I’ve been looking through microfilm editions of the Record-Courier from 50 years ago every week for about a year. It’s been interesting to see so many similarities between politics today, as back then.
For example, there was a hard-fought battle over gun rights, as liberal forces attempted to enhance restrictions on firearms after political assassinations struck down President John F. Kennedy in 1963, followed in 1968 by his brother and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, as well as civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Likewise, there was a debate over how much the government should to to provide for poor people. It seems the same sort of rhetoric repeated today in conservative circles has been part of the public debate for decades.
Many saw welfare programs as putting the country on the road to communism, but back then, no small part of that sentiment was of a racist nature – chapters of the Ku Klux Klan were prominent and quite active in the area. They even submitted letters to the editor.
It was also a time when one columnist advised readers that women should expect their husbands to wander – such is the nature of men, he wrote – while other columnists decried the promiscuous nature of youth and ongoing moral decay.
But while U.S. forces are deployed across the globe today, with hardly any objection at home, and sporadic civil rights demonstrations are generally focused on police shootings, the left-wing anti-war and civil rights activists of the late 1960s make today’s "Antifa" and Black Lives Matter protests seem tame in comparison.
Fifty years ago this month, nearly one year before the ill-fated deaths of four students at Kent State University, colleges and universities across the country were the front lines in anti-war and civil rights efforts.
At Kent State, 58 were arrested and nearly one quarter of the 20,000-strong student body marched around campus in support of the Students for a Democratic Society, which was leading protests across the nation.
Among their goals were the abolishment of ROTC and law enforcement programs, among other manifestations of war and what they felt was coercive government control.
Dozens of police and sheriff’s deputies were deployed to maintain order both on campus and at the courthouse as arraignments on charges of trespassing, vandalism and other minor offenses took place.
In city neighborhoods, Kent residents by the hundreds signed petitions calling for order to be restored to campus.
Kent State was not unique. Armed black students occupied buildings at Cornell University, among others, and SDS chapters caused disturbances at Tufts, Northwestern and Boston Universities. Other protests were at Princeton, where protesters sought to disrupt an annual ROTC parade, and at Fordham University, where 150 students occupied the president’s office.
And the above examples is just a sampling of the disorder that had spread across the country and was even taking place at universities in Europe and Mexico.
There also were counter-protests. At City College of New York, a melee erupted when about 20 white students tried to break into a hall occupied by demonstrators who sought to have the college institute black studies.
At the University of Washington, 22 people were stung by bees. According to a news report, a man dressed in bee-keeping garb dropped the insects near students staging a sit-in to protest campus recruiting.
And a lot of people did not support the activism.
In Kent, a newly formed local group calling itself the Concerned Citizens of KSU Community took a poll of students and faculty on questions including whether classes should be boycotted – which would have shut down the school – as well as whether the local SDS chapter should be reinstated and whether prosecutions of those arrested in the earlier protest should be dropped.
The poll resulted in around 8,600 ballots, with a clear majority opposed to the boycott and more than 5,000 votes against dropping charges and reinstating the SDS.
"A majority of the students only want to go to school and don’t give a hoot about the causes espoused by their more radical brethren," the newspaper said in an editorial. "The campus is quiet today. Many of those who took matters into their own hands to push their demands are either under suspension, free on bond pending hearings or are in jail.
"Now, perhaps Kent State University can get back to the serious business of making a significant contribution to educating our young people."
Sadly, the peace didn’t last, as the National Guard was called to help maintain order on campus just 12 months later, resulting in four deaths.
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or email@example.com.