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Four Dead in Ohio

volume 22, number 6, February 9, 2023

“For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and the kings to the brightness of your rising.” -Isaiah 60:2,3

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?[1]

On Thursday, April 30, 1970 President Richard Nixon announced on national television that he was directing our military to invade the nation of Cambodia, which Nixon said was harboring, aiding, and abetting the North Vietnamese in their war against South Vietnam and the United States. His announcement immediately stirred up the anti-war movement, especially on college campuses around the U.S. Until then it seemed that Nixon was de-escalating the war by bringing troops home, but this was a strong turn of events which angered many. 

So right away demonstrations sprung up on campuses across the United States, including Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. On May 1, 500 students and faculty at Kent State gathered on the Commons to bury a copy of the Constitution, symbolizing Nixon’s violation of our constitution by invading Cambodia without a declaration of war. Of course, President Kennedy did not have a declaration of war either when he sent the first 7000 troops to Vietnam in 1962. That Friday night things got ugly in downtown Kent when students, many of them drunk, taunted the local police and broke windows in many business establishments. The police drove the students back to campus.

On Saturday, May 2, Mayor Satrom asked Ohio Governor James Rhodes to mobilize the Ohio National Guard to maintain law and order. That evening 1000 students gathered and watched as several of them burned down the ROTC building on campus, harassing the firemen who were attempting to extinguish the blaze. The National Guardsmen, using tear gas and bayonets, cleared the campus, ordering the students back to their dorms. By Sunday, May 3, a total of 1000 National Guardsmen were on the campus as Governor Rhodes (who by the way was running for re-election on a tough law and order platform) called the demonstrators “the worst type of people that we harbor in America.” The Kent State administration, in support of Rhodes, banned a protest rally scheduled for noon on Monday, May 4. 

Students defied the ban and began to gather at 11 a.m. By noon 3000 students had gathered and their opposition turned from Nixon and the War to the National Guardsmen and its “occupation” of the campus. Around 100 Guardsmen began to march toward the students and pushed them up “blanket hill” and down the other side into a parking lot. The Guardsmen followed many of the students onto a practice football field which was enclosed on three sides by a fence. Students were throwing rocks and bricks and hurling verbal abuse at the soldiers. Perhaps the Guardsmen, who were also 18 to 20 years old themselves, were frightened. Finally, it looked like the confrontation was over. The Guardsmen walked back up the hill to the cheers of the students who thought they had won the battle. At this time 28 Guardsmen turned, got on one knee, and in thirteen seconds fired 67 rounds of M-1 ammunition into the crowd or over their heads. Nine students were wounded and four others died, three on the spot and one on his way to the hospital. A strike ensued which shut down hundreds of campuses around the U.S. The ROTC building on the campus of the University of Alabama was burned down on May 6 and the University was on lockdown by hundreds of Alabama National Guardsmen until May 19. Dozens of UA students were arrested by campus and Tuscaloosa police. 

Clearly young people of my generation (I was eighteen years old at the time and a senior in high school) were searching for something. Many had embraced the world of Woodstock (August, 1969), including illicit sex, drugs, and rock and roll music. The non-violent approach of Martin Luther King to civil rights was criticized by Malcolm X and thus had pretty much died before King’s assassination (April, 1968). It morphed into the Black Power Movement which brought about the Black Panther Party of Bobby Seale, Eldrige Cleaver, and Huey P. Newton. This movement was both violent and largely Marxist. By 1975 Cleaver confessed faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, he was baptized into the Mormon Church. 

On February 3, 1970, Dean Custer B. Reynolds of Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky, stood during the chapel service to preach but instead asked students to share testimonies of God’s grace in their lives. Students began to line up to speak and the Holy Spirit fell on the auditorium. Confession of sin, restitution, reconciliation between students and faculty, worship, and a spirit of great joy filled the chapel for 144 hours. Classes were suspended until February 10 and the chapel remained open continually for prayer and testimony. Students from Asbury College then fanned out to more than 130 campuses, bearing witness to what God was doing.

In 1972 Campus Crusade for Christ held “Explo 72” in Dallas, Texas and 85,000 high school and college students packed the Cotton Bowl stadium each night to hear Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Johnny Cash speak about Jesus and His mission for the world. The Southern Baptist Convention received 445,725 adult professions of faith and baptisms in 1972, the largest number in one year in their history. 

Indeed, deep darkness had covered the young people of the 1960’s. We were searching for truth in all the wrong places, but God by the work of the Holy Spirit brought many of us to the light. His glory appeared to us. He caused us to repent and be saved. 

Admittedly, things can look pretty bleak in our country. The perversion, violence, corruption in government, business, and the church are rampant. Many young people seem to be as lost as we were back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but God poured out His rich mercy upon us. I know many of you my age who were saved between 1970 and 1975. It was unquestionably a movement of the Holy Spirit. God did it then, and He can do it again today. I know of many prayer groups in and around Birmingham, praying right now for revival. This fervency and thirst for revival seems to be increasing throughout our nation. May we seek Him with a spirit of desperation, understanding the pervasive darkness which hides the truth from so many. May we surrender totally to Jesus, saying, “I will do what You want me to do, go where You want me to go, speak to whomever You lead me.” And may we pray with prevailing prayer. Never, never, never give up. There is always hope in Jesus. There is hope only in Jesus.   


1 Neil Young, after seeing the Life magazine article on May 15, 1970, wrote the song. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young recorded it a week or two later in Los Angeles. 


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