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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The History of Kent State University, 1970

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

The History of Kent State University, 1970

Although the university will become 100 years old in 2010, the history of Kent State University always will remain linked to one day, May 4, 1970.

For it was on that sunny day in Kent, Ohio, when four students were killed and nine students wounded when Ohio National Guardsmen fired on a group of unarmed students protesting President Richard Nixon’s decision to expand the controversial, undeclared Vietnam War into Cambodia.

Although repeatedly researched, written about, discussed, and theorized, consensus never has been reached about precisely why, or even if National Guardsmen needed to fire up to 67 M-1 rifle shots into a crowd of demonstrating students over a thirteen second span.

Even the residual outcome of those deaths doesn’t fit into a comfortable, historical niche. Some historians claim the shootings at Kent were pivotal in bringing about an earlier conclusion to the Vietnam War. Others disagree, however, and say following initial student outrage, that demonstrations to end the war soon became quieter, giving President Nixon more time to dictate closure on his own terms.

It wasn’t as if Kent State was the only U.S. campus with angry students protesting the Vietnam War, as hundreds of colleges and universities were experiencing the same unrest. Too, Kent wasn’t the only campus where demonstrating students were killed. Yet, Kent State University 1970 became a rallying cry for a generation.

More than a year before the shootings, in 1969, militant groups staged a nine-day strike on the KSU campus, and on May 3, 1970 Ohio Governor James Rhodes called them, “ … the strongest, well-trained militant revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.”

But history, especially about Kent State University 1970, can be murky. Not only was Governor Rhodes the man who called the Ohio National Guard to the Kent campus in May 1970, but the primary election he was stumping for as a U.S. Senator (and lost), was held May 5, 1970.

Major events concerning Kent State University 1970 include:

* 1968 Richard Nixon elected president on platform to end Vietnam War

* April 1969 Students for a Democratic Society and Black Student Union stage nine-day KSU student demonstration

* April 30, 1970 Nixon announced invasion of Cambodia

* May 1 Rioting of unknown origins in Kent; bonfires on downtown streets, store windows smashed

* May 3 Ohio National Guard (1,000) arrives on campus, ROTC building burned to ground

* May 4 About 3,000 assemble for outlawed rally; Manned Jeep advances to crowd, seeking dispersal; rocks thrown at Guard, tear gas canisters fired at crowd

* May 4 Guard unleashes 13-second bullet barrage; four students dead, nine wounded

* 1979 State of Ohio, not National Guard, pays $675,000 settlement to wounded students, parents of dead students; official letter of regret, no apology or admission of wrongdoing

The divisiveness of the Vietnam War, a painful memory for many, has a better opportunity of not being repeated if we learn from the history of Kent State University.

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