On May 4, 1970, in Kent, Ohio, 28 National Guardsmen fire their weapons at a group of anti-war demonstrators on the Kent State University campus, killing four students, wounding eight, and permanently paralyzing another. The tragedy was a watershed moment for a nation divided by the conflict in Vietnam, and further galvanized the anti-war movement

Two days earlier, on May 2, National Guard troops were called to Kent to suppress students rioting in protest of the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. The next day, scattered protests were dispersed by tear gas, and on May 4 class resumed at Kent State University. By noon that day, despite a ban on rallies, some 2,000 people had assembled on the campus. National Guard troops arrived and ordered the crowd to disperse, fired tear gas, and advanced against the students with bayonets fixed on their rifles. Some of the protesters, refusing to yield, responded by throwing rocks and verbally taunting the troops.

READ MORE: Kent State Shootings: A Timeline of the Tragedy

Minutes later, without firing a warning shot, the Guardsmen discharged more than 60 rounds toward a group of demonstrators in a nearby parking lot, killing four and wounding nine. The closest casualty was 20 yards away, and the farthest was almost 250 yards away. After a period of disbelief, shock, and attempts at first aid, angry students gathered on a nearby slope and were again ordered to move by the Guardsmen. Faculty members were able to convince the group to disperse, and further bloodshed was prevented.

The shootings led to protests on college campuses across the country. Photographs of the massacre became enduring images of the anti-war movement. In 1974, at the end of a criminal investigation, a federal court dropped all charges levied against eight Ohio National Guardsmen for their role in the Kent State students’ deaths. 

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 debuts

On May 4, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony debuts at Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor. Having lost his hearing years earlier, the celebrated composer nonetheless “conducts” the first performance of his Ninth Symphony, now widely considered to be one of the ...read more

Margaret Thatcher sworn in as Britain’s first female Prime Minister

Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, is sworn in as Britain’s first female prime minister. The Oxford-educated chemist and lawyer was sworn in the day after the Conservatives won a 44-seat majority in general parliamentary elections. Margaret Hilda Roberts was ...read more

Gene Vincent records “Be-Bop-A-Lula”

When a music critic wants to indicate that a song lacks lyrical sophistication, he or she will often refer to its lyrics as being of the “moon in June” sort. It’s a label left over from the Tin Pan Alley era, when even great composers like Irving Berlin churned out a hundred ...read more

The Haymarket Square Riot

At Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, a bomb is thrown at a squad of policemen attempting to break up a labor rally. The police responded with wild gunfire, killing several people in the crowd and injuring dozens more. The demonstration, which drew some 1,500 Chicago workers, ...read more

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat sign accord for Palestinian self-rule

On May 4, 1994, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat reached agreement in Cairo on the first stage of Palestinian self-rule. The agreement was made in accordance with the Oslo Accords, signed in Washington, D.C.on September 13, 1993. This was the ...read more

Willie Mays breaks National League home run record

On May 4, 1966, San Francisco Giants outfielder Willie Mays hits his 512th career home run to break Mel Ott’s National League record for home runs. Mays would finish his career with 660 home runs, good for third on the all-time list at the time of his retirement. Willie Howard ...read more

President Lincoln is buried in Springfield, Illinois

On May 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln is laid to rest in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. His funeral train had traveled through 180 cities and seven states before reaching Springfield. At each stop, mourners paid their respects to Lincoln, who had been assassinated on April 14. ...read more

Norman Mailer's first novel, “The Naked and the Dead,” is published

Twenty-five-year-old Norman Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead, is published on May 4, 1948. The book is critically acclaimed and widely considered one of the best novels to come out of World War II. Mailer was born in New Jersey in 1923 and raised in Brooklyn. He ...read more

Legendary actress Audrey Hepburn is born

On May 4, 1929, Edda van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston—who will one day be better known to legions of film fans as Audrey Hepburn—is born near Brussels, Belgium. The daughter of an English banker and a Dutch baroness, Hepburn was attending school in London when World War II erupted in ...read more

Nigerian aircraft crashes in crowded city

On May 4, 2002, an EAS Airline plane crashes into the town of Kano, Nigeria, killing 149 people. The Nigerian BAC 1-11-500 aircraft exploded in a densely populated section of the northern Nigerian city. The Executive Airline Services twin-engine plane took off from Kano at ...read more

Electric chair malfunctions in Florida, leading states to change execution methods

Jesse Tafero is executed in Florida after his electric chair malfunctions three times, causing flames to leap from his head. Tafero’s death sparked a new debate on humane methods of execution. Several states ceased use of the electric chair and adopted lethal injection as their ...read more

Rhode Island becomes first colony to declare independence from England

On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island, the colony founded by the most radical religious dissenters from the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, becomes the first North American colony to renounce its allegiance to King George III. Ironically, Rhode Island would be the last state to ...read more

Germany agrees to limit its submarine warfare

On May 4, 1916, Germany responds to a demand by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson by agreeing to limit its submarine warfare in order to avert a diplomatic break with the United States. Unrestricted submarine warfare was first introduced in World War I in early 1915, when Germany ...read more

As the Nazi threat dies, the Red Army rises

On this day in 1945, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov informs U.S. Secretary of State Stettinius that the Red Army has arrested 16 Polish peace negotiators who had met with a Soviet army colonel near Warsaw back in March. When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill learns of the ...read more