Peaceful rally ends fatally

Justin Stine

The rally at the Commons on May 4, 1970, began as a peaceful one, and the intent was for it to remain that way as far as the students and participants were concerned. It was not until the Ohio National Guard decided to disperse the non-violent, civil crowd of student participants and observers that the day turned fatal.

Three days earlier on Friday, May 1, there was a rally in the same location. During this equally peaceful rally, a copy of the United States Constitution was buried to symbolize the rights of the American people during the Vietnam War. By the end of the rally, word began to spread that another rally was to be held at noon on Monday, May 4.

Initially, the purpose of the May 4 rally was to protest the war. But after the weekend of violence and the invasion of the Ohio National Guard on campus, the main concern of several students was no longer the war. For many, they were protesting the presence of the National Guard on their campus.

According to the book The Truth About Kent State: A Challenge to the American Conscience by Peter Davies, the Scranton Commission, which thoroughly investigated the shootings, found that “many students who described themselves as ‘straight,’ or conservative, later attributed their presence at the rally to a desire to protest against the National Guard.” The commission also determined that some students present at the rally either were attending out of curiosity because they had free time between classes or had just stopped at the Commons on their way to lunch.

By about 11:45 a.m., the crowd on the Commons grew to approximately 2,500. Then at 11:50 a.m., 10 minutes before the rally was even scheduled to begin, an order came from Gen. Canterbury to disperse the peaceful crowd.

A jeep was driven through the Commons and a bullhorn was used to inform the students to leave the area. According to the Scranton Commission, “only when the Guard attempted to disperse the rally did some students react violently.”

Canterbury and the National Guard were unjust in ordering the students to disperse. Every person that day had the right to attend this peaceful rally. In actuality, it was a violation of the students’ Constitutional rights to order them to disperse.

The Scranton Commission said this about the decision to disperse the students: “The May 4 rally began as a peaceful assembly on the Commons — the traditional site of student assemblies. Even if the Guard had authority to prohibit a peaceful gathering, the decision to disperse the noon rally was a serious error.”

Then at approximately 11:55 a.m., the jeep returned to the spot where the National Guard was stationed, and the guardsmen were ordered to “lock and load” their weapons and carry out the order for dispersal.

Before the Guard left their station, Canterbury was approached and encouraged not to “march against the students,” as the crowd was still relatively peaceful.

“These students are going to have to find out what law and order is all about,” he said.

Well, if what happened on May 4, 1970, truly is what law and order is all about, something has to change.

Justin Stine is an electronic media production major, the treasurer of the May 4 Task Force and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].