Soon May 4th will be upon us and both the airwaves and print media will be wall to wall with the murderous and dark stain on America’s history that took place on that day in 1970 fifty years ago. It is enough to make any revisionist jump with ecstatic joy. The question that begs to be asked is the typical journalist’s question-who, what, where and why.
There are several chapters that can be detailed on the cause of the disaster that took place, but who gets the blame? The evil Republican governor, weak kneed administration, angelic students or the dark evil force of the National Guard who arrived at Kent State only to mow down students so Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young could sell a million records and retire comfortably.
I am not out to write a book on Kent State disaster, but if I were it would not start at Kent State but at Berkley, Columbia, Yale, Chicago and first of all at a local AFL-CIO union hall at Port Huron, Michigan way back in June of 1962. That was birthplace of what was to come about on college campuses for the next twenty years and beyond.
The treatise started with a rambling incoherent pile of words by Tim Hayden who was a follower of a radical sociologist C. Wright Mills. By the time the gathering dispersed, the group of fifty-nine militant delegates from eleven college campuses put together a stupefying, dull, unimpressive manifesto known as The Port Huron Statement which truly was the first step of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) which procreated other hate groups like the Weathermen and Black Union Students and even Planned Parenthood which evolved through the New Left feminist movement.
As one of the composers of the manifesto summarized the Port Huron Statement “Four square against anti-communism, eight square against American culture, twelve-square against sell out unions, one hundred and twenty-square against an interpretation of the Cold War that saw it as a soviet plot and identified American policy fondly.” To condense it they hated American idealism.
Most campuses remained conservative in nature during the early sixties including Kent State-but somewhere out across America the fire was started. The Port Huron Manifesto became one of the most widely circulated documents of the left in that decade. As the document percolated among students it ignited the Days of Rage led by such well known Weathermen figureheads as Tim Hayden, David Gilbert, Jeff Jones and of course Bernadine Dohrn, wife of 60’s activist Bill Ayres self -proclaimed communist who brought President Obama on stage to run for president.
But another finger in the glove of the Kent State misery started at Yale when a transfer student from Berkeley entered the Ivy League School. A visiting professor from Yale stated the misery began when the first eruptions could be traced to a radical who “came down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Berkeley.”
Yale was not a radical campus until 1967 when the Berkley student arrived being very vocal and screaming politics at his fellow students, scaring the student body half to death. Soon crumbling, weak kneed professors were giving in to demands of the new converts, since physical violence was always in the air. From this came affirmative action where less qualified students joined the ranks of activism; hence The Black Student Union was formed, not for academic purposes but for “social justice” as defined by groups like the SDS.
It did not take long for other Ivy League schools to fall under the pressure of the new left. On May Day 1970 a protest at Yale was formed over the death of Black Panther, Alex Rackley who may or may not have been a police informer. Busloads of protestors came in from all across the country until 13,000 people mingled with students, black panthers, Weathermen and other violent groups. Over 4,000 federal troops were stationed nearby as well as State Police and New Haven police.
The only daytime violence came when Jerry Rubin announce the only way to free Bobby Seale was “to go to the court of the streets.” Fifteen hundred protesters ran from the campus to the greens throwing cans and bottles. Police fought back with tear gas until the crowds died down. By the evening things were relatively quiet until a loud explosion rocked the campus when the Yale Hockey Rink was dynamited. Of course, they blamed it on right-wing terrorists. And so it went. The New Left moved on to other college campuses where Berkeley, SDS and Weathermen left their footprint. Sadly, the nightmare culminated at Kent State.
It may have taken a bit of time to set up the story and believe me I gave only a microcosm of the players, their thinking and the destruction left behind other campuses and towns by their mindset.
The Vietnam war played favorably into the hands of the SDS. The U.S. invasion of Cambodia in order to deny the North Vietnamese and Vietcong a sanctuary made the spring of 1969-70 became an explosive time on American campuses.
Again, this radical behavior is not about the legacy of a mishandled war by LBJ or Richard Nixon let alone John McNamara. It is about the arson, bombings and window smashing that already caused damage in the millions. Before Kent, hundreds of police, students and others were injured plus seven students were killed.
But it was the Kent State campus that took the brunt of the radical’s behavior when on May 1970 the National Guard fired upon the student protestors killing four and injuring ten. The campus was hardly a place of serenity as the campus had a population of 21,000 and a sizeable SDS chapter with only one thing in mind-creating dissent.
