They called it Solar Totem. But to many, they wouldn’t know what it was.
Students that pass by it in Kent State University in April of 1970, say, might never have known that it was there at all.
South of Taylor Hall, 15 feet of metal rectangles placed on top of one another, rising to the sky with holes between them, gaps between them deliberately so that the sun could shine through it. It was designed to celebrate the actual substance, it was made of steel, steel that was shaped in plants around Ohio that gave jobs to the area, to the fathers of students in the university. But three years after its installation in nineteen sixty seven, it would represent a very different memory. When a hole appeared in its steel parts.
A bullet hole.
“Good evening from ABC News headquarters in New York, I’m Howard K. Smith. Frank Reynolds is on assignment in Indo-China. These are tonight’s headlines for students killed at Kent State University in Ohio during a confrontation with the National Guard and a war protest rally.”
Solar Totem was right in the line of fire between the National Guard and state and the students they killed and wounded.
Don Drum’s ode to an industry became a silent witness that day to the tragedy and bloodshed that even spoke in a sense because it was measured and examined during and several investigations. There was a theory that a student had put the hole in their students and professor, a professor using a laser technology, determined that the bullet hole could only have come from the National Guard.
The statue, as its artist would say, was a fingerprint in time, and Drum decided when asked not to repair the whole. And when sunlight shines through the various slots in the statue between the rectangle plates, that bullet hole is visible in its shadow on the lawn.
The artist, Drum cried when he heard the news of the shootings at Kent State and cried again when he was able to get there and examine his statue.
“This was my alma mater,” he said, but over time he realized that the peace could be its own memorial and should be.
This is more important than it appears, this solar totem and this bullet hole, because for years there was no memorial at Kent State. The college was fighting lawsuits and trying to run from the publicity, the negative publicity of being associated with such a tragic event. It’s very important to say that Kent State to this day is a very important educational institution, particularly in the Cleveland area and the whole state of Ohio. It is more than just this incident. We discussed Kent State and I with Paula St. Tucker, who was great to me.
It seemed like there was dead silence after the shooting.
I feel like it was a focused discussion, just capturing the events of that day with the eyewitness that we had. But there’s so much more to discuss with Kent State. There’s so much going on and questions that remain open. When we talked in the podcast where we talked about the day of the shootings and we sort of left it there, but it’s important to say that there was Kent State was classes were going on and so the school is shut down. So faculty had to help over 900 students of the university to graduate. And so there wasn’t much time for memorializing. A Columbia Journalism Review author who went to Kent State in 1980 remembered thinking, am I walking around where shots were? Am I walking around where bodies were? Did I park my car where someone someone’s body might have laid on that day?
And the answer was absolutely yes, because the university at that time had done nothing to distinguish these areas from any other.
Four people were killed on that campus earlier this afternoon and over a dozen injured. And all began when some 3000 students defied an order not to assemble on the campus and 300 National Guardsmen moved in to disperse the demonstrators with tear gas. Nobody is exactly sure what prompted the action.
We talked to Paul Stone, Tucker, in a previous episode about where she was and what was happening when the shootings at Kent State occurred.
Some people started screaming and other people just kind of sprang into action and kind of circled around people that were injured so that to give them air was the idea. And don’t lean over on them and make things worse as these events are going on.
There’s a student who had recently been in the Air Force, a broadcast major.
The best place to start that memory is that the phone call that came in from Life magazine asking if there was somebody who could provide some pictures from the weekend. And I was that person. And then they asked me to on the day
We talked to Howard Ruffner, who is the author of Moments of Truth A Photographer’s Experience of Kent State 1970, which has over 150 photographs, many of them never published from that day.
That day, I did go out and photograph some of the crowd and I photographed the students were just standing here, just, you know, doing what they’re doing. I will go down, down and get some photographs of the guards. So I went down across the commons and showed them my press pass and walked behind the lines. And I had to make on one a night stand up. And I think the other might have been a woman with a meter of the atomic tape or something. And I had one camera, had a long 200 millimeter lens, and the other one had, I think about one hundred and five on the lens and nothing was automatic. You had to cut the shutter to get to the next frame. You had to make sure your exposure right was right. But if a lot of the people who had been doing photography a long time, those when you’re shooting, try x exactly what your exposure should be and hug me. And I just kept myself alert for that. But the other thing that wasn’t automatic, which is focusing every shot, had to be focused.
One of the key things to remember is that Kent State has a journalism school. Ruffner is a broadcast major, and there are also journalism majors, photography majors.
Because I had been a TV cameraman in the service, I knew how to frame a picture because you don’t put things in the middle. You you really take care to fill the frame with what’s important. And so most of the images you’ll see of mine on getting images or anywhere in a book, they’re usually full frame, but nothing is cropped.
Howard Ruffner described what he was doing at that moment when the shooting occurred.
