50 Years Ago Today…The Kent State Massacre – “4 Dead In Ohio” – Remembering Those Who Died In A Deadly Protest

kent-state-national-guard-murders-1970

50 Years Ago Today…A Shameful Day In Our Nation’s History…

I am a student of political history, and with many recent protests against restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to remember a horrific and senseless tragedy that took place 50 years ago today.

One of the most disturbing photos in modern political history resonates even more today…

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.”

kent-state-massacre-1970

The “Kent State Massacre”:

It was a shocking headline: four college students gunned down by the National Guard during an anti-war protest at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970.

As wikipedia states:

“The Kent State shootings (also known as the May 4 massacre or the “Kent State Massacre”) occurred at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, in the United States and involved the shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970.

national-guard-kent-state-protests

An anti-war protest on the campus of Kent State University turned violent when soldiers fired on the students. As wikipedia reports:

“There were 28 soldiers who admitted to firing on top of the hill, 25 of these soldiers fired 55 rounds into the air and into the ground, two of the soldiers fired .45cal pistol shots, three into the crowd, and three into the air…”

kent-state-protests-anti-war-riots

67 Bullets In 13 Seconds…

It all happened so fast, and so deadly.

The National Guard soldiers fired 67 rounds of bullets in only 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

kent-state-anti-war-protests-1970

kent-state-national-guard-murders-1970

The most shocking image of this massacre was the photo of Mary Ann Vecchio, shown weeping over the body of Jeffrey Miller, a student shot by the National Guard. This Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph was taken by photojournalism student John Filo in the immediate aftermath of the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970.

This photograph was seen around the world, and immediately afterwards, four million student protestors took to the streets and closed college campuses across the country.

I was too young at the time, but I found photos of the protestors who shut down Seattle’s freeway to protest the murders:

seattle-kent-state-murder-protests-may-5th-1970

kent-state-murder-protests-1970

“Four Dead In Ohio…”

This galvanizing moment in our country’s history was pivotal in turning the nation against the war in Vietnam.

Neil Young saw the headlines about the Kent State massacre and immediately sat down to write his brilliant protest song. Within weeks, the song was released and became an anti-war anthem.

“What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?”

Here is a great video from YouTube by “Mitch Mumby”, taking the song and covering it with stills and videos from those turbulent times.

csny-ohio

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.”

The song captured the horror of the moment, and the need to stand up and fight back against a government willing to kill you for having a different political belief…here is a live performance from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1971:

csny-political-protest-1970

During the same session they recorded another song as the B-side, Stephen Stills’s powerful ode to everyone killed in the war, “Find the Cost of Freedom”.

“Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down”

Here is Stephen Stills performing the song live:

Recent protest protests across the country have led many to worry about another “Kent State” – this time as armed protestors in several states have threatened our political leaders due to the coronavirus destructions put in place.

They haven’t become violent yet – but unfortunately, as the Kent State tragedy showed, there is always the danger of violence whenever there are protests. In fact, there is a film that captured police violence against protestors as it was happening:

Medium Cool movie

Medium Cool

The brilliant film “Medium Cool” was filmed during the summer of 1968, when Chicago protestors descended on the Democratic National Convention, where this happened:

1968convention

Anti-war protestors were attacked by police, and the “Medium Cool” filmmakers captured it in their movie…see more about this incredible film here:


https://johnrieber.com/2015/12/28/rip-legendary-haskell-wexler-his-prescient-medium-cool-1968-chicago-riots-americas-political-turmoil-captured-on-film/

There were other bands that offered up serious political songs about the Vietnam War and the state of our union at the time:

The band Chicago wrote a powerful “dialogue” between someone who wanted to make changes in our country, and someone who just wanted to get by without a fight:

The band still performs the song, which is one of their best – you can click here to see a live version nd more of the lyrics as well:

https://johnrieber.com/2018/11/27/dialogue-part-1-2-classic-protest-music-by-chicago-we-can-make-it-happen-resonates-today/

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50 years on, who would have imagined armed men storming a state capital demanding the right to ignore the pandemic restrictions?

I hope that people take a moment to reflect on what has happened before, so we can avoid it happening again…



Categories: 70's Cinema, 70's Music, Art, Books / Media, chicago, Classic Rock, documentary films, Memoirs, Movies, Music, Politics, Pop Culture

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. Great post, remembering such a horrific tragedy. I often think of today’s heavily armed protesters as more similar to terrorists, threatening violence and mass destruction. I’ve also seen a lot of posts talking about these armed protesters who are rarely arrested, alongside the images of totally unarmed black men who are killed for something as simple as going for a jog in plain daylight. There’s a definite disparity somewhere. I am all about our rights to peaceful protest, but there’s something about automatic weapons that removes the peaceful aspect. Thanks for sharing, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is ironic that a gathering protesting violence ended with violence. Protests can be peaceful but bubbling underneath the potential for violence is there – especially if either the group or the police let free their emotions.

    Like

  3. I have photos from Ohio State if you want me to send them to you. We had National Guard shooting buckshot on campus.

    Like

  4. I remember this well, as do many of my generation. The only good that came out of the tragic event was great music. Thank you, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, I distinctly remember that dark day in history. In some ways, it doesn’t feel like five decades have come and gone.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We have had several moving programmes on BBC Radio; the words of a family who had to go to the hospital to see their daughter’s body and heard someone say they should have shot more of them. I was a teenager in Australia and young people were already trying to figure out why we had to go ‘All the Way with LBJ’ . Conscription was literally a lottery for twenty year olds who couldn’t even vote yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was 18 at the time, and it featured heavily on the news here. As I commented on Frank Scarangello’s blog, it is hard to believe people were shot at and killed for throwing stones, yet 50 years later men carrying assault rifles and intimidating people are not even arrested.
    If people approached government buidings here carrying firearms, they would be shot dead by police. And rightly so too. That is called ‘armed insurrection’.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember this, though I was also too young to act. I recently heard a podcast retelling the story and it filled in some of the blanks for me. this was an absolute horror story on many levels.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I hadn’t heard of this protest, John, it was before my time, but it is quite horrifying. I am watching the protests in your country on social media. In my country people are starving and attacking food trucks and shops.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, hard to believe it was 50 years ago, I was a senior in high school and remember it well. The thing about the current protests is that now both sides have guns and the potential for violence is through the roof.

    Liked by 1 person

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