Kent State Shooting: Rolling Reports on May 4 1970 Violence on Campus - Rolling Stone
×
Home Culture Culture Features

Kent State Shootings: A Lot of People Were Crying, and the Guard Walked Away

Students were “crawling along the grass in panic, digging at their tearing eyes and vomiting”

Ohio National Guard moves in on rioting students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Four persons were killed and eleven wounded when National Guardsmen opened fire. The U.S. Justice Department, citing "insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers," won't reopen its investigation into the deadly 1970 shootings by Ohio National Guardsmen during a Vietnam War protest at Kent State University. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez discussed the obstacles in a letter to Alan Canfora, a wounded student who requested that the investigation be reopened. The Justice Department said it would not comment beyond the letterKent State Shooting, Kent, USA

Ohio National Guard moves in on rioting students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

AP/Shutterstock

This story was originally published in the June 11th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

KENT, Ohio — Just down the street from P. G. Sellman’s Tire & Appliance Store and Gas Station, close to the Cuyahoga River, the striped gate of a railroad crossing has lowered slowly, with dignity, until it is now parallel with the ground, separating the Mustangs, Chevelles, Dodge Chargers, MGBs (not so many of these, since the shootings) and Buick Electras on the east side of Main Street from the Comets, International campers, Chevy Sportvans, Lincoln Capris and Ford Torinos on the West side of Main Street. No Jaguars, Porsches, Toronados, Caddies, Thunderbirds, motorcycles — hell, not even many Volkswagens or Toyotas here — and the automobiles of Kent wait patiently for the Erie Lackawanna to trundle by with its load of dirt-orange, tractor-red, sump-pump blue and sunflower yellow farm machines and its Hydra-Cushion for Fragile Freight flatbeds and azure L & N Pool Dip box-cars, heading out to Youngstown and Pittsburgh and points east with another load of common-sense, Midwestern productivity.

When the black-and-white gate rises again, the autos of Kent continue on their way, slowly, being careful not to cross the tracks too roughly and jar the baby or the suspension system, observing the traffic regulations and turning left or right into North or South Water Street with their automatic signals blinking, or going straight ahead on Main Street. They don’t seem too concerned with the newsmen or even the FBI, who are still sniffing around in their strange, hurried way, or with the National Guard troops who — though they may be sweating in their olive drab fatigues right at this moment on the grounds of Kent University — are, at least, out of sight; the autos are going about their business now because what’s done is done (“isn’t it?”), and there’s no sense…

G. Sellman stands in front of his Tire & Appliance store at 313 N. Water Street, watching the traffic. Some of his neighbors are afraid to talk since all the reporters got here and with all the reaction, but somebody has to speak out, so Sellman has called a press conference. Sellman wants to tell the reporters how he built his business up from scratch, how he’s proud of it, and how he’s not going to stand here and let students, kids, go wild and break things and burn down buildings and yell filthy names at people:

Nobody contradicts him, though he keeps looking around expectantly, and when the press people start moving away, Sellman just stands there, looking at the traffic and running a hand through his greying crewcut. He doesn’t feel he’s made his point, because right across the street, right there at Pirate’s Alley, the Rathskellar, J. B.’s, Big Daddy’s, the bars where Kent’s small hippie community hangs out, he’s seen kids come charging into the street last Friday night, obviously drunk (or worse), and start throwing things at Sheriff Joe Hegedus’ police cars. And now most of Kent is going on with life as usual and the press people and big politicians have taken over. Everything is getting out of proportion and the National Guard is being blamed! It’s incredible!

The businesses of Kent — the restaurants, bookstores, gasoline stations, loan companies, Purcell’s Department Store, Schine’s Kent Theater, University Pizza Shop, Robin Hood, Perkins Pancake House, All Pro Billiards, just about everyone but Davey Tree Experts and Lamb Electronics, who had national reputations — somehow didn’t consider that they were “services,” that they had increased their numbers and profit as the Kent campus had grown to 20,000 (4,000 in the last four years, making it one of the largest unknown schools in the country), but still regarded the student body and the faculty, some of whom had been around for 20 years, as transients, outsiders.

