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May 5th, 1970.

As Tuesday dawned, the whole country, the whole world, knew about the Kent State massacre. The famous photo of Mary Ann Vecchio on one knee, keening over the body of Jeffrey Miller, snapped by a Kent undergrad seconds after the National Guard ceased firing on Monday, went on the Associated Press newswire that afternoon and was seared into the nation’s consciousness the next morning.

Chip Young, one of several friends who volunteered memories when I started this project, recalls:

I would have been 11. I remember my older brother informing my mom about the killings. Her response: "Oh no, not in America." Perfect moment of shattered idealism.
Nan Faessler blipped me a single sentence:
Because of the killings at Kent State, I made a decision to drop out of graduate school and devote my time to working with the anti-war movement full time.

John Kaye’s response:

I never went to college, but at the time was living near Marquette U in Milwaukee, working in a Movement bookstore. What the right wing at the time used to call an "outside agitator." Even before the invasion of Cambodia, at that point in my life activism was everything.

When the news hit, especially about Kent State, and shortly after, about Jackson State, things sort of...exploded. I didn't sleep for 3 days, up all night at meetings, silk-screening clenched fists on t-shirts, etc. Demonstrations and whatever else we could think of all day and evening. The only time in my life I ever gave an impromptu speech, to a smallish group of students gathered just south of the campus, about the Panthers, I think.

In these three brief recollections, we see events as they actually unfolded--shock, individual commitment to resist, escalation of the struggle.

In retrospect, because what happened happened, it seems inevitable. But things could conceivably have gone another way. Some students fled the campuses and more were pulled out by terrified parents. Ohio wasn’t the only state where the National Guard had been called up--before the end of May, something like 16 governors had mobilized a total of over 35,000 troops. Police forces coast to coast were on high alert.

In a comment when I reposted yesterday’s May ‘70 article at the left-liberal Daily Kos website, a blogger who goes by Empower Ink wrote:

For me, and many other college students, Kent State had a chilling effect in our participation in protests, following so closely to King's and Bobby's assassinations and Chicago '68.

While I remained very actively politically after Kent State, through Nixon's impeachment and Raygun's administration, I did not go to a massive anti-war protest until the day after the 1st Gulf War started.

While Empower Ink continued her activism, many didn’t or never started because of Kent State. The Beach Boys, a group whose greatness I normally defend to the bitter end, echoed this approach in 1971's disgraceful "Student Demonstration Time" (lyrics by Mike Love, natch) which proclaimed:
I know we're all fed up with useless wars and racial strife
But next time there's a riot, well, you'd best stay out of sight.
We had just seen the iron fist behind the mask of American democracy and we had learned that it didn’t smite only Black people in ghettos and the differently pigmented inhabitants of small countries half a world away. Challenge the system hard enough, and even college campuses could become free-fire zones. If it had happened at half a dozen other campuses, might the movement have been stopped in its tracks?

Maybe not, because millions of us were not intimidated but outraged--and driven to act.

In the event, what did happen was that we escalated--and the other side blinked! California Governor Ronald Reagan, who had only a month earlier blustered about having “a bloodbath” on campuses, ordered all of the schools in California’s vast higher education system closed until May 11. College administrators around the country suspended classes, convened campus meetings, issued public statements condemning the invasion of Cambodia and the shootings at Kent State.

Meanwhile, strikes and protests broke out from Portland East to Portland West--and Alaska and Hawai’i too. At least 100 more schools went on strike on the 5th, with hundreds and hundreds more to follow in the coming days. And enraged protesters took the struggle off the campus, like the thousands at the University of Washington who surged onto Interstate 5 and took it over, marching into Seattle.

At NYU, where I was based, the already shutdown campus saw a dramatic escalation when a couple of hundred of us burst into Warren Weaver hall on the Washington Square campus and occupied it. The whole second floor of this unattractive and (it turned out) uncomfortable building was the Courant Institute, which housed a heavily refrigerated, multi-million dollar, state of the art CDC 6600 computer. This monster (whose functions could be performed today by a decent pocket calculator) was funded by the Atomic Energy Commission and crunched numbers to build up the US nuclear arsenal.

