The Pop History Dig

“Kent State Reaction”
May 1970

     On May 4th, 1970,  four students at Kent State University in Ohio were killed by National Guard troops during protests over President Richard Nixon’s military incursion into Cambodia during the Vietnam war.  In reaction to the Kent State shootings, college campuses all across the country erupted in further protest.  One such protest was captured in the photo below as University of Washington students, on their way to a protest site in downtown Seattle, assembled on a local freeway.

May 5, 1970: Thousands of University of Washington students occupying and blocking Intersate Highway 5 (I-5) and facing state troopers in riot gear as they protested the killings at Kent State Universtiy and the invasion of Cambodia. Photo, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle.
May 5, 1970: Thousands of University of Washington students occupying and blocking Intersate Highway 5 (I-5) and facing state troopers in riot gear as they protested the killings at Kent State Universtiy and the invasion of Cambodia. Photo, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle.

     On May 5, 1970, the day after four students were killed at Kent State, students at the University of Washington in Seattle called for their school to take a stand against the shootings and the Vietnam War.  That morning, thousands of the university’s students gathered on campus at a common square for a rally.  Student leaders and others spoke to the assembled crowd about why students at the University of Washington should protest the Cambodia invasion and the Kent State shootings.  The crowd decided to strike, with the support of university President Charles Odegaard, who closed the university the next day.

1970: University of Washington students during May 5th Seattle freeway protest.
1970: University of Washington students during May 5th Seattle freeway protest.
     Later in the day on May 5th, the University of Washington rally turned into a march from campus traveling to downtown Seattle.  This route had been taken before by protesters, and typically ended back on campus.  However, on May 5th the crowd of student protesters headed west towards the freeway, Interstate-5.  Nearly 5,000 people marched onto the interstate, heading to an antiwar rally downtown.  The photo above shows a stand-off between demonstrators and state troopers in riot gear.  In this case, the outcome was peaceful as the crowd eventually dissipated and left the freeway.  A student strike and other subsequent protest at the University of Washington continued through much of May 1970.  See additional sources at the bottom of this article for more detail about the University of Washington activity.

     The Seattle protest in reaction to Kent State was one of many at that time, as demonstrations and protests ensued all across the country.  Two days after the Kent State incident, on May 6th, police wounded four demonstrators at the University of Buffalo. On May 8, eleven people were bayonetted by the New Mexico National Guard during protests at the University of New Mexico. Also on May 8th, some 100,000 protesters – angered over Kent State and the Cambodian invasion – gathered in Washington.

A sample flyer from May 1970 urging student demonstrations following Kent State shootings.
A sample flyer from May 1970 urging student demonstrations following Kent State shootings.
     Another 150,000 protested in San Francisco.  Nationwide, four million students and 450 universities, colleges, and high schools would become involved in the student strike.  While opposition to the Vietnam War had been simmering on many American campuses for several years, the Kent State shootings seemed to provide a spark for students across the country to adopt a strike action and become more active. 

     A variety of alerts and flyers, such as the one shown at left were also distributed on many campuses at the time, advocating the strike action and further anti-war demonstrations.  Most of the actions resulted in peaceful protests and walkouts.  However, on some campuses, ROTC buildings were attacked or set on fire, and 26 schools witnessed clashes between students and police.  National Guard units were mobilized on 21 campuses in 16 states.  On May 14th at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi, two students were killed and at least twelve wounded during demonstrations there that followed the Kent State shootings.

     For a longer story at this website on the Kent State shootings and its aftermath, including additional photos and the genesis of a protest song commemorating the tragedy by rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, see, “Four Dead in O-hi-o, 1970.” 

Thanks for visiting.  —  Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  29 February 2012
Last Update:   3 May 2012
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Kent State Reaction, May 1970,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 29, 2012.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Front page of Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, following the Kent State shootings of May 1970.
Front page of Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, following the Kent State shootings of May 1970.
Picture of the Week: UW Students Protest the Kent State Shootings,” University District Museum Without Walls, Posted February 22, 2008.

“Weeks of Protests Erupt in Seattle Beginning on May 1, 1970…,” HistoryLink.org (with photos & timeline ).

“May 5, 1970: The UW Freeway March,” Radical Seattle Remembers, May 5, 2010.

Antiwar and Radical History Project – Pacific Northwest, University of Washington, 2009-2012

“Kent State Shootings,” Wikipedia.org.

Jim Mann, “Students Set Nationwide Strikes Today,” Washington Post, Times Herald, May 5, 1970, p. A-1.

Joseph Lelyveld, “Protests on Cambodia and Kent State Are Joined by Many Local Schools,” New York Times, May 6, 1970.

Robert C. Maynard, “Reagan Closes State’s Colleges As More Campuses Join in Protest,” Washington Post, Times Herald, May 7, 1970, p. A-1.

William N. Wallace, “Athletes Joining Campus Protest; Some Colleges Halt Events to Back Antiwar Move,” New York Times, May 7, 1970.

Robert D. McFadden, “College Strife Spreads; Over 100 Schools Closed And Up to 350 Struck,” New York Times, May 8, 1970, front page.

Robert D. McFadden, “Students Step up Protests on War; Marches and Strikes Held Amid Some Violence 200 Colleges Closed,” New York Times, May 9, 1970, front page.

William Chapman, “450 Campuses Remain Struck After Protest,” Washington Post, Times Herald May 12, 1970, p. A-4.

“At War With War”(cover story on student protest & Kent State shootings), Time, Monday, May. 18, 1970.

“Cambodian Campaign – Repercussions,” Wikipedia.org.



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