SDS at Kent State University
In the fall of 1968, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded at Kent State. It had been brought in by leaders from areas such as Washington and Chicago. SDS had easily became the largest and most influential anti-war group. They traveled around and spoke their minds anywhere from on the streets to in the classrooms. By the time the group had fully reached Kent, it had been greatly radicalized. However, it was no where near the kind of fanaticism that Mark Rudd would display in the near future.
"There is a cancer on campus and the malignancy is SDS." - Bob Carpenter
On November 13th, about 150 SDS members and 200 Black United Students members staged a sit in at the student activity center. They were there demanding an end to the Oakland police recruiting, the disarming of campus policemen, and a university guarantee not to infiltrate radical organizations. After a total of five long hours, the university gave into none of their demands.
The Spring Offensive
On April 8th, 1969, SDS formally attempted to present their demands to the university. Their plan was to respectfully go pin their demands to the door of the Board of Trustees' meeting room. These actions began what was called the "spring offensive." In the following weeks several rallies were held, each one getting more and more hostile and growing in numbers. Students like SDS member Rick Skirvin were left making remarks like
"We'll start blowing up buildings, we'll start buying guns, we'll do everything to bring this motherfucking school down."
Groups of 800 students were meeting and adding even more demands to the list. SDS fought hard making it clear that they were serious, and that they were tough. On May 22nd, the final riot took place. After several arrests and unfortunate events, SDS at Kent State was dead. Although SDS was no longer active on campus, it made a lasting impact to the campuses atmosphere. Their actions, and words, made it clear that the war waged in Vietnam, would be fought as well at Kent State University.
These actions lead the officers to make the order to fix bayonets, put on gas masks, and to load up. The students who were nearly a hundred yards away were shot at by tear gas grenades. Men armed with M-79 grenade launchers fired their rounds. The guard report stated that "the size of the crowd was increasing rapidly by the minute and it became apparent that the order to disperse would not be needed." Teachers and staff members tore up cloth and doused them with water to hand to kids in hopes to ease the sting from the gas. As students began feeling more and more heroic they would grab the tear gas canisters and launch them back at the guardsmen. However, this only lead to disaster. Infuriated, the guardsmen ran after the students, beating them with clubs.
As the guardsmen moved themselves up the hill towards Taylor Hall, they broke into two elements. One emerging from the left side of Taylor Hall and the other from the right side. Only one platoon of men came over the crest of the hill, while the others were circled in at the practice football field. Students began to trap the guards in and began pelting them with rocks, sticks, and bricks. Student, Harold Froehlieh said, "The students started gaining the upper hand for the first time. And they knew it." The protesters would retreat, then charge while throwing things and shouting. The Guard kept moving back while the protesters kept coming forward.
"There were only two ways out of there, to run down the hill or shoot and turn them back." - Private Paul Naujoks
The first shot was taken by a guardsman with a .45 pistol. He fired into the air and then the others opened up. All of a sudden, everything blew up. Twenty-six men had fired fifty-nine shots. Students all around saw their friends and peers taking shots to the head, the chest, the butt, and anywhere else imaginable. Leaving the students wondering things like: Where am I? Is this a battlefield? Is this a campus? Is this war? who is fighting? Who has won?
As the guardsmen left the hill, the students gathered around the dead and wounded. Some guardsmen were left in shock saying things like "I didn't realize the guys were shooting at the kids until I saw this kid's chest break into blood." Others were still launching tear gas. The students clumped around the bodies couldn't believe it.
"Here was all this blood, and they were still shooting tear gas." stated Steve Tarr.
Everyone was in shock from the day's events. The students hung bed sheets from their windows with the word "WHY" spray painted in bright red, the guardsmen sat in grief thinking about how they were just kids, and campus President White closed down the campus.
After the events taken on May 4th, the campus of Kent State had completely blown up. Bystanders swore that it was going to be the second coming of Christ, landlords kicked students out, the state of Ohio would no longer grant anyone a liquor license in or around the area, students of Kent State University were denied jobs, summer enrollment was down six percent, and there was no ambulance system in the City of Kent.
"Students are frustrated and tired of being slapped around and gassed and killed. But my message is to be cool. Violence won't work. Let's not destroy the system. Let's take it over peacefully." - ROTC Cadet, Craig Morgan
On the other hand, the Kent State Medical Fund was organized to raise money for medical expenses of the injured, students set up the Student Fund for Kent Damages to pay off some of the damage done to the downtown Kent area, trash cans in downtown Kent were repainted with peace signs and doves, the Kent City Council passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting the desecration of the Ohio and American flag, the ROTC cadet program was moved from the Commons to a location shielded from the public and the general student body, and the university removed the victory bell from the Commons. After a week of protesting the dismantlement of the bell, it was returned to the concrete structure. Students would then use this area to ring the bell to commemorate their fallen peers that forever impacted the outlook of Kent State University.
Students gather around the Victory Bell to rally the war going on in Vietnam.
The Guardsmen advanced towards the students and beat them with clubs after they refused to leave the Commons.
Students stand in disbelief after shots were fired.
Four students were fatally injured and nine were left wounded from the shots taken by the ROTC.
In remembrance of the four who tragically lost their life from the events taken place at Kent State University on May 4th, 1970