Thomas M. Grace
Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties
University of Massachusetts Press 2016
Kent State University is associated indelibly with the events of May 4, 1970, when soldiers of the Ohio National Guard shot over a dozen students, killing four of them. In Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016), Thomas M. Grace, a historian who was one of the survivors of that day, sets it within the context of an emergent culture of political activism on the camps. That culture had its origins in the broader changes taking place in American society in the late 1950s, with a small but committed group of students at the rapidly expanding university protesting for civil rights for African Americans. Most of these students came from working-class backgrounds and inherited the New Deal Democratic politics of their parents, and often found themselves at odds with the more conservative town and a campus administration reluctant to court controversy. Lyndon Johnson’s decision to commit American troops to the defense of South Vietnam soon brought about a shift in the priorities of these protestors, as antiwar marches soon replaced civil rights activism as their focus. These protests evolved as the war dragged on, with Richard Nixon’s announcement on April 30, 1970 of the invasion of Cambodia sparking demonstrations that led to the destruction of the campus’s ROTC building and the dispatch of the Guard by the states governor in response. As Grace reveals, the strained emotions and frayed nerves of the participants led to a tragedy that shocked a nation and transformed permanently the lives of everyone involved.