Thirty Years Later-
May 4, 2000
By Mac Lojowsky
Thirty years later, just after noon, the Victory Bell again rings
through the green grass of Kent State University's Commons. The bell rings twenty-seven
times; one toll for each of the four students killed and
nine wounded by the Ohio National Guard May 4, 1970, and 14 times in solidarity for the
two students murdered and twelve wounded by Mississippi Highway Patrol at Jackson State
University May 15, 1970
Kent State University officials stopped holding Commemoration
ceremonies in 1975, but dedicated students have kept the ideals represented by the Kent
State shootings alive. For the past twenty-five
years, the students of the May 4th Task Force have organized the annual May 4th
Commemoration ceremonies, bringing such speakers as Jane Fonda, William Kuntzler, Dr.
Hellen Caldicot and performers including Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and Crosby,
Stills and Nash. Co-chair of the May 4th Task Force from 1995-98, and still considered the
backbone of the organization by many students, Kent State senior Wendy Semon believes that
continued student activism is the true remembrance of May 4, 1970. "The living legacy
of those four students is activism," Semon states. "The only appropriate way
students of today can keep that legacy alive is to promote activism and educate
others." This year, the Task Force brought some of Americas most prominent
leaders of social and political change to embody all facets of the current movement. These
speakers include; the American Indian Movement's Vernon Bellecourt, environmental and
social justice advocate Julia Butterfly Hill, Philadelphia's MOVE member Ramona Africa,
Global Exchange's Julliette Beck, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and world-renowned
political theorist Noam Chomsky.
Kent State junior Jeff Ritter, and current co-chair of the May 4th Task
Force feels that this year's Commemoration reflects the unification of the current
national movement. "So many movements are represented here today, the American Indian
Movement, the environmental movement, anti-globalization, the MOVE organization. It's a
real symbol of solidarity, of all the things that are going on today."
Kent graduate student Kabir Syed, a ten-year member of the May 4th Task
Force sees the Commemoration as a place for political activists to gather and connect with
one another. "The wide variety of issues speaks to the growth of the social-political
movement which exists in the U.S. We see a range, and yet, an integration of ideology here
today. Though there are differences between us, we are growing aware that these
differences need not separate us from accomplishing our tasks."
Around three thousand current college students, anti-Vietnam War
veterans, and activists from as far away as Quebec and Seattle observe a moment of silence
as the last hollow brass toll rings across campus. These people have gathered today at
Kent State not only to remember the murders of 1970, but to celebrate America's long
tradition of protest and resistance.
Chic Canfora, a survivor of the May 4, 1970 shootings, high school
teacher, and longtime community activist explains, "Today we assemble and pay tribute
to four friends who fell here thirty years ago, but let us also pay tribute today to the
countless students who have since then, in the past thirty years, followed in their steps.
May 4th is not just about tragedy. We assemble here each year not onlyto remember our
fallen friends, but to resurrect the issues and ideals for which they died. The most
important of which, for all of us, for every American citizen, is freedom of speech."
History of the May 4 Shootings
On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced to the nation that
he was expanding the Vietnam War into neighboring Cambodia. Immediately, college campuses
across America rose in protest. At Kent
State, a mid-size public Ohio college, Nixon's announcement began four days of protest,
which cumulated in the wounding of nine students and the murders of Allison Krause, Jeff
Miller, Bill Schroder, and Sandra
Scheuer by thirteen members of the Ohio National Guard.
To this day, heated controversy and questions still surround the events
at Kent State April 30- May 4, 1970. Perhaps the most debated and controversial event of
these days is the burning of Kent State's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) building
the evening of May 2, 1970. In response to the two previous days of demonstrations, on
Saturday May 2, 1970, Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declared that Kent was in a state of Civil
Emergency. The sale of alcohol, firearms, ammunition and gasoline was prohibited and a
citywide curfew was established for 8:00 p.m. Although the curfew was effect in the city,
Kent State's curfew was not until 1:00 a.m, which forced students to gather on campus, or
risk arrest. At 8:00 p.m., around 1500 students protesting what they saw was the
actualization of marshal law, gathered at the university's Reserve Officer Training Corps
Activist Alan Canfora, one of the students shot on May 4, and a
participant in the ROTC demonstration explains, "Some of the students there did try
to light the building on fire. It was like the Three Stooges trying to burn the ROTC
building; throwing matches through the windows. Then the fire trucks showed up with the
Sheriffs, State Troopers, campus police and Kent police, and thoroughly doused out the few
curtains that did catch fire. Then they started taking flash pictures of us and then they
started using tear gas, so we left. When we left, that fire was completely out."