The guard had two options with regard to returning to their base, which is by the ROTC building. They could have taken the shorter direction between Prentice Hall and Taylor Hall, which is right next to the ridges, which is near the or at the end of the practice football field that they were gathered in. They could have walked down that way and, you know, supported their flanks and just walked down because there were no students in front of them. If they went that way, this just was treating them, blocking the way up to a hall back past Taylor. But for some reason, they chose to decide to confront the students again and cross the street in a long line and make the students disperse because they also, if you know anything about military, they were also going to a place on the campus, which is the highest place.
I told them I was on their right side as I followed them up the hill trying not to get away or just become part of anything. And I noticed I would turn around. Everyone smiled to look and see who was going where they were.
And every once in a while, some guards would kind of float toward the back of the group, moving up and look back toward the crowd. There was nothing substantial that happened that would require me or give me a reason to take a photograph of a bottle crash or anything being thrown that would make a noise. So I felt it was pretty much done with by the time we got up to the top of the hill. The frightening thing was that when they reached the very top spot on the hill, they used to be a place of the corner of Taylor Hall. And where the pagoda structure is, that was a little dirt path. It’s on that third path where the last members of the National Guard burned and fired their weapons in unison. From my standpoint, at the time, at least a shot had been fired. And I was standing there in front of guard with the rifles pointing in directions, and I I didn’t feel frightened, but I thought, you know, I must look pretty stupid up here because I’ve got this long lens and another camera and who knows what they think. So I better get down. So I, I put my left arm around my camera back and my camera that I kneeled down on top of the grating in front of Taylor Hall and stayed there. Then the next thing I heard was, oh my God, they’re shooting real bullets. I thought having fired an ambulance in the past and knowing what you know, what you think, basic crowd dispersal would be a big blanks or maybe a rubber bullet, but usually just blanks to get people squared away. I was 80 feet in front of the guard when they fired into to shoot Lewis’s right side by about four or five feet. He was 60 feet from the guard and giving them the finger. And one of the guardsmen shot him twice and he admitted to shooting them. No one shot me. But there are if you look at my picture, it could have been close.
He’s going to take a picture of a student who was hit by a bullet and the students surrounding him and giving him the best medical attention they can. That photograph is going to turn out to be of another photographer, John Cleary.
So then to my left, that 115 feet was John Cleary and he was shot in the abdomen. And if he had more than one shot, but he was hit pretty hard. And that’s the picture I took. It appeared on the cover of Life magazine that year. I’ll tell you what the surprise was, is I didn’t I sent all of my film off and some of the stuff I sent all of my film to Life magazine being process a few days later and told me that I had a cover of Life magazine. And when life came out, that’s the first time I saw it. And when the FBI started talking about the negatives of the prints and what it was, I going to do it. And I talked to Life magazine about it after a while. And then life decided, you know what, we’re not going to get involved with the FBI on a First Amendment case. So they said, Mr. Ruffner, we’re going to give you all the photographs back. We can make a print for you. Everyone was sending you the negatives and you’ll have full copyright for everything you shot that day is actually not going to stop taking photos to continue to take photos onto the next day.
I just felt this incredible kind of days after the shooting took place that I kept taking pictures of people sitting down, shaking here just just in kind of like shock that what happened. And I was, you know, was asked several times to stop taking photographs because you’re invading people’s personal space. But I realized that I had to do this. The story was going to be told properly.
And I kept taking pictures without letting my own personal emotions get in the way. But maybe three or four weeks after the shooting and after the FBI had interrogated me, I finally saw the picture they took and then I went through them.
And that was the first time I saw them in three weeks.
And John Cleary talked later about those events.
John Cleary, remember taking pictures, he was from New York and studying architecture at Kent State. And today he was snapping photos of what was to be an important if local protest. He was standing next to the solar totem statue, the metal statue we spoke of earlier. He was getting to his camera, winding it when it’s all blank. But there was this feeling, the best way I can describe it, Cleary says, is getting hit in the chest with a sledgehammer.
He remembers waking up in a hospital, being in a corridor, people running around.
It’s only when he saw his picture in Life magazine did he realize what had happened, student seeing him shot attended to him. They saved my life, he said. He became an architect in Pittsburgh on the twenty fifth anniversary of the shooting, 1995. He received copies of Life magazine in the mail. I get them once in a while.
Joe Collum rode in the ambulance with Cleary and Joe Lewis, another injured student, as they rode to nearby Robinson Hospital. There are not enough ambulances at Kent State that day and they had to double up.
They loaded Joe and he was just lying in the seat column, said on this simple canvas stretcher, so myself and one other guy rode along to hold them on. And the ambulance driver, I guess, thought that speed was the most important thing. So he was swerving. Both of these guys, every bump in the road there, were screaming in the hospital, he sees a body being transported in, but he doesn’t know how many of them there are.
This is just a little snippet from Joe Lewis, who is in the hospital with Cleary, they loaded us on the ambulance, struggling to stay alive.
And that first thing I remember just telling my parents I didn’t do anything wrong to assure them that Portage County is two different places. There’s Kent and then there’s where the hospital was. It’s a real different place.After being in the hospital while I got home and I read in the local paper, the students had overturned cars and attacked guardsmen with bricks and bats. And I thought, oh, my God, that’s Joe Lewis again.
