Fifty years-ago today, four students were shot and killed at Kent State University by Ohio National Guard troops. Shortly before the shooting, Governor James Rhodes, (R, OH), referred to the protestors at Kent as being “worse than the brownshirts and the communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.” There has never been a complete accounting or resolution of what actually led to the 13 seconds of fire sending 67 bullets, many into 13 young people on the KSU campus.
The picture of Jeffrey Miller lying in the parking lot has been etched into the history of this nation.
Like the nation, there are aspects of the shooting etched in my memory from the perspective of being 18 miles from KSU at the Hiram College Campus, my wife and I attended at the time. We lived in a small apartment outside Hiram with Carol, our seven-week old daughter. Two years later I would be a graduate student at Kent State.
What I never will forget about that time was the attitude of the local citizens living in the rural communities near Hiram. Many saw the shootings as just what those rebellious anti-American militants needed. Kind of a we showed them who the patriots are attitude. They went so far as to begin armed patrols in their communities for fear that the “communist…nightriders” from the colleges Governor Rhodes referred to, would be mounting a siege against the local 5 & dime.
Those people are still living and carrying guns on the streets and in the Statehouses waving American and Confederate flags. As strange as it seems, they are now the protestors, rebelling against government orders they identify as against their and the Country’s best interest. I wish I could say that the fifty years since that day in 1970 have made us a more cohesive, caring and just nation, I cannot. Any attempt to do so is dashed by the images of assault weapon wielding white men menacing government leaders.
For a time, I had a vision of our world coming out of our current Covid-19 nightmare with a plan to address, social injustice, climate change, transparent government and much more. Sad to say the fifty years of experience since May 4, 1970, appear to have not taught us much and I fear my vision may very well have a very difficult time being realized. Please prove me wrong.