"At that point," Canfora continues, "the group
decided to head towards town to gather more people. When we did come back about an hour
later, the building had burned to the ground. It is important to understand that the
building burned while it was under control of the authorities. Today, it remains one of
the biggest mysteries of Kent State because that was the excuse to bring in the National
Guard" (personal interview with the author, April 15, 2000).
The October 16, 1970 Report of the Special Grand Jury under Portage
County Common Pleas Judge Edwin W. Jones concluded, "It is obvious that the burning
of the ROTC building could have been prevented with the manpower then available.
Six years later, Senator Frank Church and his Senate investigation
committee report was issued, exposing years of CIA, FBI, state and local sabotage of
America's social and political movements. (This was the report that exposed the COINTELPRO
and HOUSTON programs). Though it says little about Kent State, the FBI admits that only
five days later, on May 7, 1970, they deliberately lit an ROTC building on fire in
Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In FBI memos obtained under the Freedom of Information Act concerning
Kent State, scores of crucial information remain missing. Not only are entire pages
blacked-out concerning the fire, but at least six pages of the ROTC fire reports are
listed as "deleted"(authors personal
As the ROTC building smoldered, Kent Mayor Satrom called in the Ohio
National Guard, who were still on duty in nearby Akron for a Teamsters strike. Between the
time the Guard was pulled out of Akron and arrived in Kent at 10:00 p.m., they had
replaced their rubber bullets with live ammunition.
On Sunday May 3, 1970, Ohio Governor James Rhodes held a press
conference in downtown Kent about the unrest at Kent State. "These protesters,"
Rhodes declared while pounding a table top with his fist, "are the worst type of
people we harbor in America, worse than the brown shirts and the communist element...We're
going to use every force of law that we have under our authority... We are going to employ
every weapon possible. There is no place off limits. There is no sanctuary and we are
going to disperse crowds."
Despite the fact that the Portage County Prosecutor wanted to close the
university down until the situation calmed, Gov. Rhodes refused. Closing the university,
he said, "would be playing into the hands of the SDS and the Weathermen."
During these early days of May, Governor Rhodes was in a losing
Republican primary election race for the U.S. Senate against incumbent, Robert Taft (whose
son is currently the Ohio Governor). The week before the May 5 primary elections, Rhodes
was 7% behind Taft in the polls. Rhodes decided strategy was to take a vocal hard-line
stance against campus activists in an effort to appeal to the traditionally conservative
Ohio voters. To some extent, he was successful; Rhodes lost the primary election by less
than 1% the day after the Kent State shootings.
Canfora firmly states, "there is every reason to believe that
Nixon was helping Rhodes in his election race against Taft. This was a desperate
politician trying to get votes(the May 4 shootings were) very likely planned and
approved by U.S. military and political leaders including President Nixon and Governor
Rhodes. In particular, President Nixon had a personal grudge against Kent State anti-war
activists since October, 1968, when the Kent SDS repeatedly shouted him down during his
speech at nearby Akron University" (personal interview with the author April 15 and
April 19, 2000).
Indeed, in transcripts obtained from the 1975 Cleveland Federal Court
civil lawsuit against Rhodes and the Ohio National Guard, Governor Rhodes admitted under
oath that he had twice committed perjury in
earlier trials regarding two telephone conversations he had with President Nixon in the
days prior to the shootings. The topic of their conversations, as Rhodes finally admitted,
was the Kent State anti-war
students militant actions on Friday the first and Saturday May 2.