Collumn said later in that year when he went to vote in the primary election in 1970, the mother of a friend saw and said, I heard you were up at Kent? He asked. Cullom said, I was. They should have had machine guns.
This was not uncommon, one unused clip from the podcast for my interview with Paula Stone. Tucker, I just didn’t find a place to put it in is where she talks about her own mother.
ME: It seems like your mother, after the events of Kent State, was not not very supportive of your decision to be there, to say the least.
PAULA: Oh, well, yeah, she she said, well, if you were there, you should have been shot. But that was common. That was the that was the characteristic of the divide between the generations at that time. And so that it wasn’t although it was hurtful, it wasn’t surprising that she felt that way. And I’m sure there were a lot of other parents that said similar things.
Dean Kaler, who would be paralyzed in the shootings, who really was not protesting, but came out out of curiosity and was very far from the Guardsmen, is in the hospital recovering. And he gets a bunch of cards.
The very first card I open up, he says, in the ICU was very nice looking, but the note in it said, Dear Communist hippie radical, I hope by the time you read this, you’re dead.
But while Collum was in the hospital with Cleary and Lewis, the town of Kent was under lockdown. Campus was closed and only a few faculty allowed back in to help remaining students who still had to graduate complete their coursework remotely. Confusion reigned, the local paper released, and it had this blaring headline to Guardsmen. One student dead totally wrong. There are no Guardsmen shot at all. Students had no guns, but it was reflecting the local attitude and it helped the feedback loop of informing with this false information. One eyewitness described the town of Kent with these redneck toughs driving up and down the street, four men in it, a rifle in hand, looking for students to shoot the adjutant general of the National Guard. His official statement, which is going to last for some time until he has to, recanted. He says that there was a sniper and then the guard reacted to it.
Do you have any idea what caused the shooting started in the first place? Students were throwing rocks at the National Guard. What about the report that there was a sniper here? Did you hear anything about that? No, I was on top of Johnson Group and they had a sniper up there and I was there and there was no
letters to the editor to the local newspaper said.
I’m not happy anyone is dead, but to blame the guard is ridiculous. OK, this is the attitude. Maybe if they would have fired on Saturday when the ROTC was set on fire, the trouble would have ended there. That’s what one letter says. You know, this is a major point we talked about in a previous podcast at the Kent State. Events really consist of Nixon’s announcement, then the weekend and then the Monday when the rally happens and there’s the shooting. But on Saturday, four local townspeople, that was a key event, so much so that they were taking pictures of the burnt ROTC and look at how what horrible people could do this they were bringing. You would see men and women dressed to the nines in their Sunday best with the stroller and seeing the burned out ROTC and pointing out.
He was a cute kid.
Dark, curly hair, very bright and precocious, according to his mother.
He did very well in school and skipped first grade, which became a problem because he always was short in the grade he was in and felt like a baby. Jeff Miller was from Long Island, New York, he had transferred to Kent from Michigan State, hadn’t been there a long time. He liked the Mets, he like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix. That’s how his mother recalled him. He laughed with amusement that President Nixon had called the students bombs. He wanted to spend the summer between classes making T-shirts that said war is unhealthy for children and other living things, playing off some advertising disclaimers that might be on cigarettes and other products. A few months before and Miller now and Holstein had walked with Geoffrey Miller in Greenwich Village and marveled at a small leather ring with a piece insignia on it that he purchased. The weekend of the Troubles at Kent State, it would start with Nixon’s announcement of bombing into Cambodia, followed by protests at the local downtown stores. More protests on Saturday. The ROTC building torched on Saturday night, Governor Rhodes and his inflammatory press conference calling the hippie students brownshirts that needed to be eradicated. The guard and its presence on the campus, M1 rifles and armored vehicles. More rallies. Students pushed and bayoneted on Sunday night. Tear gas helicopters. Miller’s mother called them as her mother.
Had called her expressing concern about the boy, Nana is upset and told Geoffrey Miller nothing to worry about.
He responded, I’m going to go to the there’s going to be a rally on Monday. I’m going to go, well, you know, being far away in New York and didn’t feel like she should instruct his son, her son further. Well, I was driving home from work on Monday, May 4th, and heard the news on the radio shooting students killed at Kent State University in Ohio. She got home and called Jeff’s dorm.
It was a group phone. And a man answered. She asked for Jeff.
The man caught up in the events of that day didn’t know who he was talking to and didn’t handle it quite well.
He’s dead, he said.
And Holstein dropped the phone. Her new fiancee grabbed it.
And he got more information, talked to the man, told him that the name of the hospital where victims were taken. And Anne Rose, maybe maybe this was a mistake, maybe the guy in the dorm got this all wrong, maybe he was just saying this and then and just heard her fiance already ask the person if the victim had a leather ring with a peace sign on.
And he did. She knew then what had happened.