The kids had come out of the North Water Street bars for the first time on Thursday night, angered at President Nixon’s Cambodia Invasion plans and listening to the small core of ex-SDS Weatherman types who had been talking it up in the bars, egging them on to violence. There was some yelling and throwing of beer bottles but the police knew the real radicals and they weren’t anxious to be recognized and busted, as their leaders — Howie Emmer, Rick Erickson, Colin Neiberger and Jeff Powell — had only recently gotten out of the Portage County clink after serving seven-and-one-half months each for assault and battery and inciting to riot. The local cops were able to control things.

On Friday night some straight, relatively short-haired kid — an athlete, local legend already has it — hurled a near-perfect sinker through the windshield of a City of Kent patrol car, the beer-brown Stroh’s bottle insolently shattering the green-tint of officialdom into a spider web, a little beer still in the bottle slopping obscenely onto the patrol car’s hood in a final gesture of defiance, and the riot was on. The cops, bolstered by o a squad of Ohio State Troopers, couldn’t g believe that these little punks, these g weird people with their crazy colors and tri goofy talk were serious.

After all, this wasn’t Chicago! This wasn’t Columbia or Berkeley or one of those crazy places! In April, just a month ago, these kids had planned a big peace march but on the day it was scheduled, it was rainy and cold and only a scattering of them had turned out, standing around up there on the Commons with their banners and armbands, looking pitiful and wet, and then had straggled back to their rooms in College Towers or the Silver Oaks or the Riverview, or else had stopped for coffee or Pabst or Stroh’s or maybe even a little grass, mumbling their bullshit at each other and glaring at the police, who — and this was something the patrolmen of Kent were sure would had never occurred to the selfish kids — didn’t want to be out there at all! Revolution be damned — it was inconvenient to have to work an extra shift!

But now a couple hundred of these same kids were rampaging along North Water Street, fighting the police and breaking the big glass windows of the Ravco Discount Drug Center, Norton’s Shoetique, Ramon’s Beauty Salon and the City Loan Personal Financing Company. They left the Select Smoke Shop untouched, and they didn’t cross the street to hit Donaghy Rexall, and it was learned later that these stores had not remonstrated with “radicals” who wanted them to put up anti-war posters. The storeowners of Kent felt they had gone far enough. After all, hadn’t the Chamber of Commerce agreed to paint the public trash cans on Main and Water Streets in those weird colors, and hadn’t they allowed the students to write things like BURN LITTER NOT GRASS on them? The police broke things up with tear gas and arrested 14 persons.

SDS AND THE GREAT GREEN BASEBALL

On Saturday night, there were one thousand students on campus. Spring had hit Kent, Ohio like a great green baseball, jarring the Midwestern winter torpor loose. A group of radicals was on the Commons and some people said they’d seen Rick Erickson, the Weather-man leader and son of the mayor of Akron, but others said this was un-likely because he and the other SDS types were not dumb, man„ they’d been enjoined by court order from going any-where near Kent State, and besides, the students of Kent didn’t need any god-damn radicals to tell them what to do.

It was true that Kent State had been investigated by the old men of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee after an SDS-inspired riot over the ROTC the previous year, and that there’d even been a group called the Concerned Citizens of the Kent Community, civil-libertarian types, who’d tried to keep the SDS on campus an officially recognized group after President Robert I. White (the Gray Ghost, so named because of his habit of shaking hands with students at freshman orientation and graduation and never being seen—especially during crises—otherwise), had revoked their official charter. But the CCC, despite the 5,000 “troops” it had been able to set to marching around the school in protest, had been defeated in a general student referendum on the SDS Question. No, the radicals didn’t have much to do with what happened at Kent State.

(Original Caption) Kent, Ohio: Irate Protester. A flag-waving antiwar demonstrator on Kent State University campus May 4, jumps up and down on the spilled blood of one of the students shot down by Ohio National Guardsmen here during a demonstration protesting the United States' invasion of Cambodia. The photo was released May 5 by the Kent State News Bureau.

A flag-waving antiwar demonstrator on Kent State University campus on May 4th, jumps up and down on the spilled blood of one of the students shot down by Ohio National Guardsmen here during a demonstration protesting the United States’ invasion of Cambodia. The photo was released May 5th 2970 by the Kent State News Bureau.

