So many years have passed since the Ohio National Guard ended the lives of Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Bill Schroeder and Sandy Scheuer and wounded nine others. Forty-two years... Such a very long time.... But no matter how much time passes, those of us who lived through Monday, May 4, 1970 remember the trauma as if it were yesterday. I guess we always will.
To those of you who asked me to write about the 40th anniversary event back in 2010 after I returned, please forgive me. I simply couldn't do it. I found myself utterly drained. I felt good about what I had experienced. I felt devastated by again being at Kent State. And, in the end, I just wanted to keep my silence, to hold tight to those private experiences, to shield my heart from any more interaction on the subject.
But, over the years, you have all been so supportive of my work on this issue that I couldn't shake the sense that I owed you a recap. And, in the two years since, several things have come to light about the shootings, things that perhaps answer some questions while raising new ones. So, today, to honor the events of 2010 and to remember the horrors of 1970, I give you that long and long overdue diary on the 40th anniversary. Of course, in the end, these diaries are written primarily to honor those bright young lives cut short on that sunny May day so very many years ago.
Visiting Kent State is always difficult for me. In 1977, as the university prepared to bulldoze part of the shooting site, I walked off campus with Allison Krause's father, Arthur, vowing never to return. And, indeed, I stayed away for almost 30 years, finally returning in 2006. But last year I knew I wanted to go back for the 40th anniversary. I knew it would be important. Moreover, at one point, it seemed as though a remarkable array of the friends I have made through this incredible investigative journey would also be there.
It had been a couple of years since I had seen Elaine and I was looking forward to seeing her again as well as finally meeting her son and grandchildren who would be accompanying her.
I was also eager to see Doris Krause, Allison's mother. We had met several times before but always in high stress settings -- court hearings, etc. Moreover, we had never spent time without also being with her incredible husband, Arthur.
Arthur was a towering presence who absorbed all the light. With Arthur around, it was hard to get to know Doris. But Arthur died in the 1980s so it would just be Doris now.
And her daughter, Laurel.
Laurel was only 15 when Allison was killed. She and I had never had any contact until early last year when she found my writings here. At the same time, I learned about her Kent State Truth Tribunal. The Truth Tribunal, Laurel hoped, would bring to light pieces of the story that would add up to the larger truth. We spoke several times in those early months of 2010 and, while we didn't always agree, we shared a deep commitment to discovering what had happened during those heart-wrenching four days.
In addition, I was looking forward to meeting a Kent State investigator from Australia who had recently uncovered this remarkable photograph from May 4th:
Bill Schroeder in orange bell bottoms, Sandy Scheuer in red shirt to his left, Allison Krause over Sandy's right shoulder in tan jacket.
And Sandy's roommate was also planning to make her first visit to Kent State since May 4, 1970. For years, she had protected this amazing drawing by Sandy Scheuer and Jeff Miller (note the initials at bottom), done shortly before their deaths.
The message -- "Who is to say?" -- seemed so poignant, considering all the years so many of us invested after May 4, 1970 searching for that elusive thing known as the "truth."
But in the weeks preceding the anniversary, the Australian researcher determined he could not afford the trip, Sandy's roommate decided a return trip would be too difficult and Elaine decided that it was time for the younger generation to take responsibility for official Kent State events. While I was sorry about these decisions, I knew I would be terribly busy anyway.
As always, I was lucky enough to have my little sister, littlesky, to accompany me and support me through what was sure to be a difficult trip. Saturday night, at the motel outside Kent, I could not sleep. My brain was full of anxiety but, when I tried to confront it, my mind ran in circles, hiding from that pain. Laughably, I instead found myself fretting about Jay Leno's doomed career. Shortly before, Leno had bombed at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. We had watched this on C-SPAN before bed and no matter how hard I tried to confront my real fears, my mind kept hiding behind Jay Leno. What a farce for, never in my life have I watched his show. But my mind simply wouldn't allow me to think about visiting Kent State. So I tossed and turned, ostensibly worried about Jay Leno's career.
In the morning, littlesky and I spent some quiet time with the four dead in the parking lot. I was so happy to be able to spend time there alone, before the crowds appeared. Then we headed to the Truth Tribunal which was in downtown Kent, with a room for giving testimony and a common room for visiting and relaxing.
I met Laurel and then reconnected with Doris and Tom Grace, one of the wounded. I was feeling both emotional and strangely comforted. The camaraderie in that room was wonderful. You knew that everyone there had been changed by May 4. That for all of us it was a pivotal event. You knew that no one there would be surprised to learn that you had sacrificed 25+ years to a search for truth. You knew that everyone had the same scars, the same questions, the same tears in their soul. It was a place where my obsession felt comfortable and normal.
But then Laurel suddenly looked stricken and said, "Oh, Lesley, have you heard? Sandy Scheuer's mother died this morning." I knew that Sarah was terminally ill but the loss that morning seemed especially cruel. Nonetheless, I was glad to know that she had seen Sandy and Jeff's drawing before her death. When I learned of the drawing, I told Elaine who had no idea it existed. When she asked if Sarah knew, I told her I doubted it since Kent State hadn't bothered to notify Elaine. When Elaine hesitated about calling her, uncertain about intruding into her life again, I encouraged her to do it. I asked her if she wasn't glad she knew. "Of course," she said. "Well," I said, "don't you think Sarah would feel the same?" When she still hesitated, I pushed. "What if Sarah were to die without seeing this gift from Sandy?" That persuaded Elaine. At the time, I had no idea that Sarah was ill but Elaine learned how precarious her health was when she called. But Sarah's husband (Sandy's father had died and she had remarried) understood the significance and made sure that Sarah saw the picture before she died. In that, there was comfort. And, oddly, I also felt comforted knowing that Sarah had avoided enduring another May 4 -- an especially bittersweet day for her as it was also her wedding anniversary.
