May 4 marks the day of remembrance for the four students who lost their lives in the Kent State Massacre at the Kent State University in 1970. The four unarmed students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard while protesting against military strikes in Cambodia. To honor their lives, students and activists gather at the site of the shootings every year on the anniversary of their deaths.
This is a day of remembrance, but it is not a public holiday, and as such businesses and schools are open during regular hours.
During the 1960s a large part of the American population was against the United States' military intervention in the conflicts that were happening in Vietnam. People took to the streets to demonstrate their discontentment and protest against the military action and the military draft that was put in place.
On April 30, 1970, then President Richard Nixon gave American troops the authorization to launch attacks on Cambodia, which was neutral territory in the Vietnam conflict. It was only two days after President Nixon gave the invasion of Cambodia the green light that he went on television to talk about it, that not only the American public but also the American Congress found out about the unauthorized attacks, as Nixon had not informed other members of the government of his actions, nor did he take it to a vote in the U.S. Congress, which was illegal.
Protests at Kent State University
Students began their protests against the invasion of Cambodia on May 1. Large crowds gathered in the Commons, and students gave speeches against the war and President Nixon. At this time, Police alleged that students had been violent towards them and called for reinforcements from other police forces, declaring a state of emergency.
On May 2, the Ohio National Guard was mobilized and 10000 National Guards arrived at the University to help control the crowds, who by this point had set one of the university's buildings on fire. On that night, there were violent clashes between the guards and protesters, and many of them were arrested.
Even though the university prohibited the protests, on May 4, at 12 p.m. around 3000 protesters had gathered on the Commons. To control the crowds, the Ohio National Guard had set 100 guards on the scene, who were carrying military rifles.
The protest against the Vietnam War and the presence of the National Guard was peaceful to begin with, however, when ordered to disperse, the crowd of protesters began throwing rocks at the guards.
The guards received orders to load their guns and throw tear gas at the crowd and started dispersing the students from the Commons into an enclosed football field. Due to the fence surrounding the field, the guards found themselves in the middle of the angry protesters who started throwing rocks again. The guards retreated to the top of a hill and from there fired their weapons into the crowd.
The twenty-eight guards fired 70 rounds over a period of just 13 seconds, killing four students and injuring nine others.
Kent State Shootings Remembrance
For 5 years after the tragedy, the Kent State University hosted a commemoration to honor the lives of the victims. When it was announced in 1976 that they would no longer hold remembrance events, students at the university founded the May 4 Task Force, who has been in charge of the organization of commemorations every year since. The activities include a silent, candlelit march on campus, speeches, concerts, and the Victory Bell is rung in memory of those who lost their lives.
It wasn't until 1999, after several attempts and requests by the victims' families, that Kent State University built four individual memorials for each student who lost their life. The memorials are placed on the spots where the students were shot and killed.
In 2016, the place where the shootings happened was named a National Historic Landmark.