1997 by J. Gregory Payne, Ph.D.
Thursday, April 30, 1970
President Richard Nixon announces to the nation that an "incursion" into Cambodia has been launched by the United States combat forces.
Friday, May 1, 1970
As a symbolic protest to President Nixon's decision to send troops into Cambodia a group of about five-hundred students watch as a graduate student at Kent State buries a copy of the United States Constitution.
Black United Students hold a rally attended by approximately four hundred persons and discuss issues of the Black community and incidents at Ohio State University. Kent State University President Robert White decides the situation at Kent is calm and leaves on a planned trip to Iowa.
On one of the first warm nights of spring, several people gather in the streets in the Kent bar area and close the street to traffic. Most of the students present remain in the bars, many watching the NBA Basketball playoffs. Many among the crowd are not Kent State students. A local motorcycle gang performs tricks on their bikes and ignites a bonfire. Some of those assembled begin to trash stores and deface property. There is no effort by the Kent Police Department to break up the crowd.
Saturday, May 2, 1970
The crowd becomes more boisterous. After being informed of the events, Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declares a "state of emergency," orders the bars closed, and directs the police to clear the area. This action angers individuals present in the bars, many of whom are unaware of the action taking place outside, and results in a dramatic increase in the number of people in the area and a heightening of their mood of hostility.
Believing that radicals and the SDS had initiated the disturbance, Mayor Satrom calls Governor James A. Rhodes and informs his Administrative Assistant of the situation. In response, the Ohio National Guard directs an officer to study the situation at Kent.
After emptying the bars, the Kent Municipal Police attempt to drive the group away from the downtown area and toward the campus of Kent State University. The Kent State University Campus Police offer little assistance in this effort. The crowd finally breaks up after a freak incident involving an individual hanging from a traffic light. Damage estimates are initially set at $50,000, a figure which is later reduced to $15,000. Fifteen persons, all from Ohio, are arrested.
The President's Commission on Campus Unrest offered the following summary of the events and feelings present among those involved: "The pattern established on Friday night was to recur throughout the weekend: There were disorderly incidents; authorities could not or did not respond in time to apprehend those responsible or to stop the incidents in their early stages; the disorder grew; the police action, when it came, involved bystanders as well as participants; and, finally, the students drew together in the conviction that they were being arbitrarily harassed."(1)
Mayor Satrom is informed by Police Chief Ed Thompson that his intelligence officers have noticed new faces in Kent, and have reports of an impending arrival of carloads of SDS students. There are threats to merchants that damage will be done to their businesses if anti-war messages are not put in their windows. Rumors abound. The police guard the water supply of the city, after learning of a report that it would be spiked with LSD. Mayor Satrom establishes a city curfew of 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. and a conflicting 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew for the campus. This decision results in much misunderstanding in the days to follow.
After assessing the situation, Mayor Satrom calls in the National Guard. The Kent State University officials are unaware of this decision.
Approximately six hundred people, including individuals who are not students, gather on the Commons at Kent State University and attempt to burn the ROTC building. There are numerous futile attempts and many of those gathered leave the area.
The ROTC building is ablaze. (Identity of who actually set the ROTC building on fire is still an unresolved issue ten years after the incident.)
The Kent Municipal Fire Department arrives to fight the fire, but is forced to abandon its efforts as the crowd slashes hoses and stones the firemen. The Kent State Campus Police do not offer protection for the firemen or attempt to disperse the crowd.
The Ohio National Guard arrives in Kent and blocks the crowds path into the city. Presence of the Guard surprises University officials and students. The Guard maintain control of the situation, which is characterized by rock-throwing and at least one bayoneting.
General Canterbury of the National Guard reports the campus is quiet. The President's Commission on Campus Unrest offered the following description of the events and the mood on campus: "As the ROTC building burned, the pattern of the previous night was repeated-authorities arrived at the scene of an incident too late to apprehend the participants, then swept up the bystanders and the participants together in their response. Students who had nothing to do with burning the building-who were not even in the area at the time of the fire-resented being gassed and ordered about by armed men. Many students returning to campus on Sunday after a weekend at home were first surprised at the Guard's presence, then irritated when its orders interfered with their activities. Student resentment of the Guard continued to grow during the next two days." (2)
Sunday, May 3, 1970
Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes, involved in a Republican primary battle for the party's U.S. senatorial nomination, arrives in Kent and announces at a news conference, "We're going to use every weapon possible to eradicate the problem." Rhodes blames the incidents on outside agitators, and describes such individuals as "the worst type of people we harbor in America." Some leaders interpret the governor's statement to mean "martial law" was declared, but actually no decree had been issued.
