Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4th

Today is May 4th, which happens to be the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings.  I don't know how many people know what happened that day.  Before I came here, I didn't have a good idea of what took place.  Before I read the article in the Stater today, I didn't have a good handle on the specifics, either.  (And this is all coming from the Kent Stater from yesterday and today).  Let me fill you in, then:

In the days leading up to May 4th, 1970, protests over the Vietnam war were happening all over the city of Kent as well as on campus.  On May 1st, some students rioted in the streets and smashed several shop windows.  On the 2nd, the ROTC building on campus was burned down by more rioters.  That night, National Guardsmen were called and assembled on campus.  On May 3rd, Guardsmen advanced on a crowd of protesters heading back onto campus after a street blockade, drawing blood from a few with their bayonets and threatening a few students with billy clubs.  They used tear gas on the crowd.  Ohio governor James Rhodes called the protesting students "the worst type of people we harbor in America."

On May 4th, it was a sunny, beautiful spring day.  More protests were planned on campus, with students gathering at the Victory Bell to hear speeches by their peers.  2,000 students gathered on nearby Blanket Hill, chanting things like "Pigs off campus" and "Hell no, we won't go."  Guardsmen in an army jeep yelled through a bullhorn, telling students to disperse and reading them the riot act.  The students laughed back - their peaceful chanting was nothing close to a riot.  Then the guardsmen advanced toward the students on foot, throwing tear gas canisters into the crowd, once again.  Some students threw them back, but most ran up the hill around to the other side of Taylor Hall.  The Guardsmen continued marching forward, confusion and cacophony ensued, and some rocks were thrown on both sides.  A kind of stalemate seemed to happen and the tear gas stopped.  Students began celebrating, chanting, "they're out of gas, they're out of gas," and laughing.  But the Guardsmen knelt and took aim at the students.  A few students came toward them with flags in hand, but the Guardsmen huddled up and then seemed to retreat back up the hill.  Students clapped and chanted, "They're leaving, they're going, we've won."  But, out of 76, 28 of the Guards suddenly turned and fired on the students.  For 13 seconds, the pop of gunfire was heard all around Taylor Hall and the nearby parking lot.  13 students were hit, from 60 to 750 feet away from the shooters.  Four young college students lost their lives:  William Shroeder, Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, and Sandy Scheuer.  Three of the four students killed were in the parking lot, several hundred feet from the Guardsmen who opened fire.

It was very emotional, reading that story today.  Hearing the account of the shootings from the students' point of view was moving.  It really hit my heart to finally hear how the events of that night played out.  

This year, Kent State remembered May 4th with a candlelight vigil last night, and several speakers, as well as cancelled classes today.  Several of those who were wounded and many witnesses spoke today on Blanket Hill, sharing their stories with the next generation.  Even though the blood that stained the grass on the hill that day is dead and new grass has sprung up to cover the ground where the slain and wounded students lay, they will not be forgotten.

Please check out the interactive map chronicling the events of May 4th, 1970 at KentWired.com.  Also, check out the article from today's Stater which tells the story of May 4th from the students' point of view.

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