The next day, the NYU administration got a telegram reading, in full:

We, as members of the N.Y.U. community occupying the Courant Institute, are holding as ransom the Atomic Energy Commission's CDC 6600 computer. At a general meeting in Loeb Student Center, the people put forth the following demands: the University must pay 100 Thousand Dollars to the Black Panther Defense Committee for bail for one Panther presently held as political prisoner in New York City. Failure to meet this demand by 11 a.m. Thursday, May 7, will force the people to take appropriate action. In addition, if the University Administration should call in police or other authorities, the above action will be taken immediately. In the meantime, no private property will be destroyed.
(Signed) N.Y.U. Community on Strike
No, we were definitely not blinking.

[To track the whole series from the start, click here, then scroll down. Or you can read ahead (and see some nifty illustrations) here, by following the chain links at the bottom of each article.]

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Comment Preferences

  •  May 4 1970 was a Monday (16+ / 0-)

    I was a sophomore at SUNY Stony Brook (now Stony Brook University) at the time; a typical long-haired hippie-type. For whatever reason I not in class that afternoon (perhaps I had none at that particular time); I with friends, driving around eastern Long Island. The radio was on. Of course it was an AM-only radio. I don't recall what we were listening to, but we heard that several students at Kent State had been killed. Then the names became available, including Jeffrey Miller.

    Interesting, I thought; my cousin's name is Jeffrey Miller; he'd transferred to Kent State at the beginning of the semester from Michigan State. I figured it was a coincidence.

    Just in case, when I got back to my dorm room I phoned home. Dad was still at work; my mother ought to have been home by then (it was about 5 p.m.) but my younger sister was around. "I guess you heard the news" my sister said. Mom was at my aunt Elaine's apartment, a couple of blocks away.

    What was from the outside a national disgrace was, for my family and for the families of the others either killed or wounded, personal tragedy and an outrage to our collective sensibilities. It was an utterly surrealistic experience as well. This was not the sort of thing we thought could happen in our country and certainly not to a family member. How wrong we were.

    For most of the next 40 years, on or around May 4 my aunt, Elaine Holstein, published an op-ed piece in the New York Times, reminding us that just because we thing such things cannot happen in our country does not mean they will not. We should insure that they never ever happen again.

    On the 40th anniversary of this heinous act, my cousin Russ, Jeff's older brother, gave an address at the Kent State campus.

  •  We better start showing off (12+ / 0-)

    the whites of our eyes pretty soon, or they're gonna think nobody cares and ramp up the constitutional destruction.

    I love this diary. Glad you mentioned this comment:

    Kent State had a chilling effect in our participation in protests
    That was a big part of it, if not the whole idea. And it hasn't gotten any better. If anything, it's gotten worse.

    "Inevitability" diminishes free will and replaces it with self-fulfilling prophecies."--Geenius At Wrok

    by lunachickie on Mon May 05, 2014 at 03:25:03 PM PDT

    •  The Event Specifically Wasn't Set Up for That (9+ / 0-)

      purpose. In fact Nixon is quoted responding to the news, the day of the shooting, as I recall the quote when expresses little surprise, he was thinking of an entirely different school.

      The Ohio governor faced a primary election the next day (this year it's tomorrow) and had decided to make a show about law & order an issue.

      He thought he'd made his point, the week before, when just up the road from him at Ohio State a small collection of demonstrations were transformed by undercover city police plants (last named in public in 1998) and uniformed officers waiting strategically into a sizeable riot for two days.

      The OSU demonstrations had been planned for weeks, the presence of the undercover plants showed that they'd been well anticipated by law enforcement. Both city and state leadership had axes to grind but it was a stretch to use Ohio State, recently ranked the nation's leading Party School by Playboy and hardly a hotbed of national counterculture and political resistance.