She just recently died, the last of the parents of Kent State victims to pass in her 90s. They always said that other than that day, she had a good life. She struggled a bit, seeing her son know, seen only as a victim of the Kent State shootings and not a fellow who played drums and had a bar mitzvah.
Neil Young of Crosby, Stills and Nash sees the images in that Life magazine, that photo that Howard Ruffner took was given to him by David Crosby. He disappears for several hours and then he comes back to his bandmates song in hand. They go immediately to the record plant studio in L.A. and record it live. They also do a B side called Find the Cost of Freedom.
The instrumentations, angst ridden guitars play harsh notes. The car, the guitars, the rhythm is an in-your-face sound. The label rushes releases it as a single push to radio stations, even though they have another hit. Teach Your Children. You know that song that’s already on the charts?
It’s picked up by FM stations.
Some of the AM stations ban it for its anti Nixon and anti-war sentiments. This is the song that says Tin Soldiers Nixon calling We’re Finally On Our Own. Ohio then becomes just like some of the photography from this event, part of the shooting, part of what you remember. President Nixon was in the executive office building office 175.
This is the building, it’s an older building that’s next to the White House that used to be where the entire cabinet and all the administrative offices was. Nixon found a room there where he liked to escape. And so he’s an AAB 175 alone.
When Haldeman, his chief of staff, hurried over just before 3:00 p.m. saying something just came over the wires about a demonstration at Kent State in Ohio, the National Guard opened fire and some students were shot. Are they dead? Nixon said four students were dead, 11 wounded. Got that wrong. Is this because of me or Cambodia? How do we turn this stuff off? I hope they provoked it.
Probably not. Haldeman tells him there’s just some rock throwing. The White House issued this statement. This should remind us all once again that when dissent turns to violent, it invites tragedy. It is my hope that this tragic and unfortunate incident will strengthen the determination of all the nation’s campuses, administrators, faculty and students alike to stand firmly for the right, which exists in this country of peaceful dissent and just as strongly against the resort to violence as a means of such expression.
Well, there were a few faculty that supported the guard for the most part, the faculty were in one condemning the actions. Faculty released a statement after meeting at a church in Akron.
We hold the Guardsmen less responsible for the shootings than Governor Rhodes and the adjutant general, Dale Corso, whose inflammatory indoctrination produced these pressures.
Students were finding that they would come home and there’d be notes taped to their doors. One student, Chuck Ayers, said there was a note that said, we’d like to see you. The FBI handwritten note.
We have he goes to the office and the FBI agents say we have some photographs here. Can you identify some people? And Chuck Eyer said I did.
I later found that some of the people also were brought in in separate occasions and identified me. I knew that because I had jokingly walked up to and said, hey, the FBI called me and I identified you and they said, I identified you, too. But I wasn’t in any of the photos where I was identifying them, piecing it together.
He figured out the photos they showed to them. Chuck Ayers was in it. The photos they showed, the Chuck Ayers, he had been removed.
We talked with Howard Ruffner about that.
There were I’m not sure what agenda they had, but they were definitely trying to find people to pin the other stuff on. They, you know, showed photographs of people and said, can you pick out and tell us the names of anybody? And they did a few of those. And, you know, most of the people I knew were is a photographer who worked on the bookers staff. And, you know, it wasn’t like they were getting information that wasn’t known, but they kept asking me about my photographs and what I was going to do with them. And I said, you know, I don’t have a life. I want to get them ready.
I’ll get them. And these two guys in black suits as they left my house in Lakewood, Ohio, the one turned back and looked at me and said, well, if that’s what you want to do with your blood money, Mr. Butler.
The FBI’s report went short of blaming the guard, but also didn’t give them too much cover, didn’t blame radical students as other entities did.
James Muller said he happened to be at Ohio State Capital, Columbus, May 5th day after the shooting and the thought came to him. Governor Rose must be arrested for criminal misconduct. It was kind of nuts.
He later remembered it, but he felt pretty strongly at the time I went into Governor Rhoades office. And I see this lady that says, may I help you? And I said, I’m here to make a citizen’s arrest of Governor Rhodes.
She was so shocked. I’m sure she never anticipated this was going to be part of her daily activity. And this gentleman came out. He was the guy with the governor’s security team.
Mueller’s attempt would not go so far as he said. Him and the security guard talked for an hour and he said I said, you know, can’t you make a citizen’s arrest?
And he said, yes, but you have to observe a felony after talking a little bit, you know, about the right of protest, about Nixon, about Jefferson. That security guard really knew his stuff. He was really smart. He said to me, you understand why you can’t do this? And I said, yes.
The first legal action to occur is the 1971 criminal trial by the D.A., not of the Guard members, no Guard members were indicted. But of students This was done, at Governor Rhodes of Ohio’s behest, 25 of them are indicted for Joe Collum. We talked about bringing Cleary over to the hospital, it was because he was in Life magazine. And he was visible and he was put in handcuffs and locked up in prison for the night. In the end, the charges were dropped.