Just before noon, on Monday, May 4, as classes were letting out for
lunch, around 300 students had gathered in the KSU Commons for a rally. The Victory Bell
rang out, calling all students to gather for a
demonstration. The Ohio National Guard stood at the other side of the Commons as more
students, on their way to lunch, joined the rally, swelling the number of students to over
2,000. The National Guard addressed the students over a bullhorn; "This assembly is
unlawful. The crowd must disperse at this time. This is an order!" This message was
repeated five times by the Guard, each time the students responded with chants of
"Power to the People, Pigs off campus!" and "1, 2, 3, 4 we don't want your
fucking war!" A few minutes later, the Kent State University police pleaded,
"For your own safety, all you bystanders and innocent people, leave." Tear gas
was fired on the crowd, and students sent the canisters back to the Guardsmen. With more
tear gas, the Guardsmen, then numbering about 100, corralled the demonstrators between two
buildings and up Blanket Hill. Students began throwing sticks and gravel pebbles at the
advancing troops as they retreated towards the Prentice Hall parking lot. Canfora points
out that at the beginning of the tear gas barrage the National Guard "suddenly
prevented the TV and news media from following the troops as they began their march on the
unarmed students" (personal interview with
the author, April 19, 2000).
A few moments later, out of approximately 76 guardsmen, only the
thirteen "members of Troop G were ordered to kneel and aim their weapons at the
students in the parking lot south of Prentice Hall. They did so, but did not fire (U.S.
Justice Department Summary of FBI Reports, July, 1970)." The Guard quickly assembled
together for a short conference, and then moved back to their positions, focusing upon the
most vocal contingent of demonstrators, who were now below Blanket Hill, on the Prentice
Hall parking lot.
At 12:24 p.m. the thirteen members of "Troop G" of the Ohio
National Guard simultaneously turned, aimed their M-1 rifles and opened fire on the crowd
of unarmed students. The 1970 U.S. Department of Justice Summary of FBI Reports revealed,
"no verbal warning was given to the students immediately priorto the time the
Guardsmen fired." Canfora states, "It is clear there was a verbal order to fire.
well-coordinated actions of these triggermen seemed quite planned and executed like a
firing squad upon orders to shoot" (personal interview with the author, April 19,
After thirteen seconds and 76 bullets, Jeffery Miller, Sandra Scheuer,
Allison Krause and Bill Schroder were dead. Nine more were wounded, one of whom was
permanently paralyzed from the waist-down.
Sandra Scheuer was not involved with the demonstration, only on her way to a
speech-therapy class. Bill Schroder, an ROTC student, also not involved, was only trying
to make sense out of the confusion when he was shot. The day before, Allison Krause had
placed a daisy in the rifle barrel of a National Guardsman and told the soldiers,
"flowers are better than bullets." Jeff Miller, previously an active member of
was saluting the troops with his middle fingers when a bullet entered his jaw.
None of the murdered students was closer than 275 feet from the Guard.
In fact, "only two (students) were shot from the front. Seven students were shot from
the side and four were shot from the rear" (U.S. Justice Department Summary of FBI
Reports, July, 1970).
One of the initial reasons the National Guard gave for firing into a
crowd of unarmed students was they felt threatened because the crowd was closing in on
them. A photo of the Guard taken only seconds before the shooting began shows the main
body of students were gathered in the Prentice Hall parking lot, about 300 feet away, and
absolutely no students were behind the soldiers to hinder their retreat. Again, the U.S.
Department of Justice Summary of FBI Reports concludes, "the Guardsmen were not
surrounded...they easily could have continued going in the direction which they had been
In an immediate show of solidarity, the only national student strike in
American history erupted with over four million students shutting down some 800 campuses.
Across the nation, thirty ROTC buildings were burned in protest. Maryland students blocked
Highway # 1 outside of Washington D.C. President Nixon found himself trapped inside the
White House, surrounded by 150,000 student demonstrators. In San Francisco, students
stormed and occupied City Hall, demanding the impeachment of Richard Nixon.
President Nixon addressed the nation after the shootings with a
message aimed at political activists. "When dissent turns to violence," he
warned, "it invites tragedy."
Despite clear evidence that the National Guard had fired in offense,
(rather than defense) derived from over one thousand pages of FBI reports, countless
eye-witness testimonies and a through investigation by local, state and federal
authorities, the courts ultimately blamed the student protesters.