But what led to the violent day. History revisionist only talk about the day the bullets flew. I believe it is important to tell the story of Kent State as it should be told.
In November of 1968 charges were brought before 250 members of the SDS and Black Student Union members who demonstrated against police recruitment on the campus. The charges were dropped when 300 black students left the campus while demanding amnesty.
On April 8, 1969 SDS led demonstrations that resulted in clashes with the university police. The demonstrators demanded that the university abolish the Reserve Officers Training Corps, a crime laboratory, and a school for law enforcement training. Hardly a danger to the wellbeing of a publicly funded college. Six students are arrested, seven are suspended from school. After KSU refuses to make the suspension hearings public, SDS members take over the Music and Speech Building where the hearings are being held. Police in riot gear remove them. Seven students are charged with inciting to riot; 60 students are charged with breaking and entering. State police were called in and quelled the riots. SDS was banned from the campus while thirty-seven students were suspended. Five were charged with assault and battery. Sadly, there was carnage right around the corner.
On May 1, 1970, the day after President Nixon announced the American counterattack into Cambodia, students rioted in the main part of downtown Kent, broke windows, set fires, and damaged cars. On May 2, nearly 800 students gathered on the main campus, disrupted a dance in a university hall, smashed the windows of the ROTC building and threw lighted railroad flares into the building, burning it to the ground.
A professor who observed the arson told the Scranton commission, which investigated the shooting and the previous events leading up to it, “I have never in my seventeen years of teaching seen a group of students as threatening or as arrogant, or bent on destruction.”
When firemen arrived, students threw rocks at them, slashed their hoses with machetes, took away their hoses and turned them on the firefighters. The police finally stopped the riot with tear gas. The mayor ordered bars closed because both students and outsiders took to throwing beer bottles.
On May 2 Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom pleaded with Governor Jim Rhodes to send in the National Guard. At 10 p.m. that evening the Guard arrived. On May 3 the student rioters pelted the Guard with rocks, doused trees with gasoline and set them afire. Students attempted to march into town but was stopped by the National Guard, Kent City police, the Ohio State Patrol and the county sheriff’s department. In return the protestors shouted obscenities and threw more rocks. Also on May 3, the governor held a press conference and pleaded with the demonstrators to disperse fearing the worse might take place. But the outsiders joined the students and egged them on according to the FBI.
Between May 1 to May 4 along with riots in the main section of downtown Kent there was looting, intimidation of passing motorists, stoning of policemen, directions for the local merchants to put ant-war posters in the windows or have their stores trashed along with acts of arson. The bars in downtown were closed causing a lot of anger.
On May 4, about a thousand students gathered on campus. Guardsman arrived and told the crowd to disperse. Of course, the order was ignored. The National Guard fired tear gas canisters into the crowd with little affect since the winds carried it away. There were a hundred Guard troops and they were surrounded by rioters and angry students shouting kill, kill, kill under a constant barrage of rocks, chunks of concrete and cinderblock and canisters. Several of Guard were knocked to the ground. They had little tear gas left. The Guardsmen retreated to a campus parking lot then regrouped and pushed the crowd up a hill. Seemingly frightened and overwhelmed by the angry crowd by the rioters and some of them turned and fired into and over the crowd. The firing did not seem to have orders.
Let us not forget that horrible day, but let us also understand that terrible era.
Some say a sergeant named Myron Pryor began firing his .45 pistol at the students. A group of 29 Guardsman admitted firing their weapons. The barrage lasted 13 seconds. At the end for students were dead and nine injured. Two of the students were protestors and two were only walking to class. All in all, reports flew off the press, commissions were created, and grand juries convened. But attitudes about what youth was supposed to believe in suddenly changed. Even before Kent, the sixties because of the New Left was now the era of sex, drugs and sometimes degrading rock and roll. Drop acid and find yourself. Be free with no inhibitions.
If you think the New Left has left the room, think twice after fifty years think twice. Antifa, Bernie Sanders, legalized drugs, even legalized fentanyl. Free, free, free has continued to be a thorn in common sense.
And as for Jane Fonda, who started her own war back in 1972, she was an agent of the Vietnamese propaganda machine. The spewers of communist thinking listened to the nine o’clock news then disseminated out propaganda to the public as they saw fit, even parading Jane in a red Vietnamese dress for all to see as she denounced American service men. And Kent State wanted to drag out her and along with other red diaper babies to revitalize the mentality. Perhaps they have been smoking the Port Huron Manifesto.