Douglas Moore/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Nevertheless, the focus for the Saturday night demonstration was a creaky, peeling old wooden ROTC building on Portage Drive just off the Commons (reported in the press to be worth $50,000). Somebody threw some Pabst and Coke bottles filled with rags (some of the cam-pus co-eds, having read about Women’s Lib, laughingly stuffed their bottles with Kotex) soaked in gasoline and kerosene into the building and the Symbol burned to the ground in less than an hour. The kids cheered as an old sign, “Join the Pershing Rifles,” withered and blackened. Before the students had even left the campus however, units of the Ohio National Guard began appearing in the streets of the town and at the entrances to the school. Governor James Rhodes, locked in a vicious Senate primary battle with U.S. Representative Robert Taft, Jr. (he and Taft had even gotten to the point of pushing each other, physically fighting over a microphone in a TV debate), and feeling endangered by a Life magazine report connecting him with the Mafia (he is suing for $10 million), was making good on his threats to get tough with “campus rebels.”

“We are not going to have any Columbias in Ohio,” the Governor had announced in his Ohio, oval-voweled tones, at the same time offering the opinion that “rock throwing should be made a felony.” Taft won the election.

None of this was lost on the students of Kent, even the non-political majority.

For their part, the 900 Guardsmen under Brigadier General Robert Canterbury and State Adjutant General S. T. Del Corso, were as unhappy as the students they had come to face. Many of them had been on Duty for over seven days, first at Ohio State University where they had tried to control students intent on burning ROTC buildings, then at Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown where wildcat Teamster strikes had threatened violence in the centers of voting power, where they had been warned to proceed carefully, using “diplomacy,” and where they had succeeded in not firing their M-l’s, riot- guns, .45’s or in using their bayonets or their little grey grenades of CS tear gas.

It had been a supreme test of will though; the Governor and the brigadier, even the majors and captains who came along, would probably never know how much of a test it had been. These men, farmers, gas station attendants, factory workers, clerks — some of them, just a few, were even students — had joined the Guard to avoid the draft, and here they were on the campus of their second university in the same week, having already endured the spitting and cursing of a bunch of greasy-shirted, beery truck drivers.

HOT AS A TIT

And it was hot — hot as hell out here with all this equipment on, with the heavy rifle and the field gear (which every Guardsman knew was unnecessary, just more chickenshit to go through, since all needed equipment could be carried in the trucks, oops, Personnel Carriers — hard to remember all these technical Army terms when you only have to show up one week-end a month), “hot as a tit” as Sgt. Banning would say in his crazy, Second World War way. The National Guard would have preferred to be home in front of its TV set with its beer bottle in hand, not flying at it through the air, watching the Cleveland Indians beat the hell out of some team from the weird East, or even from the weird West.

But that was not the way of the world and the Ohio Guard knew it and moved into the crowd around the Commons resolutely, firing its tear gas grenades with little popping noises and watching the bastards beginning to run. Nobody was arrested on the campus, but over 30 were charged with curfew violations when they reached the streets of Kent.

On Sunday, Governor Rhodes arrived on campus to “survey the damage” and by 8 p.m. a couple of hundred kids were out there on the Commons again, angry at Rhodes’ hypocrisy and at the Guardsmen who had shamed them the night before: “Well, you felt as if one were giving up and giving in to a kind of military takeover of your campus,” Michael Stein, 30, a graduate student from Cleveland Heights told the press later. Stein said he’d been thinking about the communist police in Czechoslovakia and the Nazis and the French police at the Sorbonne in 1968.

Helicopters began whirling over the Commons and up the hill — it used to be called Blanket Hill, for lovers, back in the old, innocent days when Kent was still primarily a glorified normal school, grinding out crewcut Phys. Ed. majors and shy English teachers with secret poems in their notebooks — behind Taylor Hall. Spotlights were shining eerily over the hatless heads of the students and the helmets and masks of the Guard, and then the CS gas started again.