We stayed at the Truth Tribunal for a couple hours and then scheduled my testimony before heading back to the motel where, thankfully, I finally got some sleep.
On Monday, Russ Miller arrived in town. Neither he nor I were particularly adept at using our cell phones so there were quite a few botched communication attempts. When we finally connected, we realized that we both had quite a lot scheduled so we promised to check in later in the day so that we could hopefully get together that evening. Littlesky and I were planning to go to the May 4th Archives to see Jeff and Sandy's original drawing before heading over to the Truth Tribunal so I could give my testimony. We hoped to be back on campus in time to hear Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) speak that evening. So Russ and I promised to check in with each other later and went on our way.
When we got to the Truth Tribunal, I was more than a little nervous. I had given a lot of thought to what I wanted to say, what mattered most to me, i.e., laying out what I believed were the loose ends. But there's often a vast gulf between knowing and doing. And my jitters weren't helped when, as I was headed upstairs, I turned to get a reassuring smile from littlesky and saw this look of horror on her face! Ohmigod! What's wrong? Turns out she was reacting to a stain on the back of my shirt but her look almost destroyed the little bit of confidence I was managing. That look -- so like one of my mother's -- is one of the bizarrely fond memories of the whole weekend.
In any case, once I walked into the interview room and met Emily Kunstler, who was handling the interviews, I felt a strange sense of calm. I placed myself in a contained bubble and all the shared emotion from the common room strengthened me and made me believe that my participation was vitally important. Moreover, it was recognition of my membership in an extraordinary community that I have been so privileged to participate in. So, for the next hour or so, I spoke my truth:
When I finished, I felt incredibly emotional. I came back downstairs and dissolved into tears, comforted by my sister and by Laurel. All those years and all that emotion finally flowed freely. I was sad, so very sad. But I also felt confident that I had done everything I was capable of doing in this pursuit of truth. Finally, my tears subsided and, just as we were going to leave, Doris arrived. She sat down next to me and we began to talk. For the next hour or two, we sat and talked and enjoyed each other as we had never been able to do before. We remembered all the amazing people who were involved in that long quest for justice. At one point, we were discussing George Segal's sculpture, Abraham & Isaac, which was commissioned for Kent State as a memorial for the kids but the university turned it down because it was "too violent." I mentioned the name of the foundation that commissioned the work and Doris, amazed at the detail, asked how I could remember that. I told her that a large block of my brain seemed to be reserved exclusively for Kent State trivia. She just looked at me (and here littlesky would add "with such affection") and said, "But it's such a little head!" It was the quote of the weekend for me.
Finally, littlesky and I stood up to leave and Doris pulled me close and said, "I want you to know how much you meant to Arthur and John [the Rev. John Adams, counselor to the families]. They were both so fond of you and your help meant the world to them. I know Arthur never would have told you but I want you to know that." I nearly burst into tears again. I carry that inside me now with such pride.
My conversation with Doris foreclosed seeing John Lewis speak so I began to try to connect with Russ. After several calls went unanswered, I began to think it might not happen. As we stood in the parking lot, I realized how exhausted I was. It was clear that I was not going to be able to stick around for the traditional march and vigil. So I called Russ once more and left a message saying I was in the parking lot and would be there for a few more minutes but was getting ready to go back to the motel. Then I walked over to Jeff's memorial again and told him, "Tell your brother to call me!" Within minutes, Russ called me back and told me to stay put, he was on his way. So littlesky and I went and sat on the steps leading to Taylor Hall, looking out over the parking lot. We watched as a man, apparently with his son, lingered at Jeff's memorial. The man clearly felt a special connection with Jeff. As we sat there, my phone rang again. "Lesley, it's Russ. I'm at Jeff's. Where are you?" He had walked right past us. Littlesky said, "There he is, on the phone." As we walked over to join him, we saw the guy who had been remembering Jeff with his son turn and begin to talk with Russ. Incredibly, this turned out to be Jeff W, Jeff Miller's best friend from childhood. He had never before been to Kent State and hadn't seen Russ in decades. But he heard Russ talking on the phone and knew it had to be him. It was truly remarkable and I have to believe Jeff played a role in arranging it.
Russ's kids soon joined us and we spent about half an hour talking in the parking lot. They were every bit as warm as I had expected and it felt as if I had known all of them for a very long time. Finally, as the march time drew near, littlesky and I said our farewells and left so I could get some rest after a very emotional day.
(Oddly, Jeff W. turned out to be a tea partyer and later showed up on a Jon Stewart segment! I guess if anyone has cause for not trusting the government, it is he.)
But there were some great speeches. Russ spoke on behalf of the Miller family:
And Florence Schroeder spoke for her son:
And Barry Levine gave a truly kick-ass speech on behalf of Allison that went well beyond his allotted time:
and the doves were released as the bell tolled in memory of the dead and wounded at Kent and Jackson State:
And then, for littlesky and me, it was time to hit the road. A long, eventful and important weekend had ended.