May 1 – 4, 1970 Chronology
On April 30th, President Nixon announced on national television that a massive American-South Vietnamese troop offensive into Cambodia was in progress. “We take these actions,” Nixon said, “not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia, but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam, and winning the just peace we all desire.”
These were familiar words to a war-weary public. Some felt that this decision was essential for attaining a “just peace” and sustaining America’s credibility in the world. Yet others, particularly students, believed that this action represented an escalation of the war and a return to ex-President Johnson’s earlier hopes for a military victory. As the fires from the artillery began to burn in Cambodia, a raging fire of protest spread across the United States.
At Kent State University, the reaction to Nixon’s announcement was similar to that of other campuses across the nation.
FRIDAY MAY 1, 1970
At noon about 500 students gathered around the Victory Bell on the Commons, the traditional site for rallies. A group of history students, who had organized the protest, buried a copy of the Constitution, which they claimed had been murdered when US troops were sent into Cambodia without a declaration of war by Congress.
Three hours later, Black United Students held a rally, which had been scheduled before Nixon had made his announcement. Some 400 people gathered to hear black students talk about recent disorders with the Ohio National Guard on their campus. Word spread quickly that another rally, one to oppose the invasion of Cambodia, was scheduled for Monday, May 4, at noon.
Friday night, one of the first warm evenings of the spring, several hundred students gathered in downtown Kent in an area with a number of bars, known as “the Strip,” on North Water Street. A spontaneous anti-war rally began in the street. Twice, while the rally was in progress, passing police cruisers were hit with beer bottles. Afterwards, police stayed away from the area.
Meanwhile, more people were leaving the bars. Many in the crowd chanted anti-war slogans, and a bonfire was set in the street. The crowd blocked traffic for about an hour and then moved toward the center of town. Some members of the crowd began to break windows. Primarily “political targets” were attacked, including banks, loan companies, and utility companies.
After being informed of the events, Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declared a “state of emergency,” and arbitrarily ordered all of the bars closed. Kent police, along with the mayor, then confronted the crowd. The riot act was read and police proceeded to clear the area. People inside the bars were ordered to leave, forcing hundreds more into the streets.
The crowd was herded toward the campus with tear gas and knight sticks, which was in the opposite direction in which some of them lived. Fourteen persons, mostly stragglers, were arrested. About $5000 in damage was done as 43 windows were broken–28 in one bank.
SATURDAY, MAY 2, 1970
On the morning of May 2, some KSU students assisted with the downtown cleanup. Rumors of radical activities were widespread, and KSU’s ROTC building was believed to be the target of militant students that evening. During the Vietnam War, students on many college campuses opposed the presence of ROTC and often were successful in forcing the removal of ROTC from their campuses.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed on the city of Kent, and students were restricted to the campus. At 5 p.m., shortly after assessing the situation, Mayor Satrom alerted the Ohio National Guard. KSU officials were unaware of this decision.
Shortly after 8 p.m., about 300 people gathered on the Commons, where a few anti-war slogans were chanted and a few brief speeches given. An impromptu march began and participants headed towards the dormitories to gain strength. Large numbers of people joined the march. The now 2,000 marches swarmed the hill overlooking the Commons and crossed the Commons. Then they surrounded the ROTC building, an old wooden World War II barracks which was scheduled to be demolished. Windows were broken and a few persons eventually set the building on fire.
Plain-clothed police who were standing nearby made no attempt to stop the students at this point. Firemen arrived on the scene but their actions were abandoned because some of the crowd attacked the firemen and slashed their hoses. The blaze quickly died out. The firemen eventually regained control and the fire died out. The building was ignited again. This time, however, firemen arrived with massive police protection. Police surrounded the building and dispersed the students with tear gas. The firemen again got the fire under control.
The crowd then moved to the front of the campus. The students retreated to the Commons to find the ROTC building smoldering at both ends. Within minutes, the building was fully ablaze.
The crowd then assembled on the wooded hillside beside the commons and watched as the building burned. Many shouted anti- war slogans. In the first two weeks of May, thirty ROTC buildings would be burned nationwide.
Armed with tear gas and drawn bayonets, the guard pursued students, protesters and bystanders alike, into dormitories and other campus buildings. Some stones were thrown and at least one student was bayoneted. The question of who set the fire that destroyed ROTC building has never been satisfactorily answered by any investigative body.
SUNDAY, MAY 3, 1970
May 3 was a relatively quiet day. By now, however, the campus was fully occupied by Ohio National Guard troops, and armored personnel carriers were stationed throughout the campus. Although some students and guardsmen fraternized, the feeling, for the most part, was one of mutual hostility.
