MAY 4: An American Day of Boldness and Activism – Part 4 Kent State Massacre

MAY 4: An American Day of Boldness and Activism

Part 4 Kent State Massacre

Like the Boston Massacre almost exactly two hundred years before (March 5, 1770), which it resembled, it was called a massacre not for the number of its victims but for the wanton manner in which they were shot down.

Philip Caputo, “The Kent State Shootings, 35 Years Later,” NPR (4 May 2005)

On April 30, 1970, President Nixon, who was elected based on a secret plan to end the Vietnam War, announced that he was escalating the war by sending troops into Cambodia to attack North Vietnamese camps there.  Protests erupted on campuses nationwide – including Kent State University in Ohio.

On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen responded to a demonstration at Kent State by opening fire at students.  The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students (two of whom were merely passing by) and wounding nine others, one of whom was paralyzed.

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Kent State Aftermath

Student Protests

  • The largest strike in American history occurred after the Kent tragedy.  Over 100 American campuses closed on strike each day for the remainder of the school week after the Kent massacre.  Ultimately, nearly 5,000,000 American students joined the national student strike.
  • More than 500 American colleges & universities were closed by mid-May; over 900 colleges & universities closed before the end of May, 1970.  Approximately 80% of US colleges & universities experienced protests; approximately 175,000 faculty members joined the protests.
  • On May 9, 1970, over 150,000 protesters, mostly students, converged on Washington, DC,. President Nixon, Henry Kissinger & others were kept in the White House protected by armed military guards with machine guns. The White House was surrounded & protected by a cordon of bumper-to-bumper buses;

Solidarity with Protesters

  • 100 art museums & galleries closed in solidarity with the student strike;
  • After the Kent massacre, entire companies of US troops in Vietnam refused orders to invade Cambodia;
  • Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group of anti-war veterans returned from Vietnam, increased their membership by 50% in May, 1970–they led many campus protests & strikes after Kent State;


  • Only a few days after Kent State, President Nixon limited the US invasion of Cambodia to 35 kilometers inside Cambodia & two months maximum duration;
  • President Nixon’s memoir reveals the days after Kent State as “…among the darkest” days of his presidency and former Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren said Kent State sparked the worst American crisis since the Civil War;
  • According to Nixon’s aide H.R. Haldeman, “Kent State marked the beginning of Nixon’s downhill slide toward Watergate”; which included beginning his “enemies list” .

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