On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four Kent State University students protesting the United States’ military incursion into Cambodia. This visitors center on the Kent State campus commemorates that historic tragedy, which remains one of the most searing and poignant episodes from a turbulent period in American history.
Massive protests at colleges and universities throughout the United States began immediately after President Nixon announced the Cambodian Campaign—an expansion of the divisive Vietnam War—on April 30. Protests were particularly intense in Kent, Ohio, with unidentified arsonists setting the Kent State ROTC building on fire. The National Guard was brought into town, with Governor Jim Rhodes calling the protestors worse than Hitler’s “brownshirt” militia units and the Ku Klux Klan’s night riders.
It was in this heated, inciteful climate that 2,000 protestors assembled on campus on Monday, May 4. The Guard’s orders to disperse were not effective, and at least 29 of the Guardsmen eventually opened fire on the students, wounding nine and killing four. Of the 13 students who were shot, the closest to the gunmen was 71 feet away; the closest who was killed was 225 feet away. Two of the four killed—including campus ROTC member William Knox Schroeder—had not even been involved in the protest, but were walking to class.
Three days before the shootings, President Nixon had referred to campus protesters as “bums,” but even the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest admitted that “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.” Theirs wasn’t the harshest response: “My child was not a bum,” the grieving father of Allison Krause told national television. Though eight of the Guardsmen were eventually indicted, none was ever convicted.
The site of the May 4 shootings was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and named a National Historic Landmark in 2016. The Visitors Center features temporary exhibits such as “Sandy’s Scrapbook,” based on the personal photographs, letters, and mementos of Sandy Scheuer, killed in the shootings. And the programming is expanding: Beginning in the Fall 2019 semester, the university will observe special 50th-anniversary commemorations in the lead-up to May 4, 2020.
Today, the Kent State shootings are perhaps best known from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970 protest song. The song’s refrain laments “four dead in Ohio,” but doesn’t name the victims. They are:
Allison B. Krause, age 19
Jeffrey Glenn Miller, age 20
Sandra Lee Scheuer, age 20
William Knox Schroeder, age 19
Know Before You Go
The Visitors Center follows Kent State's academic calendar, so it is closed during school breaks.