by J. Gregory Payne, Ph.D.
Thirteen seconds of gunfire at a relatively unknown campus in northeastern Ohio ended the lives of four young people, and permanently altered the lives of countless others. The victims' families, injured survivors, guardsmen, eyewitnesses, and politicians were immediately and directly affected. Many Americans who were shocked by the shootings began to see domestic turmoil in a different light. Our society, deeply divided before the Kent State incident, was in its aftermath completely polarized.
In 1980, it is still not clear for what reasons the M-1s were fired. Despite attempts to piece together the tragic chain of events, newspaper investigations, the FBI, an Ohio Grand Jury, civil suits, a Federal Grand Jury, criminal trials, judicial appeals, numerous forums, books, articles, plays, and now a film, have yet to tell us how the incident could have happened. What allowed it to occur?
The passage of ten years provides an historical perspective needed to permit less passionate assessment of the event and the people it touched. After a decade, the legal battles are finally over.
MAYDAY: Kent State endeavors to provide the reader with an outline of a national
political climate in 1970, a sketch of Kent State University and Kent, Ohio
at that time, and a non-evaluative synopsis of the shooting incident and the
aftermath. The focus of the first section, "The Event," is on chronicling
the political, legal, and personal developments of the past ten years. The
reflections of the parents, guardsmen, authorities, and others involved in
the Kent State tragedy and its consequences comprise Section II, "The
People." The third section details my involvement in the making of Kent
State at Gadsden, Alabama during the summer of 1980. This chapter addresses
the problems inherent in filming for television a complex historical event
such as Kent State. Excerpts from released portions of the Justice Department
Summary of the FBI Report, the summary of the President's Commission on Campus
Unrest, and the full text of the Portage County Grand Jury Report, as well
as the pertinent speeches of Presidnet Nixon and Governor Rhodes are included
in the appendix. The extensive bibliography will serve, I hope, as a useful
starting point for the reader interested in further researching the incident.