Some of the kids tried to reason with the Guard, asked to speak to President White (he had finally come back from Iowa where he had. gone “on business” as soon as he’d heard President Nixon’s Cambodian announcement, having first exclaimed “Here we go” to a colleague), or even Mayor Satrom, but another unit of Guardsmen, perhaps not understanding that the students were trying to talk or perhaps not caring, having hoped to get home by Monday night but sure now that it wouldn’t and finally pissed off in a kind of righteous, working man’s way, came up from behind and began pouring in the gas. These goddam students were their own age, the Guard knew, and they were lucky enough to still be in school, to have no more responsibility than to get good grades and stay where they were through graduate school, avoiding the Army and the Guard, and even the Job and the Wife and Kids for a few more years … The Guard poured the gas in righteously and the students ran in all directions, some off campus, up Lincoln Street, up Summit Street and, dizzily, back to campus where 68 of them were pushed into University buses and hauled off to Ravenna, eight miles away, because the total of arrested kids had now reached 112 and the local authorities and Guard officers thought it would be a good idea to get some of them away.

RINGING THE VICTORY BELL

Howard Ruffner, 24, tall and bearded but with the respectable short bohemian hair of an artist, not the manic tangles of a hippie, started Monday off feeling pretty good. He had his cameras around his neck and was positioned up on top of Taylor Hall, the Architecture and Journalism building, ready to take pictures for Time-Life. Actually, he said, he felt he was pretty lucky. He had been shooting for the Daily Kent Stater since he’d enrolled, his only other photography experience having been in the Air Force, when the Chicago office of Life magazine called and asked if anyone could get some stuff for them. Neither Ruffner nor anyone else around expected things to go much beyond the gassing stage that had been repeating itself every 24 hours since the Guard arrived, and he was just thinking of the whole thing as a good personal break. The local black organization, the Black United Students, had presented a petition to the president’s office on Friday but the demands had to do with course work and faculty and student ratios, and they were staying pretty much out of things. Besides, BUS president Erwind Blount, though a militant, was considered inexperienced and probably too cautious to take any political advantage of the situation, and BUS wasn’t that militant any-way — it had a faculty advisor, Prof. Willy Smith, Jr, There was nobody else around who could be expected to do any-thing unexpected. Ruffner remembers some faculty members and students up on the roof with him, but no one else.

A few minutes past noon, some kids began to ring the Victory Bell down near the Commons, a bell that once meant a win for the Kent State football team but that now meant a rally. Its sound had a visible effect on the Guard, especially the older members, whose olive-drab fatigues seemed to stiffen at the same time their composure wilted; oh Christ, not again!

The students could see this and they enjoyed it; it was one of the few ways they had to actually gauge the effect of all their endless marching and leafletting and speechmaking — when you made noise, the mothers couldn’t ignore you. Making noise was a physical act, and these mothers were into physical acts. weren’t they? And it felt good to do something physical; something more than say, sports! or marching! In just a few minutes it seemed, 50 or 60 kids had grown to 800, and a Guard jeep had be-gun to circle them, a guy standing up in it reading the Riot Act through a bullhorn, his voice flat and irritated: “…that you are in violation…”

THUNK! Howard Ruffner had come down from Taylor Hall to get some close-ups and he saw the kid throw the first rock, a good-sized one, and saw it hit the back of the jeep. The vehicle swung around, the faces of the Guard frozen into the kind of impersonal control that the recruiting posters in the post offices of America had once glorified, had once thought to inspire the young with, and Ruffner knew it would only be seconds before the grey CS grenades would begin their popping and spouting of thick, buff gas.

For a minute there, it looked as if the Guard was going to try to arrest the rock thrower, but he had slid back into the crowd and it had closed around him, swallowing his form as it had opened its mouth and lungs and let out the day’s first “Pigs!” The jeep swung around and drove off and a lot of cheering mingled with the sound of the Victory Bell.

Suddenly a squad of Guardsmen, 30 or 40 men with M-1’s, black gas masks and full field gear came charging into the Commons to break things up. Ruffner saw them pursuing the students up both sides of Blanket Hill, past Taylor Hall, before he was even sure they were real, and then he ran after them. When he got to the top, he saw a lot of gas and the Guard moving with its back to a metal fence and he thought blurrily that they had maneuvered into a dumb position. There were a couple of thousand students around them.

“A lot of the Guards were young and they looked scared,” Ruffner remembers, and then some kid with a black flag was down in front of them trying to get the students to charge. “Kill the pigs! The pigggs!!” he was screaming and the gas blew in clouds. But this time the students were picking up the canisters and throwing them back, and it didn’t even matter that the gas wasn’t having much effect, was in fact blowing up and over the heads of the combatants in the strong wind and back toward the football field where it managed to burn the eyes and lungs of some people who wanted nothing to do with any of this, including a blind student and his girlfriend who were crawling along the Spring grass in panic, digging at their tearing eyes and vomiting. A lot of kids who had just been standing around watching began to yell then, and everything got louder.