The Report of the Special Grand Jury under Judge Edwin W. Jones
concluded, "We find...that those members of the National Guard who were present on
the hill adjacent to Taylor Hall on May 4, 1970 fired their weapons in the honest and
sincere belief...that they would suffer serious bodily injury had they not done so. They
are not, therefore, subject to criminal prosecution under the laws of this state from any
death or injury resulting therefrom (October 16, 1970)."
Thirtieth Annual May 4 Commemoration
According to Philadelphia MOVE activist Ramona Africa, the government's
attitude towards political activism has not changed in the past thirty years. Africa is
the only adult survivor of the May 13, 1985 police bombing of a Philadelphia MOVE
household, where five babies and six adults were killed. She spoke at this year's May 4
Commemoration, "This country was founded, was born of violence, rape, robbery, the
massacre of indigenous people of this country, and nothing has changed since that time,
the methods have just become more sophisticated, more treacherous.
We all have to come together, work together to end this insanity. If we
don't we are all doomed. There will be many more Kent States, Jackson States, Mumias, MOVE
bombings, Amido Dillialos, Big Mountians."
In accordance with the May 4th Task Force unpopular image as student
radicals, this year's Commemoration was not without controversy. In a move which prompted
outrage from Ohios Governor Bob Taft, the Fraternal Order of Police, and University
officials, the Task Force invited death row inmate, journalist and political activist
Mumia Abu-Jamal to send a three and a half minute taped speech for the Commemoration.
Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1982 of murdering a Philadelphia police officer, but the
prosecution's case has since been accused of a politically motivated vendetta. Not only
was Mumia Abu-Jamal an outspoken advocate of police accountability, but the prosecution
withheld vital evidence and many eye-witnesses have since stated they were forced to name
Abu-Jamal as the killer under threats from the Philadelphia police.
The elected student government at Kent State (who have their tuition
paid by the University, as well as regularly attend lunches with KSU administrators and
Ohio politicians) publicly denounced the May 4th Task Force. Undergraduate Student Senate
Executive Director Nic Smith spoke on behalf of the government, "In the future, we
need to make sure the historical aspects of the May 4th incident are remembered and cease
to become a showcase for personal political gainit is my firm belief that this (Mumia
Abu-Jamal's case) has no correlation to the events of the May 4th incident, despite the
arguments of a handful of student organizations. (the Daily Kent Stater, May 4,
Former May 4th Task Force member and current Evergreen
State College graduate student Rochelle Gause disagrees. "The same system which
killed Jeff, Bill, Allison and Sandy," she explains, "is the same system which
wants to kill Mumia. With the recent case of thirteen Illinois death row convictions being
overturned, and the investigation of the Los Angles police department, you simply can't
say that his case does not reflect a greater symptom of our system. It's pretty clear how
corrupt things are, and if this doesn't apply to May 4, then I don't know what does."
Three protesters did show up when Mumia's speech played, displaying
American flags and signs that read "Fry Mumia!" and "Kill Cop
Killers!" Despite prior accusations from University officials and the student
government, Abu-Jamal did not speak of his own situation, but of the lessons that May 4,
1970 offers activists today.
"Kent State teaches," Abu-Jamal spoke, "that a so-called
free society will slaughter students who are exercising their alleged Constitutional
rights of demonstrating for peace, and then give awards to the killers. Kent State
was indeed a bloody marker, but as Amido Dillialo shows, the
blood continues to run."
The mainstream media focused their attention on the 30th anniversary of
the Kent State shootings not on the eighteen other Commemoration speakers, but on the
controversy surrounding Abu-Jamal's three and a
half minute taped speech. The May 1, 2000 issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (which touts
itself as "Ohios largest Newspaper") mentioned only one speaker by name;
Mumia Abu-Jamal. "Various speakers will reflect on the last three decades," the
paper wrote in a schedule of events for the 30th anniversary, "and a taped message
from Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on Pennsylvania's death row for shooting a police officer,
will be played." They failed to mention Abu-Jamal's long history of political
activism, or the numerous claims that he deserves a new trial.
