Eight years ago, on the 32nd anniversary of the Kent State massacre, I posted a series of entries to my old, dearly departed blog on the Telerama site. Fortunately I saved them on a hard drive, so can share this with you now. I had to make a couple of cosmetic tweaks so they would present nicely under MySpace, but no sense has been altered. All four pieces are now part of this post, so just scroll down to get to each piece.
I was 11 when all this happened, old enough to have a pretty good handle on the world situation, and Kent OH wasn't all that far from metro Buffalo NY.
Sometime in early 2002, an event that happened 32 years ago came to the forefront of my thoughts. On May 4, 1970, unarmed college students were gunned down by armed troops on a college campus. Four died and several were wounded. How this happened, and what it means for the current day and age, seem every bit as viable an item of discussion as flying jetliners into skyscrapers.
Below are four offerings on the subject that have come from my mind and fingers.
The email: Buzzards, gravestones and May 4
The poem: Why Did You Die, Allison?
A short essay: Teach Your Children Well
One photograph: Allison Krause's Gravestone
Some useful links: http://www.may41970.com (contains an excellent chronology, and links to many other sites)
Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2002 15:00:35 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Buzzards, May 4, and gravestones
[ ... personal items deleted ... ]
On to headier topics. We thought real hard about going to the Hinckley, Ohio, buzzard festival again this year -- enough so that I started looking at a map and wondering if there wasn't another way to get there & back than the couple of ways we've tried so far. Well, just to the East of Hinckley, barely five miles off of the road we usually take, is the little town of Kent. There's a college there. A state college. Looks a whole lot like Geneseo – a bitty town, the college is more than half the town, a couple dozen miles from anywhere. Maybe you haven't been there, but you've been there. Say the words "Kent State" out loud. Now say the words "May 4, 1970" out loud. My hunch is that you probably connect the two. If you really know your American history, perhaps the words "Jackson State" and "May 14, 1970" ring similar bells, as the metal for the molds of those bells were from the same casting.
We didn't go to Hinckley, but I did enough advance reading to refresh my memory of what happened that day, 210 miles from West Falls, the day I turned 11-1/2. I kinda knew, as I'd intersected the info on various occasions over the years. The last of the court cases was being argued in Pittsburgh when I hit town here in 1982 or so. Then in 1990, the 20th anniv., with Gabe still a suckling infant, there was a local magazine article showing the gravestone of Allison Krause [see below], one of the four students mowed down by the Ohio National Guard. On it was a row of small pebbles, small mementos of people who had come to visit and remember. It was a local story because she was local. She's buried in Churchill, PA, between Pittsburgh and Monroeville.
It was Allison Krause who, at a protest in Kent on May 3 at which she was involved in a situation concerning a lilac inserted in the barrel of a Guardsman's M-1 rifle, yelled at a superior officer, "What's the matter with flowers? Flowers are better than bullets."
I made a vow to myself that if I couldn't get to Kent, I'd somehow get to the gravesite and leave a pebble myself. So I contacted the owner of the www.may41970.com site & got directions. (excellent site, BTW: piles of info, and a detailed play by play of the events of that weekend and hour, complete with many photos, especially of the final minutes).
As it turns out, May 4, 2002, is a Saturday. And as it turns out, I have reason to go to Monroeville that day. I'm planning on working in a little detour on my way there. Right around noon.
On a slightly related vein, we [recently] watched a Disney movie, "The Color of Friendship". Are you familiar with this story? Remember the Steven Biko controversy in South Africa in 1977? How about a U.S. congressman named Ron Dellums? Dellums was Congress's point man on human rights in South Africa and the elimination of apartheid. I don't remember it real well, but apparently the Dellums family, which is black, hosted a foreign exchange student that summer, who turned out to be a white girl from South Africa. And hence the setting for the story.
We were in D.C. in January and visited the Smithsonian exhibit on Africa and the kids saw a bit about apartheid, about Nelson Mandela, about the whole 90%-black/10%-white-and-guess-who-rules thing over there. So the kids I think got more out of it because of that.
Now with that as backdrop, I tried to describe to the kids how things are not as rosy here as they might seem, that the whole reason Kent State happened was because of arrogant politicians at all levels, right from President Nixon (who four days before decided to invade Cambodia), through a senator running for re-election in the primary on May 5 on a law-and-order campaign, on down to the mayor of Kent calling out the Nat'l Guard without notifying anyone. The quick version: It can happen in South Africa (the police there had Biko in jail and killed him), and it can happen here (armed militia firing into a crowd of unarmed students). The difficult part is in getting them to understand enough of it that they can make sense out of it, if there is any sense that can be made.
Well, I think I've said enough for one lunch hour. Back to work...
Why Did You Die, Allison?
Why did you die, Allison?
Nineteen-year-olds should not die of anything.
Why did you die?
Why do I care, Allison?
I was only 11, and now am 43.
Why should I care?
What were you trying to say to us, Allison?
“Flowers are better than bullets!”
What else could you say?
What can you tell my children, Allison?
That a pebble on a gravestone has value?
If only you could tell them again!
What did your parents learn from Auschwitz and Dachau?
That a government can be evil and kill?
What did they teach you?
What can I do to thank you, Allison?
You did not die in vain, since we do remember and learn.Thank you, Allison.
===A Short Essay===
Teach Your Children Well
I’m not sure why this affects me so deeply. I wept openly as I composed the Allison Krause poem. I’ve so infrequently composed in recent years, I surprise myself at my strength of feeling and clarity of thought when I do. I’d been lying awake in bed at 4 a.m., thinking about any number of things before Kent State came to mind, but when it did, I had to get up & find a pen.
But why this, why now? Where is the lesson? Am I as a parent to teach my children to stand up for what they believe? Or am I to teach them that to stand up and speak against authority is to get cut down by M-1 rifles? I would think the former; I certainly wouldn’t want to think the latter. Specifically I would hope that they never get so paralyzed by fear of speaking against authority that they refrain from speaking out.
I want my children to know what happened there, to know what led to it, and what thinking went on in the heads of those who were in charge. I want them to know that the students had a point of view that demanded being heard, and was ignored, or worse still, quelled with no thought given to listening. I want them to know that it is a worse sin not to listen to dissent than it is to follow a crowd, and that it is a sin at all to follow a crowd when there is dissent to be given audition.
As with most tragic events, it took a combination of failures for the tragedy to occur. Whether Kent State or Three Mile Island or Space Shuttle Challenger or any other event of a similar nature, it took the combined efforts of several parties either not doing their jobs or working at cross purposes. Each tragedy is different. But it takes the vigilance of someone to recognize the problem and speak out, never mind the consequences, to prevent such events from occurring.
The whole purpose of the United States of America is to provide an environment where freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom in general, should – should – go unquestioned, unchallenged. Each new generation has to learn this, somehow. It is up to us, the parental generation, to carry the lessons of our own generation, and those of our forebears, into the daily actions and thoughts of our children, in order that they do not repeat those mistakes themselves. A large number of lessons were learned at Kent State. Let us not forget them.