There are two minor indictments and all of the other charges against the other 23 students were dropped. A federal suit was launched against the Guardsman in 1974. Eight were charged of depriving due process of the killed and wounded students. The indictment was in March. By November 1974, a federal judge dismissed the charges.
Well, it was investigated, I think, that the investigators ran up against a stone wall and an agreement among the Guardsmen to present their side in a specific way that made them seem blameless.
I picture the red Volkswagen speeding through the roads of Ohio, trying to get to the border, to Pennsylvania and out of the state in the hood of his Volkswagen, a couple rolls of film and his camera or buried.
John Philo is worried.
The Ohio National Guard, he thinks, is going to take his film, destroy his camera, erase any evidence of the incident that he’s just seen, and while he’s speeding on a Kentucky National Guard, operating on the telephone poles, they’re trying to conceal a cover up. That this happened is controversial. But certainly John Phyll thinks so below, gets the film to a local newspaper that he is trust because he’s working there while he’s a student at Kent. He’s studying photography, but he’s from Pennsylvania. In fact, during the first days of the riot and the protests bearing the constitution, the ROTC, Vilo in Pennsylvania, the woods taking pictures of nature and he decides to go back. He’s actually somewhat disheartened because other photography majors actually have standing contracts with newspapers and news organizations, because this is a news story and they’re getting pictures of what should just be a story about a rally on campus. So he’s actually he goes back on Monday to classes like everyone else, and he works in a dark room and he’s not really planning on doing much, and his professors actually tell him, you know, John, you need to go out there and take pictures of this. And so he starts snapping pictures. He’s almost out of film. When the shots are fired, he drops his camera and flees.
He comes back and he realizes this is a moment of news, grabs his camera and he’s got two pictures left when he sees the body that will turn out to be Jeffrey Miller.
And there’s a very young woman who’s just screaming at the top of her lungs. He snaps. That takes two pictures. While he’s snapping these pictures, people are yelling at the other students. He’s called a pig for doing it. How could you do this? Why are you taking pictures? And he just responds because they will never believe that this happened.
His photo is published in his local Pennsylvania newspaper, and he says he feels that if it was in Ohio, it would be quashed. And the local paper distributes to the Associated Press and it appears in newspapers nationwide and eventually wins a Pulitzer Prize. Pretty good for journalism student Philo now works at CBS News.
So this can say tragedy just has no place.
You know, when you think about it without that photo, if I tell you Kent State, what’s the image in your head? And it’s going to be that woman kind of hovering over this dead student, screaming like an angel, screaming for vengeance.
You know, absent a journalism school and all of these enterprising photographers who are walking around filming, May 4th, 1970, might have been, you know, a story that we’ll hear about, just like we talked about the shootings at Jackson State where there weren’t pictures, but it Kent State would not be so iconic without that photo. The woman in the photo screaming is Marianne Vecchio, and that show is runaway from Florida.
She’s 14 years old.
Philo felt that, you know, other people had been looking at the student, one person actually grabs Jeff Miller to see if he’s alive or not. And, you know, other college students of a more mature age are kind of reacting normally, calmly.
They’re they’re outraged.
They’re upset, but not to the level of kind of shrieking and that the shrieking is, you know, Mary Ann Vecchio is a 14 year old. And so this is how she reacts extremely emotionally and instantly. Instantly T shirts are made of her. The image, her image is around the around the country. And her father recognizes her photo, of course, and tracks her down, finds her in Indianapolis eventually.
And she is returned home and then sent to juvenile school. She was never pleased with her fame. She is called a communist by the governor of the state where she’s from Florida.
I mean, he actually says Mary Ann Vecchio is responsible for these students being killed.
A person in the photograph. That’s all she was she gets after this. Death threats by mail in 1990. She tells a newspaper, it really destroyed my life and I don’t want to talk about it. To the extent she did talk about it, she said, you know, she was found by her father, put into a juvenile home, and she had many run ins with the law for little things like a very small amount of marijuana possession that, you know, wouldn’t get others arrested. All of a sudden, she was being arrested for loitering. She would have cops arresting her.
See, this photo of Kent State was an important propaganda.
And, you know, if you’re of course, it’s for the peace movement, good propaganda.
If you’re, you know, for for the cause of peace, for the cause of ending the war in Vietnam, it really did become a symbol not just of what happened in Kent State, but for an anti Vietnam message.
It moved people.
It explained the issue quickly, you know, in a visual way. And the law and order side of things saw that. And they didn’t like it. And she’s associated with the photo and whatever they could do to give her a hard time. It seems like they did.
Philo, also, who took the picture, receives death threats.
So that’s you void school because of the harassment she’s received. And, you know, she does become a casino employee, lived in Las Vegas, got married, tried to live a very quiet life and not talk to reporters. She’s constantly hounded by the press. In nineteen ninety five, she finally attends a memorial twenty fifth anniversary meeting at Kent State and meets Philo for the first time. I’m just glad she didn’t hate me, is what Philo says.
