May 4 massacre, Kent State massacre, or Kent State shootings are just commonly used names for what went down the fateful day of May 4, 1970. That afternoon several students were demonstrating against war at Kent State University.
The Ohio National Guard were called to disperse and prevent any such demonstrations. Soon after, things took a toll for the worse and the troops opened fire on students protesting against the Cambodian Campaign, killing 4 while injuring 9 students at the Kent State University. Time called it a nation-wide student strike.
History Behind the Protest
Promising the end of Vietnam War, Nixon became the president of the United States in 1968. Later, in 1969, over 500 civilians were killed in a Vietnamese village by the American troops, this was called the Mỹ Lai Massacre. Just as the war showed signs of winding down, the United States army invaded Cambodia.
The invasion asked for a change in the first draft lottery, this directly affected the students and the teachers deeply. It removed any deferments that were allowed in the previous draft making it compulsory to join the military based on the age of the student.
A draft lottery was the lottery that was conducted by the Selective Service System of the United States to decide the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War, (in this case, men who were born in the years 1944 to 1950 - which included several college students as well).
The lotteries were carried out during the draft is a period of conscription, which was then controlled by the United States President, which was 'fair' from the time of World War II to 1973.
Thursday, April 30th
A formal announcement was made on radio and national television that Cambodia was invaded in order to attack the Viet Cong headquarters, which was situated in the Cambodian territory.
Friday, May 1st
Anti-war protests began on all over the nation from the 1st of May. Various types of demonstrations began. One of which was burying the Constitution, symbolizing the death of the constitution.
Within a few hours, a couple of other rallies followed one after another. That night, many students gathered in an area with a number of bars, called 'the Strip'; and a spontaneous rally began. The students pelted beer bottles and stones on police cruisers while chanting anti-war slogans.
These rallies headed down towards downtown area and blocked the traffic. They began breaking windows and targeted banks, utility companies, and loan companies. By the end of day one, Mayor Satrom had declared a 'state of emergency' and asked for assistance from the Governor of Ohio.
Saturday, May 2nd
Protestors set the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) buildings on fire and thousands of students gathered to cheer. Several of them hurled stones and beer bottles at the fireman and police officers who were trying to extinguish the fire. The National Guard used tear gas and arrested several students.
Students, protesters, and bystanders were made to flee from the site. Stones were pelted and a student was injured with bayonet.
Sunday, May 3rd
Governor Rhodes called the student protesters as un-American and announced to use every law enforcement the city had to make them flee from Kent. He also asserted that he would go so far as to get the court declare a state of emergency to ban further protests and demonstrations.
Several students came down town to cleanup the aftermath of the riots. Seeing this, Mayor Satrom ordered an definite curfew to prevent any further mishap. Later that night another rally budded up in the campus. Within an hour, Guardsmen used tear gas to disperse the student crowd.
However, the students again reassembled at Lincoln and Main. They began a sit-in with hopes of meeting the Mayor and the University president Robert White. A few hours later a state of curfew was announced and the students were forced to return to their respective dorms.
Monday, May 4th
The ringing of the Victory Bell at noon commenced of another protest on May 4th. As the first protestor began his speech, the Armored Cavalry Ohio National Guard (ARNG) units arrived at the campus.
Using a National Guard jeep, Patrolman Harold Rice, attempted to disperse the students and warned them about facing arrest, if they did not comply. The protestors responded by flinging stones at them, forcing the jeep to retreat.
A few hours later another Guard returned to try to warn the students again. The Guards used tear gas on the students but to no avail, the winds carried the gas away and it had little-to-no effects on the crowd.
They soon realized that the protestors were unwilling to disperse, a group of National Guards fixed M1 Garand rifles and approached the protesters to compel them to retreat. The students went up the Blanket Hill and headed to the Commons area. The students began to scatter and continued towards the Prentice Hall parking lot, while quite a few left.
At the parking lot, some guardsmen knelt and aimed their weapons threatening to shoot but then stood up again. Several guardsmen talked to each other in groups. They knew that they had successfully cleared several protesters from the Commons area.
After some time, the guardsmen began retreating to the Commons area. While some students began their descend from the Taylor Hall veranda towards the soldiers. Students continued pelting stones at the guards sandwiched between them and the football court.
Eyewitnesses claimed that Sgt. Myron Pryor along with a few other soldiers began open firing at the students. 29 out of 77 Guardsmen claimed to have fired at the remaining protesters, an estimated of total of 67 rounds of ammunition were fired. It was said that the shooting lasted for 13 seconds, but some claimed more.
The firing took lives of 4. Two women and 9 were injured, leaving one permanently paralyzed. Many demonstrators were willing to risk their lives and attack the National Guards. The Kent State University faculty intervened and prevented further tragedy. The ambulances arrived at the site of the shooting and gave medical attention to the injured students.
Students began to leave the campus that very afternoon. The entire campus was sealed off and the court injunction ordered the students to leave. By that evening curfew was declared in Kent and the roads were blocked and a state of emergency was declared in the nearby towns.
Aftermath of Kent State Shooting
The Kent State massacre was the most import factor that triggered the national student strike in history of the United States. Nearly 5,000,000 students joined in the national student strike and around 170,000 faculty members joined in the protests.
80% of the colleges experienced protests compelling over 500 universities to close by mid-May and around 1000 universities closed before the end of May, 1970. Many Vietnam Veterans Against the war led several campus protests and strikes. Thousands of people marched down the streets of Fort Hood, Texas, chanting, Avenge Kent State!.
While America was laden with thick air of protest, the forefronts pitched in to support the students back home. Many US soldiers wore black armbands, refused to obey orders of invading Cambodia or fight in Vietnam. Over 60 US troops in Vietnam crossed over & joined enemy forces.
Marches and rallies were carried out at 22 US military bases on Armed Forces Day, that is on May 16, 1970. So much so that military leaders canceled Armed Forces Day on other bases to prevent anti-war demonstrations.
Around 30 ROTC buildings were burned by students before May 16, or that year. 27 firebombings were reported in the University of Wisconsin alone. More than 30,000 national guardsmen were called into action in many states.
The KSU massacre marked the beginning of Nixon's downhill slide, and compelled him to begin paranoid campaigns that led to his resignation after a national turmoil. Ultimately, Pentagon and Nixon were forced to de-escalate the war, and completely remove US troops from Southeast Asia.
This strike had a historical impact on the history of the United States as for the first time in America, the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18. In 1999, relatives of the four students who were killed in 1970, urged the university to construct individual memorial for each of the students on the exact spot where the student fell.
The memorial was constructed surrounded by a raised rectangle of granite with six light posts, and the names of the student's engraved on a triangular marble plaque. This was in remembrance of the four students who's death brought a series of revolutions all over the country.