That morning, Ohio Governor James Rhodes, who was running for US Senate, arrived in Kent and along with city officials, held a news conference. Rhodes, running on a “law and order” platform, attempted to use this opportunity to garner votes in the primary election, which was only two days away.
In a highly inflammatory speech, Rhodes claimed that the demonstrations at Kent were the handiwork of a highly organized band of revolutionaries who were out to “destroy higher education in Ohio.” These protesters, Rhodes declared, were “the worst type of people we harbor in America, worse than the brown shirts and the communist element…we will use whatever force necessary to drive them out of Kent!”
Later that evening, a National Guard commander would tell his troops that Ohio law gave them the right to shoot if necessary. This merely served to heighten guardsmen’s hostility toward students.
Around 8 p.m., a crowd gathered on the Commons near the Victory Bell. As the group increased in size, Guard officials announced the immediate enforcement of a new curfew. The crowd refused to disperse. At 9 p.m. the Ohio Riot act was read. Tear gas was fired from helicopters hovering overhead, and the Guard dispersed the crowd from the area. Students attempted to demonstrate that the curfew was unnecessary by peacefully marching towards the town, but were met by guardsmen.
Students then staged a spontaneous sit-in at the intersection of East Main and Lincoln Streets and demanded that Mayor Satrom and KSU president Robert White speak with them about the Guard’s presence on campus. Assured that this demand would be met, the crowd agreed to move from the street onto the front lawn of campus.
The guard then betrayed the students and announced that the curfew would go into effect immediately. Helicopters and tear gas were used to disperse the demonstrators. As the crowd attempted to escape, some were bayoneted and clubbed by guardsmen. Students were again pursued and prodded back to their dormitories. Tear gas innundated the campus, and helicopters with searchlights hovered overhead all night.
MONDAY, MAY 4, 1970
At 11 a.m., about 200 students gathered on the Commons. Earlier that morning, state and local officials had met in Kent. Some officials had assumed that Gov. Rhodes had declared Martial Law to be in effect–but he had not. In fact, martial law was not officially declared until May 5. Nevertheless, the National Guard resolved to disperse any assembly.
As noon approached, the size of the crowd increased to 1,500. Some were merely spectators, while others had gathered specifically to protest the invasion of Cambodia and the continued presence of the National Guard on the campus. Upon orders of Ohio’s Assistant Adjutant General Robert Canterbury, an army jeep was driven in front of the assembled students. The students were told by means of a bullhorn to disperse immediately. Students responded with jeers and chants.
When the students refused to disperse, Gen. Canterbury ordered the guardsmen to disperse them. Approximately 116 men, equipped with loaded M-1 rifles and tear gas, formed a skirmish line towards the students. Aware of bayonet injuries of the previous evening, students immediately ran away from the attacking National Guardsmen. Retreating up Blanket Hill, some students lobbed tear gas canisters back at the advancing troops, and one straggler was attacked with clubs.
The Guard, after clearing the Commons, marched over the crest of the hill, firing tear gas and scattering the students into a wider area. The Guard then continued marching down the hill and onto a practice football field. For approximately 10 minutes, the guard stayed in this position. During this time, tear gas canisters were thrown back and forth from the Guard’s position to a small group of students n the Prentice Hall parking lot, about 100 yards away. Some students responded to the guardsmen’s attack by throwing stones. Guardsmen also threw stones at the students. But because of the distance, most stones from both parties fell far short of their targets. The vast majority of students, however, were spectators on the veranda of Taylor Hall.
While on the practice field, several members of Troop G, which would within minutes fire the fatal volley, knelt and aimed their weapons at the students in the parking lot. Gen. Canterbury concluded that the crowd had been dispersed and ordered the Guard to march back to the commons area. Some members of Troop G then huddled briefly.
After reassembling on the field, the Guardsmen seemed to begin to retreat as they marched back up the hill, retracing their previous steps. Members of Troop G, while advancing up the hill, continued to glance back to the parking lot, where the most militant and vocal students were located. The students assumed the confrontation was over. Many students began to walk to their next classes.
As the guard reached the crest of the Blanket Hill, near the Pagoda of Taylor Hall, about a dozen members of Troop G simultaneously turned around 180 degrees, aimed and fired their weapons into the crowd in the Prentice Hall parking lot. The 1975 civil trials proved that there was a verbal command to fire.
A total of 67 shots were fired in 13 seconds. Four students: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were killed. Nine students were wounded: Joseph Lewis, John Cleary, Thomas Grace, Robbie Stamps, Donald Scott MacKenzie, Alan Canfora, Douglas Wrentmore, James Russell and Dean Kahler. Of the wounded, one was permanently paralyzed, and several were seriously maimed. All were full-time students.