BODIES FALLING ALL AROUND

The Guards had run out of tear gas and were retreating up the hill, to the left of Taylor Hall, when some of the students began to throw rocks. “They were pretty small and I didn’t see any-body get hit bad … mostly in the feet,” Ruffner says, but the cries had now be-come “Pigs off campus!” and “Fuck the pigs!” and then one Guardsman stopped running. He turned, picked up a rock and threw it back. For a moment it was silent and the Guards reached the top of the hill, near the Wishing Well. Quickly, they turned, it looked like a maneuver to Ruffner, and four of them dropped in a line, others were kneeling and some were standing, like a Revolutionary War tableaux. They were pointing their rifles up in the air, down at the ground, and some straight ahead. People were yelling “It’s only blanks!” but then an explosion seemed to crack the rifle barrels, the sound lasting a long time, 35 rounds going off at once, and bodies were falling all around.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Ruffner remembers. “I dropped down on top of my cameras up near Taylor. When I looked up, a lot of people were crying and the Guards were marching away, down toward the Commons. I saw this one kid [Jeffrey Glean Miller, 20] lying on his face in the road and there was a lot of blood. There was no question that he was dead. A girl was screaming.”

Later Ruffner heard the Guards talking about it, and they were “really messed up. One of the older Guards told one kid: ‘This must be your first campus.’ He said his unit had been in ‘battle conditions’ in Huff and Murray Hill [two black neighborhoods in Cleveland] during the riots last year.” Anthony Parisi, a thin, black-haired sophomore was out in front of Taylor Hall with his portable unit, covering the demonstration for WKSU, the student radio station. He too fell to the ground when the shooting started, but remembers that the nearest students were at least 20 feet from the Guardsmen, not “six to 12 feet away” as Adjutant Del Corso has insisted:

“I didn’t see anyone throwing big rocks [Brigadier Canterbury told the press the students were throwing “rocks the size of baseballs”], and I don’t think their lives were in danger. There were a couple of thousand kids around but only a few hundred were actually throwing things and the Guard could have called for reinforcements…

“I talked to one Guard later — before they were told they couldn’t speak to students or newsmen — and he was really upset. He kept saying he hadn’t wanted to kill anybody.

Gene Pekarick, a psychology major, went to the “rally” (he still considered it that) after his noon class broke, with his friend Bill Schroeder, 19. Schroeder had just come from an ROTC class where he’d been arguing military theory with another student who thought that e, the way to succeed in a hypothetical operation was to “go in there and wipe them out.” Pekarick said Schroeder had just been standing there, not yelling or s throwing rocks, when the Guardsmen 8 opened fire. When Pekarick got up, he saw both Allison Krause, a girl who’d gone out with a guy who lived down the hall, and Schroeder, lying on the ground. Allison was dead. Schroeder, who’d been wearing his orange “Brian Jones” bellbottoms, died five minutes after he reached Robinson Hospital in Ravenna.

Suzanne Lloyd, a pretty senior majoring in journalism, was working at the University News Service in Merrill Hall on Monday morning, trying to keep the vanguard of the media who had begun to gather at Kent State sated with information. It was an impossible job, because the media people, perhaps sensing that the students who were serving them were aspiring to their own heights, were always asking for the little details that no one had thought of, or that News Director Jim Bruss had declared “not for release.”

Suzanne had been studying hard for exams and was worn out. On one of the few times she’d gone out recently, she and her boyfriend had visited her old roommate Sandy Scheuer at her apartment on Summit Street. Sandy had been playing the new Paul McCartney album. She was cheerful. Suzanne remembered how she’d always joked a lot when they’d lived together, and how, although she thought the war was wrong, she’d gone to Florida instead of Washington during a Spring break when a lot of kids had decided to attend “one of the moratoriums.” Sandy had just depledged a Jewish sorority and had been involved in an on-again off-again relationship with a Kent student named Jerry Perskie. Recently it had been off.

