It was 1970 and President Richard M. Nixon didn’t want to be bothered with the Vietnam War any longer. He ordered secret bombings of communist bases and US troop incursions into neutral Cambodia. When the Cambodia operations were brought into public light, Americans in all walks of life were outraged. Protests on American college campuses were legion as students saw the Cambodia campaign as an expansion of the war.
On May 4, 1970, after several days of what was called “student unrest,” members of the Ohio National Guard fired a volley into a crowd of 2000 people which had “illegally” gathered on the Kent State campus. The guardsmen were young themselves, and nervous, and believed they were in danger from a sniper somewhere on the campus but they’d received no orders to fire.
In the aftermath four students, two men and two women, lay dead and 11 other people were wounded. In response to the shooting, California’s governor and future US President Ronald Reagan ordered all 28 of the state’s campuses closed for a period of four days.
Following a incident in which black students hurled rocks at white motorists, on May 14 on the campus of Jackson State College in Mississippi, a 30 second barrage of police gunfire (approx 200-500 rounds) left two African-American students dead and 12 other African-Americans wounded. Again, there’d been reports of a student sniper but the FBI couldn’t find any evidence of one. The police attack on Jackson State students, like the guardsmen attack on Kent State students, was apparently unprovoked, in other words, no students were threatening physical arm with firearms on the police or soldiers.
Across the country, university students stepped up their protests against US involvement in Southeast Asia. Over 200 separate incidences were recorded of campus riots involving destruction of university property. In 16 states National Guardsmen were called out to restore order on 21 US campuses. More than 450 US colleges were shut down for a period of time.
The year 1970 was the highpoint of the anti-Vietnam war protests. Many Democrats thought and hoped it was the start of Richard Nixon’s political demise. However, because of his several “wins” while in office (China, Russia, troop reductions, reduced inflation) he won the 1972 election by a landslide. Of course as history records, Nixon soon proved to be his own worst enemy (Watergate) alongside the media and the Democrats.
New York Times
Paul Johnson: A History of the American People
Paul S. Boyer: The Oxford Companion to United States History