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Remembering May 1970
April 23, 2008 - Jim Bartholow
Four dead in Ohio Early May sends me back to Ohio University in 1970. Anti-war protests dominated the headlines as the Vietnam War dragged on. Athens seemed insulated from the real world of angry college campuses featured on nightly news casts. I was a sophomore at OU, working toward my bachelor's degree in journalism.
The world changed on May 4. That's when National Guardsmen killed four students during a protest at Kent State University. Suddenly, the protests took on a much more serious meaning. Meanwhile, in Athens we were in the middle of Journalism Week when the campus hosted notable names from the world of journalism. John Wilhelm, with a wealth of experience as a reporter and connections in the profession, helped draw some of the biggest names in the business. Among them in 1970 was, Howard K. Smith, one of ABC's biggest news reporting names. Well, aside from covering the Kent State story, ABC ran a feature soon afterward after about how there was unrest on many college campuses, but at quiet Ohio U. in southeastern Ohio, things were proceeding pretty much as usual - no protests, little unrest, until the night of May 14.
Well, that ABC report put a big target on our campus. The night of the TV report my three roommates and I in our room in Lincoln Hall on the East Green started hearing chants on the College Green. As darkness fell, the crowd on College Green grew, as did the chants against the war. I checked it out, briefly, because there was an angriness to the mood on what used to be a quiet, tree-lined green. When I heard a brick break a window, I got out of there right away and headed back to my room. About 10 that night things started to get out of control and tear gas was fired. The spring breeze blew the tear gas cloud onto the East Green. Tear gas is aptly named, we learned the hard way. At 3:15 a.m. the next morning (May 15) school was closed for the rest of the quarter and National Guardsmen lined Court Street and the College Green.
Order had been restored, but our lives changed. I remember young college co-eds putting flowers in the guns the Guardsmen held to their side while standing along the streets in downtown Athens College after that focused on getting a job rather than exploring a world of ideas and philosophies. Anti-war feelings, while freely expressed by most of us, weren't manifested in campus protests anymore.
And whenever I hear "Kent State" I don't think of that as a university. I mainly think of the Crosby, Stills, Naish and Young song "Four Dead in Ohio." One of my high school classmates from Nordonia High, Doug Wrentmore, was wounded at Kent State, which seemed to make the shooting that much more personal to me.
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