On her way to a Music and Speech class on Monday, Sandy Scheuer decided to cut through Taylor Hall and watch the “rally,” and her name was one of the first Suzanne heard when reports from the hospital confirmed that four Kent State students had been killed and six wounded. It was up to her to pass the information along to the media.

“A lot of my friends, felt the same way as Sandy,” Suzanne said. “We’d been involved in war protests since we got to Kent, and we watched the style of the protests change, you know, candle in the dark and all that. We even watched the fret rats, who’d been shitting on us for years, start to grow their hair and wear bellbottoms when it got hip to be a freak. But we still weren’t against things to the point of violent reaction. I remember Jerry Rubin was on campus a while ago, telling everybody to kill their parents. The kids just laughed at him.”

THE STONES, IF HE NEEDED THEM

Everything in Kent is ten years behind. Alex Gildzen, a slim, stylish young guy who works at the University News Service, teaches a course in creative writing, and looks like a refined Mick Jagger, is getting that fact impressed on him more and more as the week following the shooting wears on. By Friday, the day the last of the National Guard pulls out, winding its Personnel Carriers and jeeps out of a great coil like a wagon train defense circle down in the Merrill Hall parking lot, Alex has just about had it. He’s had to put up with NBC, CBS, all the local stations, UPI, AP. Reuters, the New York Times, Washington Post, Life, Look, Time, Newsweek, Ramparts, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Akron Bea-con Journal, the Ravenna Record-Courier, Rolling Stone, and now some plain girl in one of those flowery granny dresses from some tiny student paper somewhere that he’s never heard of, asking him irrelevant questions. It’s plain that she knows her questions are irrelevant — all of them having been documented in hundreds of feet of celluloid and tape and on hundreds of pages in hundreds of different ways, days ago — but she persists. Maybe it’s a sense of her mission as a fledging journalist, maybe fascination with Alex’s refined Mick Jagger features, maybe simple masochism. Alex doesn’t know and doesn’t care. He’s had to deal with those snotty media types and their badly-sculpted haircuts and slightly flawed profiles, 12 to 14 hours a day now, since Monday. Some of the big names — Edmund Neuman — weren’t so bad, but the others, the ones whose names you just vaguely recognize, like Ike Pappas from CBS, well they were just campy with self-importance. They probably didn’t act like this in New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco. Alex has just barely had time to write his own account of the shootings and get it off to The Village Voice.

Kent is such a strange town. Mayor Satrom and Portage County Prosecutor Ron Kane are so pitifully outdated, protesting the withdrawal of the Guard and worrying publicly about “property” and “protection,” like some Calvin Coolidge nightmare of conservative Republicanism; President White, calling for a federal investigation into the shootings, the creation of a “Warren-type Commission,” seems so sad, like a nice Illinois boy with a PhD in Education who has been president for too long (eight years) and who doesn’t know how to cope with the reality of bullets or foul language. Jim Bruss, being nice to the big media people and ignoring the press cards he doesn’t recognize, playing petty campus politics, like sending Yvonne Mitchell, a black student, up on Blanket Hill to see if there were any BUS militants involved, and her coming back crying, having known Sandy Scheuer (“she was in my English class and she was super-heavy”) and having found Sandy dead up there. All of it was so — out of it.

There had been this pretty blonde in the News Service office the other day, just sitting there silently, watching all the press people work, and then she had started talking. Anthony Parisi had happened to be sitting next to her and he didn’t know her but she had talked for almost an hour, pointing out that the media was missing what was the truth of all this, concentrating too much on the facts or something, going through formulas — like interviewing eyewitnesses and everything but then cutting them off before they’d had a chance to say what was important, as if only they knew the things that mattered, what would get response between The Flying Nun and the Winston commercial, as if they had taken over and everything could be done, wrapped up, by deadline. That was what was wrong, the blonde said, and Alex agreed with her. What he’d been doing, after getting off from work, was heading straight out Rt. 43, past Twin Lakes and beyond the Oak Knolls golf course where the yellow polo shirts and red and blue pants, white shoes and sporty-billed caps had been pushing their Porto-caddies over the green rye grass all through this thing, heading straight back to the New England-style shingled cottage on the Lake that he shared with J. Charles Walker, an art instructor at Kent, and trying to cleanse Kent and Ohio and everything that had been happening from his mind. There was the new Melba Moore album, the cast recording from Purlie to listen to (the Stones if he really needed them), the dansk, off-white modern furniture, chrome on fur, leather on stained wood, tasteful little framed line drawings in basic reds and ochres with wide borders around them, steaks on the terrace, two fuzzy cats, civilized conversation, Sangria (which he’d first tasted in a little place in New York and learned to make), and phone calls from Jean-Claude van Defile, the New York playwright, who wanted to know what was going on, and who had contributed to Alex and Charles’ Toucan, a small literary magazine.

