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Above the Shots

An Oral History of the Kent State Shootings

American History, Recent Releases, Regional Interest

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DescriptionProvocative memories surrounding the tragic events at Kent State University in May 1970

A deadly confrontation at Kent State University between Vietnam War protesters and members of the Ohio National Guard occurred in the afternoon on May 4, 1970. What remained, along with the tragic injuries and lives lost, was a remarkable array of conflicting interpretations and theories about what happened—and why.

Above the Shots sheds new light on this historic event through the recollections of more than 50 narrators, whose stories are unique and riveting:

  • the former mayor of Kent
  • a witness to the riot in town a few nights earlier
  • a protester who helped burn the ROTC building
  • a Black United Students member who was warned to stay away from the protest
  • a Vietnam veteran who deplored the counter­culture yet administered first aid to the wounded
  • a friend of one of the mortally wounded students, who died in his arms
  • a guardsman sympathetic to the students
  • a faculty member supportive of the Guard
  • an outraged student who went to the state capital to make a citizen’s arrest of Governor Rhodes
  • a pair of former KSU presidents who, years later, courted controversy by how they chose to memorialize the tragedy

From the precipitous cultural conflicts of the 1960s to the ever-raging battle over how to remember the Kent State incident, the authors examine how these accounts challenge and deepen our understanding of the shootings, the Vietnam Era, memory, and oral history. Spanning five decades, Above the Shots not only chronicles the immediate chain of events that led to the shootings but explores causes and consequences, prevailing conspiracies, and the search for catharsis. It is a narrative assemblage of voices that rise above the rhetoric—above the din—to show how a watershed moment in modern American history continues to speak to us.

AuthorsCraig S. Simpson is Lilly Library Manuscripts Archivist at Indiana University. Previously, he was a librarian at Kent State University Special Collections and Archives, where he managed the Kent State Shootings Oral History Project. He has taught at Kenyon College’s annual Oral History Institute and has presented on the Kent State shootings at the Oral History Association annual meeting. Gregory S. Wilson is an associate professor of history at the University of Akron specializing in modern U.S., Ohio, and public history. He is the author of Communities Left Behind: The Area Redevelopment Administration, 1945–1965 and the coauthor of Ohio: A History of the Buckeye State.

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