And it’s after that that she really comes to embrace her role, accidental role in this tragedy in Barbas town, Ohio, which is close to can stay close to Akron. A local councilman, Albert Canfora, was associated with protest at Kent State. His son, Alan Canfora, was shot in the wrist and remains very active in the Kent State movement today. Albert Canfora is part of a series of protests that are going to happen later and eventually to the people in the town of Bardstown. They’re tired of this Kent State business. They’re tired of the protest is seen as too radical. And he’s actually recalled an election gleefully, overwhelmingly by voters. See, that’s the attitude to kind of a conservative blue collar but conservative area.
Father of Alison Krauss sued the state, the school governor wrote his suit fails and the court says you can’t sue the state. That was the law at the time. Sure. Versus Rhodes. The lawsuit of the family of Sandy sure gets the U.S. Supreme Court. And the court says in 1974 that the previous ruling was arbitrary and decides you can indeed sue the state or at least the cases can go forward.
All the victims of the shootings consolidated their cases into a 46 million dollar lawsuit seeking damages from Governor Rhodes. We are now getting to five years from the shootings, 15 weeks, one hundred and one witnesses, 12000 pages of legal record created. And the jury would rule nine to three in favor of the governor and the National Guard and the school. Students after the verdict was read would shout murderers Sandy Sherer mother, her daughter was, keep in mind, not even a protester, but in Sandy sures case, she was just walking to class. There’s no justice, they are still murderers. Opinion in 1970s oil for the Guardsmen, but it’s shifting now, you know, in the era of Vietnam and Watergate and there’s a poll now, 51 percent disagrees with the verdict. It’s appealed. The appeals rejected.
The ACLU joins the families. It’s uncovered that in the last trial, a juror was actually threatened. The judge knew and kept the juror on a new Ohio trial is held, same result, though. Federal court intervenes orders a new trial nine years after the shooting. There’s a settlement. Fifteen thousand dollars is all the family of the four slain get. That is to preserve as much needed. Money for medical bills and pain and suffering to those who are injured and living, a total of the suit is six six hundred and seventy five thousand for all the killed and wounded.
The guard issued a statement acknowledging that it had happened, but they made a point of noting that it was not an apology for what they had done. So there certainly even today is a dispute about who was there. Was there blame on the part of the guard on the part of the the college administration or of the state of Ohio? So that’s one side of it. People say, yeah, there was blame there, and then there’s it’s still divisive. People say, well, it was the fault of the students. They should not have been protesting. So I don’t think there’s ever been a resolution of that. And there are still questions today what Dean Keller wanted.
He was the victim of paralysis from a bullet that hit him in the back. What he wanted was an apology, and he didn’t exactly get that. But they did take responsibility. They said, as he there, they were wrong for shooting us realistic people, Caylor said, we’re looking for millions of dollars. We wanted the apology and was the first time that a state let people who normally had sovereign immunity be taken out of that process. Ron Schneider, one of the guardsmen, said. They got justice, they may not think they did, but they did within the full extent of the law, things like this happen and it’s unfortunate. Kaylor, he said, because of our case, if a state official does something stupid, they can be sued and the state doesn’t have to defend them.
Kent State leads to other student protests and strikes about two thirds of campuses in the country are affected immediately.
The next day, after Kent State, 6000 University of Washington students marched off campus and pour on to Interstate five. If you ever been in Seattle, you know, that’s a pretty important road. And start heading towards the federal courthouse. They enter the freeway shouting anti Vietnam War slogans carrying poor to protest banners and supporting and supporting peace signs.
This is happening all over the nation. Indeed, hundreds of thousands, maybe 400000 students are going to occupy Washington, D.C. that weekend. They have to build buffers around the White House to keep the students out and to protect the president. Now.
An interesting story is that Nixon, in whatever kind of mood he was in or whatever had occurred, you know, is affected by these protests and he goes out in the middle of the night. Secret Service, like Searchlight is on the lawn and that’s his secret code name and and goes to the Lincoln Memorial and meets with students. He’s only got, like, one person with him. You know, I guess there’s a certainly surprise leads to a bit of security. So no one expects the president of the United States to be right there. He starts talking with students and, you know, a woman from a university, he tries to talk football.
And the woman interviewed later is like a dozen. He realized our football has been canceled for some time. You know, basically the message gets to, you know, the students are polite enough, but the message gets to them that, you know, you’re not going to intimidate us. We’re not going to change our opinion just because you’re here. There’s really nothing that ever comes out of that visit and it just becomes kind of part of the Nixon folklore, somewhat buried. I think it’s come out more now than in the past, but just become like a weird Nixon story. But it occurs during the reaction to Kent State that’s unleashed.
Everyone from Nixon to Birch by the senator from Indiana to various congressmen to President Carter have been involved in some way and how we’re going to memorialize and how we’re going to investigate this. The Supreme Court has weighed in on the various lawsuits. There’s been a lot of people involved.
Even Oliver Stone, you know, arrives on campus in the not too long ago and has his own kind of conspiracy theory.
