Friday, May 4, 2012

A Change Is Gonna Come? [REPOST]

originally published 4 May 2010

forty years ago. [now 42...]
it's more likely to happen again (and does, i know, in forms i comfortably deny) today than it was, say, ten years ago.

someone school me on time, progression, and the nature of change.

soothe me.

if you need soothing, let me know. i'm good for it.

we are waiting for the day when mary vecchio's scream of "why?" fades into soft whimpers of manageable grief. that means it will have finally made sense, or as that is not probable, that the likelihood of recurrence has been successfully diminished into randomness.


John Filo's photo

On May 4th, 1970, John Filo was a young undergraduate working in the Kent State photo lab. He decided to take a break, and went outside to see students milling in the parking lot. Over the weekend, following the burning of the ROTC building, thousands of students had moved back and forth from the commons area near to the hill in front of Taylor Hall, demonstrating and calling to an end to the war in Vietnam. John decided to get his camera, and see if he could get an interesting picture. He saw one student waving a black flag on the hillside, with the National Guard in the background. He shot the photograph, and feeling that he now had recorded the moment, wandered to the parking lot, where a lot of the students had gathered. Suddenly, G company of the Ohio National Guard opened fire. John thought they were shooting blanks, and started to take pictures.

A second later, he saw Mary Vecchio crying over the body of one the students who had just been killed. He took the picture.

A few hours later, he started to transmit the pictures he had taken to the Associated Press from a small newspaper in Pennsylvania.

The photograph won him a Pulitzer.


This is what LIFE magazine chose for its cover, eleven days later:


***HERE is a Kent State University photographic archive for the event, something that has never been hidden away, but which I just stumbled upon while looking for a picture of Prof. Glenn Frank. "This collection consists of photographs and contact sheets produced by University News Service (now University Communications and Marketing) before, during, and after the May 4, 1970 shootings at Kent State University. The first photographs were taken on April 30 to May 3, 1970. This group consists of a small number of photos. The bulk of the photographs were taken on May 4, 1970. Other photographs include events immediately after the shootings and some annual commemorations. All captions were provided by Special Collection and Archives staff."***


The necessary narrative:

On Monday, a protest was scheduled to be held at noon, as had been planned three days earlier. University officials attempted to ban the gathering, handing out 12,000leaflets stating that the event was cancelled. Despite this, an estimated 2,000 people gathered on the university's Commons. The rally began peacefully, with the campus's iron victory bell (which had historically been used to signal victories in football games) rung to signal the beginning of the rally, and one speaker started to speak.

However, the National Guard chose to disperse the students, fearing that the situation might escalate into another violent protest. The legality of the dispersal was later debated at a subsequent wrongful death and injury trial. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that authorities did indeed have the right to disperse the crowd. One of the judges on the court was alleged to have said "You're going to have to use the Final Solution on these kids!" on this day.

Just before noon, the Guard ordered the crowd to disperse and fired tear gas. Because of wind, the tear gas had little effect on dispersing the crowd, some of whom were now responding to the tear gas with rock-throwing and chants of "Pigs off campus!". Some students began to pick up the tear gas canisters and throw them at the National Guardsmen.

A group of 77 National Guard troops advanced on the hundreds of protesters with bayonets fixed on their loaded weapons, in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The Guardsmen were wearing gas masks and had little training in riot control. They soon found themselves trapped on an athletic practice field which was fenced on three sides, where they remained for ten minutes. The Guardsmen then began to withdraw back in the direction from which they had come, followed by some of the protesters.

When they reached the top of a hill, 29 of the 77 guardsmen fired a fusillade of 67 shots at the unarmed students. Although the firing was later determined to have lasted only thirteen seconds, a New York Times reporter stated that "it appeared to go on, as a solid volley, for perhaps a full minute or a little longer." The question of why the shots were fired is widely debated. The Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard told reporters that a sniper had fired on the guardmen, which itself remains a debated allegation. Many guardsmen later testified that they were in fear for their lives, which was questioned partly because of the distance of the wounded students. Time magazine later concluded that "triggers were not pulled accidentally at Kent State"—a conclusion also reached by several studies about the tragedy. The President's Commission on Campus Unrest avoided the question of why the shootings happened, but harshly criticized both the protesters and the Guardsmen, concluding that "the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable."

The shootings killed four students and wounded nine. Two of the four students killed, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, had participated in the protest, and the other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, were simply walking from one class to the next. Schroeder was also a member of the campus ROTC chapter. Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 m) to the guardsmen. Of those killed, the nearest (Miller) was 265 feet (81 m) away (nearly the length of an American football field).

Killed (and approximate distance from the National Guard):

Allison Krause 343 ft (105 m)
Jeffrey Glen Miller 265 ft (81 m)
Sandra Lee Scheuer 390 ft (119 m)
William Knox Schroeder 382 ft (116 m)
Wounded: (and approximate distance from the National Guard)

Thomas Mark Grace 60 to 200 ft (18 to 61 m) unverified
Joseph Lewis 71 ft (22 m)
John Cleary 110 ft (34 m)
Alan Canfora 225 ft (69 m)
Dean Kahler 300 ft (91 m)
Douglas Wrentmore 329 ft (100 m)
James Dennis Russell 375 ft (114 m)
Robert Stamps 495 ft (151 m)
Donald MacKenzie 750 ft (229 m)

Immediately after the shootings, many angry students were ready to launch an all-out attack on the National Guard. Many faculty members, led by geology professor and faculty marshal Glenn Frank, pleaded with the students to leave the Commons and to not give in to violent escalation. After 20 minutes of speaking, the students left the Commons, as ambulances tended to the wounded, and the Guard left the area.

Prof. Glenn Frank

Other voices:



  1. I listened to the interview on NPR this morning. Without even knowing what they were talking about - I came in midway - I eventually knew this could be nothing else but the Kent State shootings. I wish the percussion device had never been developed!

  2. I read an interesting interview today with Jerry Casale, from the band Devo, who was present at the Kent State massacre and explains how his experience of that led to the concept and creation of Devo. it was in the Vermont Review, here: It's a good read.

    I was eleven when Kent State happened. I had liberal parents and went to a progressive school, so I grew up distrusting the government and the military and such. As much as things like Kent State were deeply upsetting, I wasn't surprised or shocked by them. Wasn't surprised by Watergate; always hated Nixon. I remember my mother refusing to buy a certain food brand (maybe Hunt's canned veg) because the head of the company had donated a lot of money to a politician she didn't like (perhaps Barry Goldwater when he ran for president).


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