in his Vietnam: A History, on May 9, 1970 the President appeared at 4:15 a.m. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to discuss the war with 30 student dissidents who were conducting a vigil there. Nixon "treated them to a clumsy and condescending monologue, which he made public in an awkward attempt to display his benevolence." Nixon had been trailed by White House Deputy for Domestic Affairs Egil Krogh, who saw it differently than Karnow, saying, "I thought it was a very significant and major effort to reach out." [6]

In any regard, neither side could convince the other and after meeting with the students Nixon expressed that those in the anti-war movement were the pawns of foreign communists. [6] After the student protests, Nixon asked H. R. Haldeman to consider the Huston Plan, which would have used illegal procedures to gather information on the leaders of the anti-war movement. Only the resistance of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover stopped the plan. [6]

President's Commission on Campus Unrest Edit

As a direct result of the student strike, on June 13, 1970, President Nixon established the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, which became known as the Scranton Commission after its chairman, former Pennsylvania governor William Scranton. Scranton was asked to study the dissent, disorder, and violence breaking out on college and university campuses. [31]

Conservative backlash Edit

The student protests provoked supporters of the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration to counter-demonstrate. In contrast to the noisy student protests, Administration supporters viewed themselves as "the Silent Majority" (a phrase coined by Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan).

In one instance, in New York City on May 8, construction workers attacked student protesters in what came to be called the Hard Hat Riot.