Four Dead in Ohio: An Alternate History of the Kent State Massacre

One of the most recognizable moments of the Vietnam war era in the U.S. the Kent State Shooting on May 4th, 1970. Following the expansion of the war into Cambodia and the reinstatement of the draft, student protests began to gain steam all over the country. Students led by campus groups including the Black Student Organization organized large-scale protests against the ROTC presence on campus, sit-ins to protest the draft, and the presence of police recruiters on campus.

The Kent State protests might not have been as notable had it not been for tragedy. On May 4th, 1970 the National Guard attempted to disperse protests, and under mysterious circumstances, opened fire on the protestors. Four students died, 9 were injured, and one was paralyzed for life. Of the four dead, only two had participated in the demonstration. The deceased student’s names were:

  • Jeffrey Glenn Miller
  • Allison B. Krause
  • William Knox Schroeder
  • Sandra Lee Scheuer

Outrage from the shooting spread rapidly, as images of the dead were circulated in newspapers. The image below, depicting one of the dead won a Pulitzer Prize. Protests music referencing the event circulated the radio, including Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Where Was Jesus in Ohio.”

Despite the outrage, Nixon was re-elected, and the Vietnam war continued to rage for several more years. In the aftermath of the shooting, over 100,000 people demonstrated in Washington D.C., and Nixon was taken to Camp David. Ten days after the Kent State Shooting, two more students were killed by Police at the historically black, Jackson State University – but did not receive the same nationwide attention. While this tragic event was crucial in the development of the anti-war movement, would the war have ended if it had never happened?

  • The alternate history below takes a somewhat more positive look at what may have happened.
Poster showing woman kneeling beside student lying on street during Kent State University riot.

Cover image source: Photograph of Campus Scene during Shootings at Kent State University

3 Replies to “Four Dead in Ohio: An Alternate History of the Kent State Massacre”

  1. Oh man, if only. I liked your descriptions in each of these events. There are so many “what ifs” in this whole section. What if Nixon hadn’t been reelected regardless of Kent State?

    Great work on the slides. I like that you incorporate both the political and social reactions to the events!

  2. A well curated history – great images (with citations). You tell the story as it happened and as it could have.

    I was a junior at Hartwick College. We had just had a big march through our small college town (Oneonta NY). Including marching to the high school and taunting the teaches to let their students join us.

    Then Kent State. Our college must have been nervous, because they cancelled classes and finals. Sent everyone home as quickly as they could. Same thing happened cross town, at the much bigger, SUNY Oneonta.

  3. I found this alternative history piece to be extremely interesting. In terms of these tragedies, as other people have commented, there’s so many what ifs leading up to every decision. Overall, I feel like hindsight is 20/20 and looking back on events like these, it really brings to question how everything could be different.

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