This one involving Terri Norman, who is a kind of, I would say, a bit of a nutty fellow who worked with the campus police and he was an informant for the FBI. Oh, that sounds like a really big deal at this time.
You know, the FBI was looking at student radicals and had a number of informants. There’s even some talk that the newspaper and the radio station on campus, you know, was supplying information to either campus police and maybe that was getting to the FBI and, you know, reading Bob Guiles book that just came out, truth matters.
Everybody’s heard the norman had a gun that some say fired. Some say he didn’t. But Bob Ghile book he talks about and he shows the FBI report showing that Terry Norman’s gun was never fired. So I don’t know enough about it to be talking about it from an expert standpoint. But both of the facts, I know that the other thing is that he is chosen to be so. A road trip with all this data makes you wonder what other possibilities or what other roles he had as this informant in all this, the Terry Norman thing I decided not to talk too much about on the regular podcast, because I believe, you know, there’s accounts that perhaps he fired first.
He had a pistol.
Also seems like he was a fellow who would just take pictures of the radicals and and send it to law enforcement and maybe was an overcautious person, but and kind of ran to campus police when rocks were thrown at him.
That goes to the whole thing about why do we have clandestine people joining different groups at different college campuses to either incite them to do something or not do something? Because a lot of our government that we just don’t know about the FBI is in terms of the clandestine activities they took part in and what the purpose was makes me very uncomfortable.
You had the author, James Michener, who had authored several books and was had resources and investigate in the very next year, published a book on Kent State.
He spent a lot of looking and a lot of different stories.
Midshires book is somewhat accurate, but somewhat fictional. A lot of people like it, he writes, with a flair of adding to it. And so that is the fear of the other books like the Commission and Campus Unrest or Peter Davis book. There are several good books out there that are much better at providing information on the facts of what happened. You know, I met with him, but the other book that came out just as quickly was Joe Easterhouse and Robert like Robert’s 13 seconds. And that’s required. Reading for students who can’t get it is much more accurate in terms of what it does or some stuff that you could challenge in terms of weather conditions and stuff like that. But generally speaking, their book is the other book that came up right away and gives a good factual content of what led up to the shooting and afterwards.
Protests would continue in Kent State through the 70s, in 1977, when the university wanted to build an annex in the gym that was going into part of the site of the shootings, there was huge discontent with that. A coalition of the student body, victims families, other groups spoke out at trustees meetings. They could not stop this gym from being constructed. Then they then they set up in nineteen seventy seven a tent city where they actually camped out on the construction site to block it. They were forced out. There were some negotiations, didn’t go anywhere. It goes all the way to the White House. The Carter White House, at the behest of Senators Glenn and Metzenbaum, try to work out a solution. They say, hey, maybe we’re going to consider this a national landmark. You know, you won’t be able to build here. There’s new presidents. It’s a lot of turmoil in the Kent State administration. And there’s new presidents. They get a president that’s a little more willing to accommodate. And then the problem becomes that the state of Ohio has provided the funds for the gym and you need a change in the work order. The state government in Ohio doesn’t want to do it. Even if the administration does, there’s still protests continue. There’s appeals to the Supreme Court to stop the construction. They all are overturned and the construction moved forward several times. Protesters and break chain link fences and get into the construction site to protest. But eventually the is built. It does start a movement, though, at one point and rallies Dick Gregory, William Kunstler, Vietnam vet and author Ron Kovic, speak to thousands of people for the tent city cause. And there’s pressure to remember more.
I’ve never been a Kent State myself, I’ll correct that someday there used to be a work reason where I’d get to Cleveland more often, but correct that someday. But in the course of the two podcasts I’ve done on Kent State. Looking at where locations were, for instance, where the guard fired from, where the students were, where various memorials are, where the gym with the gym annex was built, what strikes me is the hills, the terrain, the differences in height in different parts of the campus. It’s a hilly campus. My perception anyway, and that plays a role in the story, vision, site advantage.
The memorial that would be built would also take advantage of that terrain on a two and a half acre site overlooking Kent State University, Commons is the university’s monument. It’s plaza, the walls of granite, small stone steps that lead to it, it expands towards the hillside, the hillside itself sort of becoming part of it in Bruno’s memorial.
The memory of the event, perhaps represented by that hillside going off to infinity.
Jagged edges representing disruption and conflict, I think memorials are important, and I think it’s important not to forget what happened. The anniversaries every year do serve a purpose. I’m just not sure how much the, you know, freshmen and sophomores and students who graduated, you know, 20, 30, 40 years later than is going to happen. What it really means to them and how it how they think about it and what really meant, because I know the students who graduated in the 70s, it did have a meaning. It was very powerful. And I think it’s important to continue the remembrance because those students who died and the ones who were wounded. It’s a reminder of how we have to be in our society today that, you know, seek for truth and not just.
