May 5, 2010
By Jennifer Abel
NEW BRITAIN Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the Kent State
massacre, where members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd
of unarmed students some protesting the Vietnam War, others merely
walking from one class to another and killed four.
At the time, Mike Alewitz was a Kent State student. Today he's an art
professor at Central Connecticut State University.
So Tuesday night, to mark the anniversary of Kent State, Alewitz
hosted an outdoor slideshow and discussion of the Kent State
killings, followed by the kickoff of a 10-day mural project.
But Alewitz isn't the only CCSU art professor with a personal
connection to the deadly anti-war protests of 1970 Jerry Butler is
too. He was a student at Jackson State College in Mississippi, whose
students held an anti-war protest 10 days after the Kent State
Massacre. Police fired at the protestors, killing two and injuring a
The idea behind the mural project is that Alewitz and Butler would
collaborate on a mural highlighting the events of 1970, with the
mural scheduled for completion May 14, the anniversary of the
killings at Jackson State.
The guardsmen at Kent State said they acted in self-defense, though
the four dead were, on average, almost 350 feet away from the firing
guardsmen. One dead student, William Schroeder, had been shot in the
back. Another, Sandra Scheuer, wasn't even participating in any
demonstrations, but going to class when a guardsman's bullet got her
in the throat.
As dusk deepened into night Tuesday, Alewitz and some students set up
a portable white screen on a patio outside the Student Center. Most
of those who attended were students, but there were a few older faces
sprinkled throughout the crowd. One belonged to Farmington resident
(and Kent State alumna) Priscilla Peale.
"I saw [the announcement about the discussion] in the paper, and
thought I'd come," she said. The day of the original protest, "I was
just opposite the main group, with some people, when they shot some
tear gas over our way, so I went back to class." She was not present
when the shooting started.
At the show's 8:30 p.m. start time, the words "The Kent State
Massacre" appeared onscreen in blood-red letters against a black background.
The screen showed black-and-white photos recognizable from history
books: helicopters landing in a rice paddy, naked, orphaned children
running down a Vietnamese road.
Historians have speculated that one reason Vietnam was so unpopular
with the American public is that it was the first war whose horrors
Americans could see every night, when they watched the TV news.
Alewitz alluded to this when he said, "They had images of war on TV;
they've since learned not to do that, so you don't see [the Iraq or
Afghanistan] war on television."
The photos switched from Vietnam to Kent State, which Alewitz said
was similar to CCSU "a working-class university. Its students were
the children of auto workers, steel workers."
A photo of two smiling young people with 1960s haircuts appears.
"This is Allison Krause on the right," Alewitz said. Krause was a
19-year-old honor student when she became one of the four Kent State
Alewitz told tales of Kent State that don't often appear in the
well-known narratives. Long before the protests, some students told
the campus newspaper they intended to napalm a dog. (They never did.)
Alewitz said many pro-war "frat boys" came out to protest that
threat. April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon elected in part on
his promise to end the war announced instead that the U.S. would
expand the war by invading Cambodia. In response, demonstrations
broke out all over the country. Alewitz recalled a May rally where
Kent State students symbolically buried a copy of the Constitution
(which says only Congress, not the president, has the authority to
start a war).
"The ROTC building was burned down, and the [Ohio] National Guard was
called out," said Alewitz. "At Kent, the ROTC building was a
dilapidated wooden structure, slated for demolition."
Alewitz said the National Guard occupied the campus on Sunday, May 3.
The next day, many students who had gone home for the weekend
returned to find the campus in a state of quasi-martial law. The May
4 protest was a combination protest against the war and the National
He showed a photo of a smiling hippie posing with two smiling
guardsmen. "There was a lot of fraternization with the Guards."
Alewitz dismissed the myth of anti-war protestors abusing or spitting
upon military personnel. "We were trying to win the Guard over to
the anti-war movement. Most were in the Guard to get [themselves] out
He showed a photo of a smiling guardsman with a flower in his gun
barrel. Alewitz said Krause had put the flower there.
There was a large space on the Kent State campus which Alewitz said
was used for spontaneous demonstrations. A crowd gathered there
Monday, May 4, and when someone over a PA system ordered the crowd to
disperse, some students jeered they had the right to protest.
A photo of guards in gas masks appears. They began to advance upon
"And we began to run away, which is what you do when people with guns
come after you," Alewitz said. The guards fired tear gas. The
students kept running away, and the guards followed them.
A wide-angle photo of the campus appears. Alewitz used a laser
pointer to call attention to it. "The guards were back here. This is
where the students were shot." The distance was too great for unarmed
students to possibly have been any threat to the guards.
More photos appear. A man on the ground with blood pouring out of his
head and puddling several feet away. "This is Jeffrey Miller as he
lay dying." Another photo showed Dean Kahler, shot in the back and
paralyzed from the waist down.
Eventually the photos switched to Jackson State two young black
women standing at a window surrounded by bullet holes
"Four-hundred-fifty shots were fired into a women's dormitory," Alewitz said.
A photo of James Earl Green, killed at 17 appears followed by a photo
of Phillip Gibbs, the sharecropper's son, killed not long after he'd
married his high-school sweetheart.
"The Jackson State killings aren't as well known as [the Kent State
killings]," Alewitz said. "Probably because it was an
African-American school. … Their protest wasn't just over Vietnam, it
was part of the civil rights movement."
Through May 14, Alewitz and Butler's mural-in-progress can be seen
outside the Student Center, on the side facing Welte Hall.