Remembering May 4, 1970: ‘I was scared to death I’d be out of a job, and I had a child on the way.’

Melissa Dilley

On May 4, 1970, Thomas Hensley allotted his entire afternoon to working on his graduate dissertation.

His plans quickly changed as his car radio informed him that a national guardsman had been shot by Kent State students at a protest against the Vietnam War.

This incorrect report was a common one that day. Hensley spent the next two hours listening to the events in his parked car.

Hensley was a first-year assistant professor when four students were shot to death and nine were injured during the historical protests.

He said at first he was shocked but as the day progressed his fears about the future mounted.

Hensley and his pregnant wife had just put the down payment on a house in Kent.

After a court injunction shut down campus May 4, no one was certain the university would re-open.

“I was scared to death I’d be out of a job, and I had a child on the way,” he said.

Hensley and his wife fled to Iowa City, Iowa, to stay with her parents. Being optimistic, they didn’t renege on the house.

The two still live close to campus and have three children.

Hensley, a professor emeritus and former chair of the political science department, is technically retired but still teaches classes at Kent State.

For 20 years Hensley taught the well-known May 4 class.

Although Hensley wasn’t involved much on May 4, he was interested in researching the topic. In 1975, along with sociology professor Jerry M. Lewis, he offered a contemporary issues course covering the event.

Since there were no objective books written on the subject, the two professors wrote packets for their students. After two years of researching and writing, the men were offered a book deal in 1977.

The two taught the class on every major anniversary until current instructors Laura Davis and Carole Barbato took over a few years ago. The class is now offered every spring semester.

“Some professors who retire go off and do other things and don’t really come back,” he said. “I can’t do that. I still enjoy my teaching.”

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