Remembering May 4, 1970: ‘I was in the army, so I knew right away that they were shooting real bullets.’

Melissa Dilley

Jerry M. Lewis had been studying the sociology of crowd control techniques for years before May 4, 1970. But he never would have guessed how useful his knowledge would be until he witnessed the National Guard shoot four students and wound nine others.

The students had gathered around the bell in the Commons to protest the Vietnam War. Lewis was a faculty marshal who would attempt to control the crowd if it got out of hand.

Faculty assigned to be marshals wore armbands to signify their authority and supervised students during the campus unrest leading up to May 4.

Although the marshals’ group had disbanded the day before, Lewis put on his armband and headed toward Blanket Hill.

As soon as shots were fired Lewis said he knew the sound was of real bullets and not blanks.

“I was in the Army, so I knew right away that they were shooting real bullets,” he said. “I started yelling to everyone to get down.”

After witnessing the events, Lewis said he became a Kent celebrity because of his crowd control research.

“Since I was a faculty member who witnessed the shootings, I became an instant media star, even though I didn’t want to be,” he said. “Since crowd control was my area of study early on, I could talk about the situation objectively and scientifically while others talked about it emotionally.”

Lewis put his knowledge to use by creating a contemporary issues class with political science professor Tom Hensley in 1975.

The two wrote the book “Kent State and May 4th: A Social Science Perspective,” used for the class currently taught every spring by Laura Davis and Carole Barbato.

Lewis, now a Kent State professor emeritus, said he hopes the third edition of the book will be published in time for the 40th anniversary of May 4 in 2010.

Lewis said profits from the third edition are planned to go to the new May 4 Visitors Center, which is currently in the early planning stages.

Contact student politics reporter Melissa Dilley at [email protected].