Common Reading project May 4th, 1970 | Thirteen Seconds & This We Know

Above. “Crowd of people,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed August 1, 2019, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/1397.


The events of May 4th, 1970 are controversial.

Although the days leading up to the shooting were fraught with demonstrations that had lead to violence in the form of thrown rocks, broken windows, and fires, it is widely agreed that the shooting took place in a moment of relative peace.

Over the course of 13 seconds, between 61 and 67 rounds were fired into a crowd of students. Four were killed and nine were injured. Some were part of the demonstration and others were merely bystanders. None deserved to die or be injured.

The ohio National Guard

The Ohio National Guard was called to Kent due to the violence on campus. Many people, though they were not against the idea behind the demonstrations, were against the violent nature.

The local police forces were not equipped or prepared to deal with riots of such magnitude and after several nights of demonstrations that left thousands of dollars of damage, many seemed grateful for the presence of the guard.

The attitude on campus was mixed. Some, tired of the nightly protests were happy to have the Guard on campus. Others, many of whom were part of the protests, were only angered further by their presence.

Left. “Close-up of National Guard personnel in jeep,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed August 6, 2019, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/1401.

The Shooting

The shooting brought the Vietnam War to American soil, shocking many who thought that they would always be safe at home.

The events of May 4th and the days leading up to the shooting shifted the American public's opinion about the war. As citizens were forced to confront the fact that they were not safe just because they weren't on the frontlines, voices of the younger generations rose up and pushed for changes that still affect us today.

“National Guard personnel walking toward crowd near Taylor Hall, tear gas has been fired,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed August 6, 2019, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/1426.


May 4th and the subsequent national student strike (involving over 4 million students and closing more than 450 campuses across the US) brought about a lot of change not only culturally into the U.S. but into law as well.

It forced American's to realize there may come times that they must fight to protect the five freedoms of the 1st Amendment, sparking arguments over whether or not the banning of the May 4th protest was unconstitutional and, if it was, how could their rights be protected?

It had been easy to put one's trust in the government and the military but the shocking events of May 4th led many to question their faith in our institution.

Questions are the first step toward change. The questions raised by the shooting and protests that followed changed our nation and taught lessons which must always be remembered should we strive to avoid another tragedy like May 4th.

The shooting spurred discussion, the second step to change. Discussions about how riot control and protests have to be handled and how situations can be diffused without violence.

The National Guard developed more non-lethal tools for dispersing crowds (such as rubber bullets) and reorganized their crowd control tactics including wearing different protection, controlling lone agitators, and delivery of messages.

“Burned out ROTC building, two National Guard personnel in foreground,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed August 6, 2019, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/1378.

Impact & Influence

Immediate Impact

Following closely behind the shooting at Kent State came the student strike of 1970. Across America upwards of 4 million students went on strike, demonstrations took place in nearly 900 universities throughout America as well as marches in cities such as Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

Right. “National Student Strike May 6, 1970,” Cornell University - PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography, accessed August 6, 2019, https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/ss:19343688.

Later impact

The shooting helped to bring about the ratification of the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Although this is something most now take for granted, the fight for a voting age of 18 was a long one, with the line "old enough to fight, old enough to vote" being a popular slogan.

The shooting also encouraged the end of the draft, one of the most unpopular aspects of the war. Many students involved in the demonstrations before and after the Kent State shooting were veterans of the war and the trauma of the battlefield was a common thread among those affected by the demonstrations and those who were not. This provided many an insight into the minds of those with whom they may have otherwise disagreed.

In 1973 it was announced by the Selective Service that there would be no further draft calls.

Right. “Crowd in parking lot, including man with black flag, some people are covering their faces,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed August 1, 2019, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/1443.


One of the most memorable parts of the student demonstrations against the Vietnam war was the shock to many that young people could be invested in current events and world politics and, beyond that, that their actions could make a difference.

The power of young voices is not something to be ignored and today, many young activists are leading the fights for gun control, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, and many more.

The resolve and courage of the students across the country who, in the wake of a tragedy like no other, gathered to mourn, honor, and take up the torch of the slain and injured students, serves as an inspiration to all those who follow in their footsteps and as a reminder that out of catastrophe there will always be those who rise to the call.

These sentiments are echoed today as, through tragedy after tragedy, our nation and young activists rally together and raise their voices knowing that, as our country's history shows, young people can make a difference.

“Crowd of people,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed August 6, 2019, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/1399.

Remembering Kent State

The legacy of the Kent State shooting is a grim one. It shocked many into confronting the nature of war and how, even thousands of miles away from the frontlines, violence can be found on America soil.

It forced American's to reexamine what freedom meant to them and how there may come a time in which we have to fight to protect it, not overseas in a war, but rather in the core of our nation, in higher education, in our cities, and our homes.

The tragic loss of 4 young lives should not have been the tipping point. Objectively speaking, blood should not have to have been shed to make the points it made. But it happened and hundreds if not thousands of lives were irreparably changed forever.

So how do we honor a tragedy?

We learn from it.

There could be another Kent State. There could be another Jackson State. There could be and have been numerous instances in which freedom has been brought into question in a nation which claims to be built on the very concept.

Be it freedom of assembly, religion, speech, or any other, when discussions of the freedoms of the 1st Amendment arise it is important to remember Kent State and moreover, to remember that although we cannot undo the mistakes that were made in May of 1970 we can learn from them, we can prevent them from happening again, and we can honor the lives that were lost in the pursuit of peace.


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Eszterhas, Joe, and Michael D. Roberts. Thirteen Seconds: Confrontation at Kent State. College Notes & Texts, 1970.

Glass, Andrew. “U.S. Military Draft Ends, Jan. 27, 1973.” POLITICO, 27 Jan. 2012, www.politico.com/story/2012/01/us-military-draft-ends-jan-27-1973-072085.

“Jackson State Killings.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Aug. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_State_killings.

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“Lists of Protests against the Vietnam War.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_protests_against_the_Vietnam_War#1970.

Mangels, John. “Police Crowd-Control Tactics Have Changed Dramatically since Kent State Protests.” Cleveland.com, Cleveland.com, 2 May 2010, www.cleveland.com/pdextra/2010/05/police_crowd-control_tactics_h.html.

Miller, Amanda, and James Gregory. May 1970 Student Antiwar Strikes, depts.washington.edu/moves/antiwar_may1970.shtml.

“Non-Lethal Weapon.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Aug. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-lethal_weapon.

“Student Strike of 1970.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_strike_of_1970.

“The May 1970 Student Strike at UW.” May 1970 Student Strike, depts.washington.edu/antiwar/may1970strike.shtml.

“The May 4 Shootings at Kent State University: The Search For.” Kent State University, www.kent.edu/may-4-historical-accuracy.

Valeii, Kathi. “Kent State, Jackson State Survivors Talk Student Activism.” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/kent-state-jackson-state-survivors-talk-student-activism-629402/.

Wyckoff, Whitney Blair. “Jackson State: A Tragedy Widely Forgotten.” NPR, NPR, 3 May 2010, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126426361.

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