Four days later, in the May 5, 2000 issue of the Plain Dealer, the
three anti-Mumia protesters received more coverage than all of the Commemorations
political speakers combined. To few students surprise,
Kent's student newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, followed suit after the major papers in
overshadowing the issues that May 4 represents by also focusing upon the controversy
surrounding Mumia Abu-Jamals speech. The May 4, 2000 issue of the paper managed to
criticize the Task Force in four separate articles without once mentioning the lineup of
the day's Commemoration speakers.
May 4th Task Force historian and supporter for the past twenty-five
years, Mike Pacifico feels that the Daily Kent Stater's coverage is largely influenced by
the Kent State administration. The KSU administration, Pacifico believes, has long tried
to "bureaucratically eliminate the May 4th Task Force from campus through their
ultimate control over the student press and student funding."
Despite the media's disregard of the messages of this year's
Commemoration, those in attendance heard the message of growing solidarity throughout the
On behalf of Global Exchange, the San Francisco based organization
which helped orchestrate the recent protests in Seattle against the World Trade
Organization and in Washington D.C. against the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund, was Julliette Beck. Beck spoke of the links between the student movement of the
1960's and the student movement of today. "I think it is critical that we begin to
connect with our history," she spoke. "(Undersecretary of Defense during the
Vietnam War ) Robert Macnemara, as soon as he was done with the war in Vietnam, went on to
become the president of the
World Bank. (in it's fifty year history) The World Bank has increased poverty,
increased debt, it has caused ecosystem disasters of unbelievable proportions.
We are living in a world where seven million children die each year by
the economic policies perpetrated by the World Bank, by these structural adjustment
policies which Macnemara masterminded."
In recent years, a new era of activism has emerged where environmental
issues are no longer separated from social justice issues. This has been perhaps best
demonstrated by ongoing Kaiser-Aluminum lock-out, where Steelworkers have joined with
environmentalists against Kaiser-Aluminum owner Charles Hurwitz. Hurwitz also owns Pacific
Lumber, which is currently responsible for cutting down some of the last California's
Commemoration speaker and activist Juillia Butterfly Hill, spent 738
days in a two hundred year-old Redwood tree named "Luna" in an effort to protest
Pacific Lumber's logging of old growth forests. Her speech echoed the sentiments of the
Commemoration's underlying theme of solidarity. "I'm here today because I realize
that the environment and social justice issues are one, that it all becomes a target until
we as people stand up and exercise our muscles."
Alan Canfora is pleased with the 30th Commemoration of the May 4, 1970
shootings. "Many of the veterans of our earlier student movement remain active across
America today," he states, "and contribute effort and awareness to assist
younger activists today. Clearly, there's a great new trend of modern student activism now
This year's May 4th Commemoration demonstrated to the world that the current student
movement is not only well informed, but it is making the necessary ties of solidarity
outside of the college campuses. The
Commemoration is a celebration of activism, an exercise of free speech and a demonstration
that all issues address the same system. As American Indian Movement elder Madonna Thunder
Hawk recently spoke in Olympia, Washington, "The young people are again on the move.
When the young people of this country move, things change."
Brad Myers, a sophomore history major at Ohio State University, who
attended the May 4 Commemoration, has seen a dramatic increase in student activism on his
campus in recent years. "There's always demonstrations going on now at Ohio State,
whether it be another Home
Depot going up or forests coming down. I think that students are beginning to understand
that things aren't o.k. anymore. More than that, they're doing something about it."
For Rochelle Gause, this year's May 4 Commemorations summed up many of
the issues that are being raised by the current movement. "The growth of the movement
that's happening nationally is really represented here today. People realize that we're
all in this fight together, and it's
time to stop fighting eachother, and focus on the real issues."
May 4, 1970 is more than just a historical remembrance to Gause; it is
a source of inspiration and action. "As students, we must remember our past and
continue the work that students before us began. Bill, Jeff, Sandy and Allison are always
in my heart, every protest I attend, every time I raise my voice in opposition. To me, May
4 represents everything that I fight for; truth, justice and freedom."
Mac Lajowsky is a poet, a jounalist, a May 4 Task Force
member and part of the May 4 family. He currently resides in Oregon. Mac has some poetry and a speech he read at May 4, 1997 on this
site.The preceeding article appeared in the Humanist, June, 2000 edition.
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