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Pre-2008 Posts

Remembering Kent State: This Was Always What America Looked Like

Kent State, May 4, 1970

I listen to what young progressives and activists say about the U.S., I listen to their anger and frustration, and I empathize.  At the same time, I am often struck by their indignation, their sense that the movement in the direction of fascism in the United States is something new.  There is really nothing new about it.  It’s always been this way.  Those of us who lived through the 60s and 70s, who were part of the political militance of those days, saw our country for what it was and for what it is and especially, for how it hated.   We can never forget those days, what we saw.

This month, May, in 1970, 36 years ago, the U.S. bombed Cambodia on the orders of Richard Nixon, expanding the Vietnam War.  Students on college campuses across the country demonstrated.  At Kent State in Ohio, a few windows had been broken in the ROTC building and someone had attempted to start a fire.  The National Guard was called in.  For reasons we will never know, the National Guard fired into the crowd of protesting students, hitting 13, and killing four of them.  No weapons or guns of any kind were found, except those belonging to the Guard.  Nobody knows what provoked the Guard to shoot, and shoot, and shoot, for a full 13 seconds into a crowd of unarmed college kids.  There was never an investigation, and no National Guardsman was punished, civilly, administratively, or criminally.  The only student who got an apology from Nixon was a bystander, a ROTC kid, who wasn’t demonstrating.  When the Nixon White House tapes were released, Nixon was heard calling the protesters “bums” and saying they deserved whatever they got, including being murdered in cold blood. 

I was a college freshman at the University of Washington when the Kent State massacre occurred.  For the first time, I took to the streets.  We met on campus first, about 10, 000 of us.  I was here, in this meeting:


 For the next two days, we marched, 7-10,000 of us, from the U.W. campus, down 45th Street, onto the I-5 onramp, and towards downtown Seattle.

May 5, 1970 Seattle

The National Guard was called and we were teargassed, chased and hit with billy clubs.


A week or so later, as the protests continued, Seattle Black Panther captain Elmer Dixon, in front in the Panther demonstration at the Washington state capitol below, took the Fifth Amendment 17 times when being questioned by the House Internal Security committee.

A week later, at Jackson State in Mississippi, police again opened fire into a crowd of protesters, hitting 12 of them, killing two of them, 17-year-old James Earl Green and 18-year-old Phillip Gibbs:


A Jackson State dormitory was riddled with 460 rounds of bullets.  There were never any arrests, there were never any prosecutions.

Those of us who came of age during these years know full well what America is.  We watched, we learned, we screamed and grieved as our friends died in Vietnam, or were imprisoned or otherwise prosecuted for burning their draft cards, or were murdered by National Guardsmen or police, or jailed on trumped-up, bogus charges, sometimes for decades.   What is happening now in this country is horrible, but it is nothing new and nothing different.  Our nation has always been a nationalistic, brutal, colonizing, imperialist, racist nation, lusting after power, money, and control of the earth and its people.  For a minute there, those of us who saw things clearly tried — and seemed to — make a difference.  Today, it feels as though, looks as though, the clock has turned back, and we are losing everything we won, everything we fought for.  I can only hope and pray that many many more of us resist than are currently resisting, in ways that make a difference, before it’s too late.

So that they are never forgotten, these are the names of the children America murdered in May of 1970:

Alison Krause
Sandra Scheuer
Jeffrey Glenn Miller
William K. Schroeder

murdered by National Guardsmen at Kent State;

Phillip Gibbs
James Earl Green

murdered by police at Jackson State.

For peace and dreaming of a better world,




5 thoughts on “Remembering Kent State: This Was Always What America Looked Like

  1. “Students in Ohio
    At Kent and Jackson State
    Shot down by a vicious fire
    One early day in May
    Some people cried out angry
    ‘You should have shot more of them down’
    But you can’t bury youth my friend
    Youth grows the whole world round.

    It could have been me
    But instead it was you
    And it may be me
    Dear sisters and brothers
    Before we are through

    I’ll be a student of life
    A singer of songs
    A farmer of food
    And a righter of wrongs

    It could have been me
    But instead it was you
    And if you can die for freedom
    Freedom, freedom, freedom
    If you can die for freedom
    I can too.”

    -Holly Near

    Beautiful post, Heart.

    Posted by Grace | May 26, 2006, 7:26 pm
  2. Heart,

    Thanks so very much for this. It brought tears to my eyes. That picture is one of my most heartbreaking memories from 1970, when I was becoming a radicalized young woman.

    Years later, when my daughter was preparing to go away to university, I spoke to her at length of Kent State and Jackson State and the student radicalism of the late 60’s and early 70’s. I wanted her to know the price that some students had been forced to pay for their protests.

    I will never forget.


    Posted by Mary Sunshine | May 28, 2006, 11:36 pm
  3. THANK YOU for this beautiful memorium and reminder!

    Posted by Jeyoani | May 29, 2006, 3:43 pm
  4. I guess you are right. I’m only five years or so younger than Heart, but it is enough to make me more nostalgic, perhaps. I really had the impression, during the 1960-1980 period at least, that things were improving. I decided in 1981 that they had stopped doing so (I even remember the day). More recently, I decided that this had been a utopian window in an otherwise pretty dark history. Reading this, though, I realize that maybe not…it may be more accurate to say yes, things have always been this way, although there have also always been some really heroic people.

    Posted by Professor Zero | June 10, 2006, 11:04 pm
  5. Just had to add here that this event really shocked me when I was a kid. Because I always thought of college campuses as idlylic places, and suddenly they had become very brutal and scary.

    I used to walk past University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) every day on my way to gradeschool. So I was a witness to the Cambodian invasion protests, which were massive. And all the other protests at the time.

    Mixed in with all of this were the times my sixth grade class went over to the fine arts school to listen to the Milwaukee Symphony rehearse. The conductor even let me hold the baton and “conduct” the finale of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
    So high art was mixed in with violent scary protests. That was the 60s and early 70s as I remember it.

    Mr. Jeffrey Miller, one of the students killed at Kent State I found out decades later, was a closeted gay man. A lesbian activist friend knew him personally. He was a very gentle nerdy (in the good sense of the word) math student, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The press tried to discredit the woman in the famous photo crying over the dead student, and I overheard many adults in my neighborhood say quite plainly that those students deserved to be shot for being so disruptive.

    To me, we always wax and wane in this country regarding war and demoncracy— all of these concepts completely male centered with women added in as bit part players in this large drama called male supremacy.

    In 1975, when I was a freshman in college, we held a memorial march in which maybe only 30 students showed up chanting “Long live the students of Kent and Jackson State.”

    The 60s influenced me in a very different way then the generation that was actually in college at that time. I saw the protests and the police, but I was deeply suspicious of the sexual revolution and the drug culture and rock and roll music, which was scary for me to hear back then.

    I found this aspect of that time supremely distasteful, and years later, I find my friends still dying of drug overdoses or still never getting healed from drug arrests.

    What feminism held out was an incredible movement that didn’t have much violence at all. Half the country rising up was very different from the boys on campuses who thought it was fine and dandy to throw rocks at police.

    We need to learn what worked best in the rise of feminism and export that “revolution” worldwide.

    Just some memories here.

    Posted by Satsuma | November 5, 2007, 7:44 pm

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