Look, people have power like that for granted, structures represent the students who died, Alison Krauss, Bill Schroeder, Sandy Shaw, Jeff Miller. They’re not named in the structure and that causes controversy, we’ll get into that, but they’re represented. There’s a fifth structure that represents all victims of violence or perhaps the truth. There’s a great book on minimalist art called Pictures of Nothing, and for somebody who is not an art history major at all, I found it quite interesting. And one of the points that the fellow that wrote that makes in, you know, I’m going to look him up right now by Kirk Varnedoe. And one of the points that he makes is that in the period between the 50s and the new millennium where minimalism was so, you know, there would be these, particularly in the 60s, 70s, minimalism prevailed in art. And so tragic events like R.K., JFK, you know, the JFK Memorial in Dallas, which are these like big stones, everything was minimalism.
So you might be denied that obvious memorial. And it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It can be done very well, like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.. Is probably an example of this done very, very well, and by the way, that Vietnam War Memorial influences greatly the desire to have a memorial at Kent State if they can do it there, if you if we’re memorializing the Vietnam War. Let’s do it here. And they’re going with a similar type of effort. The memorial in Kent State is surrounded by 58000, 175 daffodils to represent the U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam, linking the events of Kent State as historically it should be with the Vietnam War.
The students today who are in high school that are worrying about being shot by intruders and these is crazy activities that go on with people dressing up and going to school and shooting you people who tell the students of today. That they have power and not to lose that and to make sure they get together and they they stay together because eventually they can change the way things are and it’s up to them to keep the passion, keep the spirit and keep the fight, because we do need gun control in this country. And it’s it’s getting more and more out of control. And with our politics today, we’re getting more and more divided. I want the students of today to know that they have power and they’ve got to keep exercising it.
As with so many things at Kent State, this memorial was not without controversy, indeed, the demands for a memorial I mean, really start from from the of the shootings, but start to pick up some momentum in 1982, again, influenced by that Vietnam War Memorial. There’s a committee. And a prize that’s decided on in nineteen eighty four, and then the college is unable to raise sufficient funds. Now we have some. Of the victims and families, Alan Canfora, for instance, who’s highly critical, you know, they could raise all of these millions for a fashion school but can only raise, you know, less than 100000 at the time for a memorial for the Mayford victims. This isn’t without controversy. It goes through the late 80s. Not only that, an Ohio State lawmaker says that his constituents do not want any memorial on a site that’s funded by taxpayer funds. The American Legion of Ohio considers a resolution condemning the memorial. Chuck Ayers, who’s a student that we heard a bit of his take on things before. Who’s that, who is at Kent State on that day? Was the cartoonist, political cartoonist, and drew a cartoon of the American Legion destroying a peaceful monument to criticize their actions, the Fraternal Order of Police in Ohio does do this. They pass a resolution condemning the idea of a memorial for the slain students. The university also gets embroiled in a lawsuit when the first winner of the competition turns out to be a Canadian. And they said they’d only give it to an American designer. He ends up suing, which blocks the whole statue. The daily Kent Stater, right before the memorial is unveiled, says it’s a joke unfair to memorialize such a tragic event in such a cheap manner. When asked about why the students aren’t included on the monument, the president of the college tells the newspaper the martyr issue is not one we’re interested in.
After the families protest, a plaque is added with the names of the students.
Yet there were touching moments as well at the dedication Florence Schroeder mother of Bill Schroeder, and we should remember that Bill was merely going to class. He was 382 feet from the guard, he was an Eagle Scout and on an ROTC scholarship when he was killed. She said the students were gentle souls with an artistic and literary flair and a good purpose. And at this ceremony.
Governor Richard Celeste of Ohio, he succeeds Governor Rhodes in the early 80s and Rhodes will remember is the governor who in large part made some caustic comments right before the events in Kent State about brown shirts and about eradicating the threat of students. He’s the one that the guard reported to at the time.
Celeste is his successor, he says at the 1990 dedication. I’m sorry. And then he names each student. Alison Krauss, to your friends and family, I’m sorry, Bill Schroeder, to your friends and family, I’m sorry, Sandy. Sure. To your friends and family. I’m sorry. Jeff Miller, to your friends and family. I’m sorry.
The state of Ohio officially speaks 20 years after the events, but that ceremony is not without controversy. Students, alumni and Vietnam vets are at the dedication, they remain silent, but they protest. In 1999, Kent University blocked four parking spaces in the area where fatally wounded students felt there’s pylons for each of the four slain students. A marker goes up in 2006 explaining the events, a mobile phone walking tour in 2010. No doubt there will be people visiting as this episode airs for the fiftieth memorial in 2013. A visitors center is established. You can go there and check your birthday against the time board and see if you would have been drafted in 1970.
I want to thank you for listening, and I especially want to thank our guests, Paul Stone Tucker and her book Surviving a Kent State Memoir and Howard Ruffner Moments of Truth, which again features over 150 photos, many of them from that day, many of them never published. The website is done. My history can beat up your politics, Dotcom. We have a premium offering as little as two dollars a month. And if you like the program, as always, please find some form to tell others about. Thanks for listening.v