Kent State / Jackson State

Ohio National Guard in Athens Photograph.This photograph of Ohio National Guardsmen marching in Athens, Ohio was taken in May 1970. Ohio University closed on May 15, 1970. Anti-Vietnam War protests increased in Ohio after President Richard Nixon announced that United States troops had entered Cambodia on April 30, 1970. Riots erupted at many college campuses, including Kent State University, where four students were killed on May 4, 1970. By the end of May, all of Ohio's public universities except Bowling Green State University were closed. The photograph measures 4" x 6" (10.16 x 15.24 cm). 
May 4, 1971
I was fourteen, living in Athens Ohio, home of Ohio University; when we got news of the shootings at Kent State.

The Kent State shootings convulsed the campus, leading to riots, the closing of the University, and then a 14-day occupation by the Ohio National Guard. The iconic Carl Fleischhauer photo shows a Guardsman standing guard on Court Street under the Varsity Theatre marquee, which was showing "Z" the night the riots erupted. The picture shown above is here.

The leadup to the shootings had been preceded by monumental demonstrations against Nixon's Cambodia Invasion, which widened the war.

The events at Kent State were posted teletypes on the window of Koon's Records, a local record store owned by a guy who liked his news fresh, hence the teletype. As each update came in the mood got worse. The two-day teach-ins that had accompanied the invasion were overtaken by the news of the shootings.

That night the rioting started. Pitched battles between "heads", opportunists, "Greeks" and then the local police began in earnest. By the end of the night I'd witnessed people getting their heads knocked in, random looting, small-town police cars racing through the streets firing shotgunned tear-gas canisters as bricks rained down on them.

I got home at 1:30 in the morning, I ran in, breathlessly telling my dad that "the fucking pigs are tear-gassing everybody".

He'd been in the Varsity Theatre watching "Z". The lights came on halfway through the picture, when the theatre manager Mr. Powers walked out on stage. Mr. Powers announced that the rioting was starting to intensify, and that it would be a good idea to go home. The theatre was dark for the next three weeks.

My dad looked at me and started shouting: "You little shit! I've been calling the morgue, hospitals and jails to find out if they'd gotten any minors! Now shut the fuck up and go to bed! NOW!"

The Young Revolutionary, smacked down.

The next day, everything was closed. We drove out of town to Cincinnati, and watched convoys of National Guards rolling into Athens. The town was under curfew for 14 days afterwards. The NG bivouacked at the football stadium. Periodically a Huey gunship would circle over the town.

Athens was remote, and the story has been pretty well forgotten. Nobody got killed, and certainly no white people died.

With the shootings at Jackson State, it made sense that nobody particularly cared. After all, Mark Hampton of the Panthers had been shot dead in his bed the year before. The draft had been hoovering up poor blacks, whites, and other left-behinds of the Great Society. Future luminaries like John Ashcroft, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney all took exceptional advantage of deferments at this time.

Col David Hackworth's book "About Face" described the Cambodia invasion as strategically correct, but a colossal mistake, being at least five years too late. From the standpoint of a guerilla war, he is correct. He also understood clearly that by 1969, the notion of a "winnable" war was a grotesque lie and air-conditioned fantasy.

As a footnote: "Four Dead In Ohio" by CSNY was banned by the Ironton, Ohio City Council shortly after it began being played. I wonder if the ban still holds.


Ophelia Chong said…
Wow. your dad was freaked out for good reason. Imagine now if they took pot shots at students.
Mr Trail Safety said…
They will again, sooner or later.
Marshal Emmanuel, Marquis de Grouchy said…
First, you have to start pissing off students. That'll take something - not having a draft during Iraq really took the wind out of campus activism.

By the way, Carl Fleischhauer now works in the photo preservation section of the Library of Congress. I wonder if his photos are ever going to be available...
We loves Jimmy said…

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