After Rhodes' news conference, university officials confer with guard officials and incorrectly conclude that Rhodes' statement forbade any rallies or gatherings. Twelve thousand leaflets are prepared announcing this information, but because of poor methods of distribution, most Kent State students do not receive the leaflet until after the shooting incident on Monday.
A crowd begins to gather on the Commons. As the group grows, Guard officials announce the immediate enforcement of a new curfew. The Guard begins attempts to disperse the crowd. Many students who are unaware of the new curfew become involved as the Guard sweeps through campus.
Officials determine the campus curfew will go into effect. The crowd is dispersed from the Commons area with tear gas.
Students attempt to demonstrate that the curfew is unnecessary by peacefully marching toward the town but are met by the Guard at the gate to the university, which is also the entrance to the town. The students stage a sit-in at the gate and request that Mayor Satrom and President White speak with them about the Guard's presence on campus.
After being informed earlier that President White and Mayor Satrom would speak to them, the crowd is told that the officials will not appear. The Guard announce that the curfew will go into effect immediately. Helicopters and teargas are used and some students are bayoneted as the Guard successfully breaks up the crowd.
The campus is quiet. Fifty-one are arrested for participating in the disturbances. In its description of the activities of May 3, the President's Commission wrote: "Despite the day's promising start, the situation at Kent State had appreciably worsened by Sunday night. Students were resentful of the Guard as a result of what they considered to be broken promises at Prentice Gate. The university was anxious to restore normal conditions, and law enforcement officers and guardsmen seemed to be growing more impatient with student curses, stones, and refusals to obey." (3)
Monday, May 4, 1970
At a meeting attended by local and state officials, some of those present incorrectly assume Governor Rhodes had declared martial law to be in effect, and thus argue that a rally scheduled for noon is illegal. While there is disagreement on this interpretation, the decision is made after the meeting that the rally should not be allowed.
A group of approximately two hundred students gather on the university Commons area. Because of the central location and the approaching noon hour, many of those present are on their way to class or preparing to eat lunch. A sizeable number of students gather to watch the Guard, while others gather near the campus victory bell to protest the Guard's presence on the Kent State campus.
As the class break occurs at Kent State, many more students pour on to the Commons. General Canterbury of the National Guard notices the increasing number of students and assumes that all are gathering to participate in the scheduled rally. He orders the group to disperse immediately. The message is communicated via a mechanical speaker, and is not heard by many members of the crowd. Those who do hear the message express anger. Prior to this announcement, there has been no violence. Rocks and obscenities are now directed at the Guard.
Some students begin to ring the victory bell. Most of those present are standing on the edge of the Commons watching the Guard and the two hundred students near the victory bell. General Canterbury orders the ninety-six Guardsmen to disperse the crowd. The Guardsmen are equipped with loaded M-1 rifles and ample tear gas supplies.
Tear gas canisters are exploded among the students, but wind conditions limit their effectiveness. The Guard continues its march across the Commons area. As the crowd of students scatter up Blanket Hill, many shout obscenities and hurl objects at the Guard.
The Guard clears the Commons area and the students are forced into several groups. Canterbury directs some of the Guardsmen up Blanket Hill and on to a practice football field where they are met by a chain-link fence. For approximately ten minutes the Guard stays in this position, apparently confused as to their next move. During this time tear gas canisters are thrown back and forth from the Guard's position to a small group of students located in the Prentice Hall parking lot. The majority of students are located in front of Taylor Hall to the Guard's left.
Realizing there is confusion among the Guard located on the practice football field, Major Jones walks to the practice football field through the crowd of students near Taylor Hall who are observing the Guard. At this time several members of the Guard kneel and aim their weapons at the approximately fifteen students in the Prentice Hall parking lot. One Guardsman fires his weapon in the air. The Guard incorrectly assumes their tear gas supply to be relinquished.
Canterbury concludes that the crowd has been dispersed and orders the Guard to march back to the Commons area. Most of the students believe the "action" to be over and begin walking away from the area. Some continue to shout obscenities and throw rocks at the Guard. As the Guard reaches the crest of Blanket Hill near the Pagoda of Taylor Hall, twenty-eight Guardsmen suddenly turn around 180 degrees, walk back a few steps, and fire their weapons into the group located in the parking lot. Sixty-one shots are fired in thirteen seconds. Four students are killed and nine others injured. Various professors are successful in preventing further bloodshed.
Portage County Prosecutor Ronald Kane orders the school closed.