May 4 survivor pens book on student activism at KSU

Sara Scanes

Grace looks to pinpoint reasons for uprising

When the first anti-war picket at Kent State happened in February of 1965, it attracted all of seven protesters and 200 counter-protesters. Seven years later, in 1972, the atmosphere had changed.

“The campus was in virtual chaos over the war as protesters poured into the streets of Kent, shutting down daytime traffic,” said Thomas Grace, Kent State graduate and survivor of the May 4 shootings.

Grace recently finished a book about student activism at Kent State, chronicing that movement. The book is in its editing stages and is set to be published sometime in 2010.

A “narrative-driven history,” Grace’s book, tentatively titled “Kent State: Death and Dissent During the Long 60s, 1958-1973,” focuses on the origin of the student movement at Kent State and the university’s birth as an active campus, he said.

Originally, his dissertation was based on the anti-slavery movement in upstate New York, he said. But after speaking with an editor who showed interest in Grace’s involvement at Kent State and his injury during the May 4 shootings, Grace shifted his focus.

“I eventually completed a dissertation on the student movement at Kent State,” he said. The dissertation, finished in 2003, was titled ‘A Legacy of Dissent: The Culture and Politics of Protest at Kent State University, 1958-1964, and a copy of the work can be found in the Kent State archives.

For his book, Grace expanded on his dissertation, doubling the length and broadening the timeline by nine years. He focused more on the towns from which most Kent State students came in the 1960s.

“My book seeks to locate the origins of the movement and how it developed,” Grace said. “It tries to draw attention to the industrial cities of Northeast Ohio that over half of the students came from.”

Grace said his book is based “largely on original research,” and he examined everything from period newspapers to student directories. In addition, he conducted interviews with more than 30 people, including the late John Carson, former mayor of Kent.

Today, just as in the past, Grace said politically active students make up a small part of the student body. Still, that minority can have an impact.

Max Harrington, vice president of PRIDE! Kent and sophomore human development and family studies major, said, when it comes to certain issues, activism is “pretty prevalent” at Kent State.

“It is a very active kind of campus,” Harrington said, noting the 2008 election, during which PRIDE!Kent was very active. “For us, that was probably the biggest activist demonstration.”

Cailey Rodgers, freshman special education major and a member of the Kent State Anti-War Committee, said while Kent State has a rather active campus, she’d like to see more people get involved – something she says is important.

“If you want to see change, then you need to work to make it happen,” Rodgers said.

Grace encourages students to get educated before taking action, quoting the motto of the 1790 Democratic-Republic societies, “Ignorance is the irreconcilable enemy of liberty.”

“I urge people to read a daily paper, listen to National Public Radio and watch the evening news,” Grace said.

“Of course, people learn best by doing,” he said. “When becoming politically engaged, people need to bear in mind the consequences of their actions, carefully consider their objectives and tactics and think about short- and long-term goals.”

Contact general assignment reporter Sara Scanes at [email protected].