Mayday: Preface

by J. Gregory Payne, Ph.D.

Thirteen seconds of gunfire at a relatively unknown campus in northeastern Ohio ended the lives of four young people, and permanently altered the lives of countless others. The victims' families, injured survivors, guardsmen, eyewitnesses, and politicians were immediately and directly affected. Many Americans who were shocked by the shootings began to see domestic turmoil in a different light. Our society, deeply divided before the Kent State incident, was in its aftermath completely polarized.

In 1980, it is still not clear for what reasons the M-1s were fired. Despite attempts to piece together the tragic chain of events, newspaper investigations, the FBI, an Ohio Grand Jury, civil suits, a Federal Grand Jury, criminal trials, judicial appeals, numerous forums, books, articles, plays, and now a film, have yet to tell us how the incident could have happened. What allowed it to occur?

The passage of ten years provides an historical perspective needed to permit less passionate assessment of the event and the people it touched. After a decade, the legal battles are finally over.

MAYDAY: Kent State endeavors to provide the reader with an outline of a national political climate in 1970, a sketch of Kent State University and Kent, Ohio at that time, and a non-evaluative synopsis of the shooting incident and the aftermath. The focus of the first section, "The Event," is on chronicling the political, legal, and personal developments of the past ten years. The reflections of the parents, guardsmen, authorities, and others involved in the Kent State tragedy and its consequences comprise Section II, "The People." The third section details my involvement in the making of Kent State at Gadsden, Alabama during the summer of 1980. This chapter addresses the problems inherent in filming for television a complex historical event such as Kent State. Excerpts from released portions of the Justice Department Summary of the FBI Report, the summary of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, and the full text of the Portage County Grand Jury Report, as well as the pertinent speeches of Presidnet Nixon and Governor Rhodes are included in the appendix. The extensive bibliography will serve, I hope, as a useful starting point for the reader interested in further researching the incident.

December, 1980
Macedonia, Illinois

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