Kent State
Akron, Ohio
May 4, 1970

This Pulitzer prize-winning photo is one of the most famous images of the 1960s. It was seen in newspapers across America (and around the world) and appeared on the cover of Newsweek on May 18, 1970 with the title "Nixon's Home Front."

President Nixon's April 30 announcement that the US military had invaded Cambodia and 150,000 more troops would soon be drafted came at a time when many in the United States believed the war was drawing to a close. While the Pentagon quickly voiced its approval of the war's expansion, college students across the country organized strikes and protests against what the army had dubbed "Operation Total Victory."

Two thousand Princeton University students called a provisional strike. Berkeley and Stanford were the sites of multiple clashes between antiwar protesters and police. At Yale, what had been organized as a rally to protest the police harrassment of the Black Panthers found many decrying the invasion of Cambodia as well. Four thousand marines and US marshals were deployed.

The campus protest that most captured the public attention, however, occurred at Kent State. Following two days of demonstrations and street parades in which windows were broken and an old ROTC building was ignited, the nervous Akron mayor called in the National Guard.

Around noon on May 4, troops squared off against a gathering crowd of protesters. When the students ignored orders to disperse, the guardsmen opened fire. Nine students were injured and four were killed, including some who had simply been passing by on their way to class.

As news and striking photographs of the fatal confrontation between young students and (in many cases, younger) guardsmen crossed the country, the demonstrations grew in number and intensity. One major rally was planned to take place on Wall Street on the morning of May 8.

The widespread student movement was a major concern of the federal government even before the incidents at Kent State. Days before, Time reported on May 11, Vice President Spiro Agnew had given his interpretation of campus uprisings. He, like many of the students he described, explicitly identified student radicalism as a threat to the American status quo:

"We must look to how we are raising our children. They are, for the most part, the children of affluent, permissive, upper-middle-class parents who learned their Dr. Spock and threw discipline out the window--when they should have done the opposite. They are the children dropped off by their parents at Sunday school to hear the 'modern' gospel from a 'progressive' preacher more interested in fighting pollution than fighting evil--one of those pleasant clergymen who lifts his weekly sermons out of old newsletters from a National Council of Churches that has cast morality and theology aside as 'not relevant' and set as its goal on earth the recognition of Red China and the preservation of Florida alligator. Today, by the thousands--without a cultural heritage, without a set of spiritual values, and with a moral code summed up in that idealistic injunction 'Do your own thing,' Junior--his pot and Portnoy secreted in his knapsack--arrives at 'the Old Main' and finds there a smiling and benign faculty even less demanding than his parents. . ."

"The real pity is that many of the students of our universities really feel that the theatrical radicals are the architects of a brave, new compassionate world, spiced with 'rock' music, 'acid' and 'pot.' There is a . . . group of students committed to radical change through violent means. Some of these may be irretrievable; all will require very firm handling. this is the criminal left that belongs not in a dormitory, but in a penitentiary. The criminal left is not a problem to be solved by the department of philosophy or the department of English--it is a problem for the Department of Justice."