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Kent State Shooting Survivor Speaks at Emerson College

Thomas Grace, a survivor of the Kent State University shootings in 1970, began his April 20 talk at Emerson College by acknowledging the fact that the mother of Kent State student Jeffrey Miller, who was killed in the shooting, was in the room.

“It’s a privilege and an honor to have Jeff Miller’s mother here tonight,” Grace said of Elaine Holstein. “She is a magnificent woman of courage who at 94, is still telling us how we can make the world a better and more gentle place.”

Grace, author of Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties, was in Emerson’s Beard Room to discuss and sign copies of his new book. Michael Weiler, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, moderated the event.

On May 4, 1970, four students were shot and killed, and another nine injured, by Ohio National Guardsmen who fired on the unarmed students after some of them had been protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, which had been announced days before. Grace was shot in the ankle.

As Grace writes in the book: “I arrived in the fall of 1968 on the campus of Kent State University hoping to study history, not to be a part of it.”

Grace’s book is not just about the late spring of 1970 at Kent State, or even just about how opposition to the Vietnam War grew at the university, but it also “includes the history of labor and civil rights activism, how the old Left turned into the new Left and the rise of Black Power.”

At one point during the evening, Grace talked about the infamous Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph of a teenager kneeling over Jeff Miller. “I was in Austin, Texas, a few weeks ago, and had the opportunity to tour a special exhibit on the Vietnam War, and I saw the original photo for the first time.”

Grace read sections of his book, which revolved around the question of “Why Kent State?” and analyzing the opinions of the Ohio National Guard, pre- and post-shooting.

After Grace’s discussion, special guest John Anderson, another associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies and a narrative poet, read two poems that were written directly in response to the Kent State shootings.

The first was “Flowers and Bullets,” written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, which was dedicated to Allison Krause, one of the slain students. It was based on reports that the day before her death, Krause had put a flower on a National Guardsman’s rifle, saying, “Flowers are better than bullets.” Anderson finished off the evening by reading “Sandra Lee Scheuer,” which was written by Canadian poet Gary Geddes about another victim of the shooting.   

The event was part of the Husam Algosaibi Political Communication and Public Diplomacy Lecture Series, and is presented by the Communication Studies Department and the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies. 

On Tuesday, April 19, the lecture series hosted a conversation with Major General Richard Cripwell, defense attaché at the British Embassy in Washington.

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