50 years since the Kent State shootings

Students were shot during an anti-war protest by Ohio National Guard members at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Four students were killed and nine were injured.

According to the documentary, “The Day the ‘60s Died,” there were high tensions from college students throughout the nation because of the draft for the Vietnam War. Many young adults were drafted and those on campus were worried they may end up in the war.

On April 20, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced to the public, he would pull 150,000 troops out of Vietnam. Instead, he sent troops to Cambodia. This order made many college campuses protest and start a “revolution.”

At Kent State University, there were protests everyday, from the beginning of May to the day of the shootings. Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes set a curfew to those in Kent and called for the National Guard on May 2, after the Kent State University’s ROTC building burnt down after a protest.

Approximately 3,000 students rallied at noon on May 4, across from the burnt down ROTC building, according to Kent State University’s May 4 directory.

A Kent State police officer made an announcement for each demonstrator to disperse. When the students did not leave, several out of the about 100 National Guardsmen drove across the campus to order students to disperse, to which was responded with rocks being thrown at each car.

After this retaliation, General Canterbury, the leader of the Ohio National Guards, ordered his troops to fire tear gas into the crowd causing students to run up and over Blanket Hill with the National Guard members trailing behind.

Over the hill, there’s a parking lot and an adjoining practice football field, which the National Guards soon were trapped on the practice field by the surrounding fence with students. Students continued to throw rocks, which continued for 10 minutes, but the National Guards would later retreat back to the top of Blanket Hill.

Suddenly, 28 of the Guardsmen fired their weapons.

“Many guardsmen fired into the air or the ground. However, a small portion fired directly into the crowd. Altogether, between 61 and 67 shots were fired in a 13-second period,” according to Kent State’s May 4 directory.

Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were shot dead.

BGSU philosophy professor Louis Katzner started at BGSU in 1969. He remembers hearing about the Kent State shootings from the media.

 “I was appalled that the National Guard killed US students/citizens,” Katzner said.

As news broke out about the shootings at Kent State, more protests were originating at college campuses.

Katzner further explained the protests at BGSU as “milder and smaller than those at many other campuses.”

According to past BG News publications, many Ohio campuses shut down after the shootings. However, Katzner explains BGSU remained open.

“BGSU did not close. If I remember correctly, we were the only state university in Ohio to remain open. However, things changed dramatically — even more dramatically than the recent change to totally online teaching and learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Many universities started organizing academic gatherings called “teach-ins,” where students address their concerns on social and political issues — especially the Vietnam War.

As many college campuses were closed, the atmosphere changed at BGSU. 

“There were all sorts of rumors about the National Guard being encamped on the outskirts of town and preparing to come to campus. These rumors turned out to be false but they reflected the level of fear that existed after the shootings at Kent State,” Katzner said.

BGSU held a candlelight vigil shortly after May 4, 1970 in honor of the slain students.

According to Kent State University’s Commemoration website, May 4 at noon, there will be a virtual candlelight vigil for the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings. The virtual event will hold online exhibits, special videos, and other activities to further remember those who died on the day of the shootings.