One night, Alex had spoken to his mother and argued about his aunt, who thought more students should have been shot, ending up by convincing his mother to send a protest letter to president Nixon, and then had gone with Charles to down to the little dock on the Lake in back of the house. The barbarian barber who lived next door had finally stopped clanking his Lawn Boy, and it was quiet and peaceful for a while, the sun sliding down into the water by inches, and then two Kent students, two of Alex’s pupils, had arrived. They’d been up in Toronto since the shooting, they said, taking advantage of the school break, but now they were worried about their grades, how they were going to get credit for all the work they’d done the past quarter if the school stayed closed?

Alex and Charles exchanged looks and then went back to their house, where, at least, the door could be shut and the drapes drawn.

THE KIDS KEEP CALLING

Behind the blue curtains of his $18,000 split-level out an Akron Boulevard, Asst. Sociology Professor Jerry Lewis, who once wanted to be a dean but who is now becoming more of a “teaching activist,” and who feels guilty about accepting fees for speaking on “The Kent State Massacre,” is wrestling with his infant son’s diaper, trying to pin the damned thing on right and still pay attention to his answers. He has just finished a four hour session with the FBI, in which he’d repeated, perhaps for the fortieth time in a week, his eyewitness account of what happened at Taylor Hall (“Yes, I saw some of them firing into the air and at the ground, but that was rational firing and that means they fired on command”), and the phone keeps ringing — “Can Mr. Lewis make it to Penn State for the weekend to address the student body? Can he make it to the University of Connecticut on Monday? How about the Association of Sociologists in New York City on Tuesday? Wednesday? Does he have a few minutes to talk to Hank, a student?”

“You see, the kids keep calling,” he says. “One of the problems out there was that the powers that be didn’t recognize that students won’t accept Guardsmen or cops or anyone like that as authority. They will still recognize their teachers though. I had about six teachers out there with me, trying to control things, and if we had more, I think we could have prevented what happened. We have to get the faculties in this country off their asses.” Lewis has been at Kent State for four years, coming directly from the University of Illinois where he got his PhD., but he is an Ohio boy and he feels he knows the area. He knows, for example, that Kent is at the center of a working-class megalopolis, with a lot of first-generation (their parents hadn’t gone past high school) kids Corning in front Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Youngstown and the Pennsylvania coal-mining country and more and more black kids coming in from the ghettos, and that 32 percent of the population of Ohio lives within a 75-mile radius of Kent. These kids have jobs after school and during the summer, and although a lot of them have gone for the hippie image — grass now being a staple of the Kent youth culture at $25 a lid — Lewis feels that there are about as many hard-core hippies here as there are in State College, Pennsylvania.

Why did it happen in Kent? Lewis teaches a Collective Behavior course and there doesn’t seem to be any long-range sociological reason why — it seems to him very existential, random in the sense of a Camus novel. The four who were killed and the six who were wounded were just bystanders. There’s no way to bring any real meaning to their deaths — how could Meursault the Stranger cry at his mother’s funeral when he hadn’t known her very well? — despite the rhetoric of the speakers who’ve been flying around the country invoking “The Kent State Four.” Of course there are immediate, pragmatic reasons for what happened, the Cambodian invasion, Nixon and Agnew’s speeches, Governor Rhodes’ hypocrisy, the unrest at Ohio State the week before, and then the one intangible, the one really interesting thing:

“Some kind of force is going against some kind of student protest in this country and it’s going to get ugly. Kids are coming back to Kent and Penn State and all the second echelon schools and are talking seriously about regional organizing and economic boycotts. The moderate, middle kid is going to move to the left.”

In This Article: Kent State, long reads, Vietnam

Newswire

Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.