      Everything unraveled badly at OSU when city and state police busted heads then marauded among dorms and frat & sorority houses gassing thousands into the streets, so the National Guard had to be called in Wednesday night, enforcing marital law for much of the coming days including the Thursday of an otherwise quiet unsuspected national college scene.

      Everyone at Ohio State was soon relieved to be facing the Guard. They included a lot of Vietnam dodgers our same age, there were a lot of them, and they had none of the animosity of the state & city cops.

      This was all local.

      Nobody had any clue Nixon was about to announce the Cambodia invasion. When he did, the response at Ohio State was quite subdued given the presence of the guard. But the protests at Kent State naturally led Rhodes to react with the fresh, ongoing really images of Ohio State that nobody seems to know about.

      One thing I never understood is why the unit dispatched to Kent was so small.

      There was a lot of coordinated federal activity around national campus activism in that era, no question, but from being on the scene in Ohio at that time I think what happened here was mostly local, chance, and quite possibly a good dose of some personal ill will.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Mon May 05, 2014 at 04:14:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I wasn't really talking about the event itself (3+ / 0-)

         though I am sure there have been arguments made for that. That was more of a reference to the subsequent "investigation" and ultimate aftermath, as noted by the original commenter.

           Kent State had a chilling effect in our participation in protests

        "Inevitability" diminishes free will and replaces it with self-fulfilling prophecies."--Geenius At Wrok

        by lunachickie on Mon May 05, 2014 at 05:25:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Ohio State was shut down on the day of Kent (4+ / 0-)

        State, the Oval filled with the same national guard types as were even at that moment firing on the students at Kent State. The OSU national guardsmen had bayonets attached, the whole meshuganeh megilah. I was there, on the Oval.

        In the early evening, ultra American patriot Uke-Am (Ukrainian-American) students from a fraternity house on Fraternity Row (having been driven out by the rampaging police/guard gangs) came into Larry's Bar, a hangout on High Street frequented mostly by grad students, professors, and sundry "artists" (and artists, no quotes needed). Ordinarily those two groups would have been on opposite sides of ythe event. The Uke-Ams came to consult the local former Green Beret in residence at Larry's, name of Warren Wildrick (referred to, with some affection, as an "over-armed boyscout" by the resident intelligentsia), who trained the Uke-Am contingent how to pick up teargas cannisters and throw them back at the guardsmen (or police---I couldn't say which or whether both, as I hadn't made it that far up 15th St).

        Shortly even Larry's Bar was heavy with teargas.

        It was a bloody crazy time.

        Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings. —Nelson Mandela

        by kaliope on Mon May 05, 2014 at 06:46:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for continuing to post this series. (6+ / 0-)

    Resist much, obey little. ~~Edward Abbey, via Walt Whitman

    by willyr on Mon May 05, 2014 at 04:06:49 PM PDT

  •  once a no-blinker, (6+ / 0-)

    always a no-blinker.

    TRAILHEAD of accountability for Bush-2 Crimes? -- Addington's Perpwalk.

    by greenbird on Mon May 05, 2014 at 05:02:27 PM PDT

  •  I Was 10 In The Strange Spring Of 1970 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Dirtandiron, lao hong han

    I was fascinated by the space program and the near tragedy of Apollo 13 had occurred just a few weeks before Kent State. Remember my parents breaking the news the morning after they let Houston know there was a problem that this Apollo mission might not end well. In 68 my conservative father had me wearing a "Nixon's The One" button. Came home to watch the Mets play in the 69 World Series to find my sister had left High School earlier that day to participate in the moratorium protest against Vietnam. My even older college sisters were bringing their long haired boyfriends home to meet my parents where they would engage in loud battles with my Dad about politics. So when Kent State occurred I was already doubting my Father's political views. Woodstock the film was released March 26th and later that spring and summer we would mimic the movie in our suburban Connecticut backyards. The drift to the left had begun for me.

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