The Girl in the Kent State Photo
April 25, 2021 10:11 AM   Subscribe

The Girl in the Kent State PhotoIn 1970, an image of a dead protester immediately became iconic. But what happened to the 14-year-old kneeling next to him? (alternate links: 1, 2, 3)
Last May, however, when she watched the video of George Floyd’s death, she was so shaken, it was as if the electronic scrim of her TV had dissolved. She jumped off her couch and yelled at the crowd in the video, “Why is no one helping him?” She sobs as she describes that moment to me. “Doesn’t anyone see what’s going on?”

“Mary Ann,” I say. “It seems to me that you’re still that girl in the photo, you’re still that girl saying, ‘Doesn’t anyone see what’s happening here?’”

She stops crying abruptly. “But it’s been 50 years,” she says. “Why can’t I move on?”

What would it take to move on? I ask.

“Maybe if I do some good for the planet,” she says. She tells me that she does small, secret acts of charity every weekend, when she goes “undercover” to the Walmart parking lot near her home and leaves canned foods, staples and her homegrown avocados in an empty shopping cart for someone to discover. “I feel like I need to do something good,” she says, crying again.

You’ve already done something profoundly good, I tell her. “In that moment when you knelt over Jeffrey Miller’s body,” I say, “you expressed the grief and horror that so many people were feeling. You helped end the Vietnam War.”

“You can say that,” she says, “but I can’t feel it.”
posted by tonycpsu (33 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Oh god I had no idea she was 14. And it's instructive how many of today's young activists/survivors of school shootings were accused of all the same things...faking it, hating America, being at fault.
posted by emjaybee at 10:28 AM on April 25 [30 favorites]

Mod note: There are alternative links to the content in the post -, and many other places will have the content. We encourage people to include alternative links and we're happy to mod-add them if people want.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:18 AM on April 25 [18 favorites]


Thank for posting. Powerful story.
posted by SystematicAbuse at 11:23 AM on April 25

Back in Kent, Ohio, local business owners ran an ad thanking the National Guard. Mail poured in to the mayor’s office, blaming “dirty hippies,” “longhairs” and “outside agitators” for the violence. Some Kent residents raised four fingers when they passed each other in the street, a silent signal that meant, “At least we got four of them.” Nixon issued a statement saying that the students’ actions had invited the tragedy. Privately, he called them “bums.” And a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans blamed the students for their own deaths; only 11 percent blamed the National Guard.

Man, that feels like it could have been written about the protests last summer. Down to the shitty person in the oval office.
posted by Gorgik at 11:36 AM on April 25 [55 favorites]

This was a moving article that I shared around earlier in the week when I first read it. Shocked but not surprised at the vehement anger directed at her and the students from the establishment, from places of power. Definitely evoked 2021 so strongly for me.

Also, I'm just about to start Derf's graphic novel about Kent State.

I also only learned recently that 10 days later students were gunned down at Jackson State. a HBCU in Mississippi.
posted by stevil at 11:36 AM on April 25 [22 favorites]

(A quick note for anyone who hasn't started reading the article -- there's a very graphic image of Jeffrey Miller's body further down. My deepest apologies if this is also a reasonably well-known/expected image, but it's the first time I've encountered it and it was, well. Very graphic.)

Thank you for posting this (and the alternate links!) Kent State was well before my time, but I'm glad to learn more about it, and witness the discussion here.
posted by kalimac at 11:45 AM on April 25 [6 favorites]

I was her age when this happened. The photo affected me deeply and I wrote an essay about it (though I have no idea anymore what I wrote). I remember my initial reaction, though: in what country is it OK for the military to shoot and kill its own citizens? Events in Myanmar lately have just reinforced that, and it's never left me.
posted by lhauser at 12:24 PM on April 25 [10 favorites]

This happened the day after my 17th birthday. I thought the county was ending.
posted by dbmcd at 12:33 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]

Devo’s Jerry Casale Looks Back at Kent State 50 Years Later: ‘Time Stood Still’
We didn’t know if they were going to keep shooting. We didn’t know what the fuck was going to happen. And you’re frozen in trauma and fear. You just about shit your pants. The students are 18, 19, maybe some were 20. I was 20. I wasn’t going to move anyway. I couldn’t move. I was shaking. I saw what real violence is and what happens when M1 rifles are fired with military shells and go through humans.

You gotta understand the people shooting are the same age as the people they just killed. They are all standing there freaked. They aren’t moving either. They realize what they’ve done.

It seemed like hours went by. I don’t think hours actually went by, but by the time the ambulances got there and navigated their way off-road, across the lawn and into the area, the students who were dead were dead.

The other two students [Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder], who I didn’t know at all, were even farther away. They were near the journalism building. They weren’t activists at all. One was just trying to leave to go her car, and the other one just came out to see what the hell was going on. Those two students were just collateral damage from this political horror show.

I didn’t get shot and nobody in my group got shot because they were firing over our heads. It’s just the luck of the draw. But that’s it. Nine wounded. One paralyzed for life. Four dead.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:52 PM on April 25 [26 favorites]

I also only learned recently that 10 days later students were gunned down at Jackson State. a HBCU in Mississippi.

I learned that the day it happened -- while I was hitchhiking back to Seattle from Goddard College in Vermont after visiting the love-of-my-life-up-till-then. Lucky me, I got a ride to Berkeley CA from a medical student I met through a bulletin board in Syracuse NY.

My hair was as long as David Hemmings's in Blow Up. The medical student wanted to take Route 66, which was -- as we said at the time -- a trip.

On the way, we stopped for breakfast at a Dennys in Muskogee, OK. I did not want to go in -- because my hair -- but he did. We sat at the counter. First of all, the waitress took his order and then looked towards me and asked What does he want? Secondly, a customer got $5 in quarters, pumped them in the jukebox and we got to hear Merle Haggard sing The Fighting Side of Me the whole time we were there. Most all of you truly have no idea how awful times were then.

But, on the plus side, I got to see -- among other things -- the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, Sequoia National Forest and both a Gibson harp guitar and mandocello in a pawn shop in Albuquerque.

And even back then, what stuck in my craw was the big deal that Kent State was as compared to Jackson State. Ninety percent of the people I met then and since had and have never heard of the latter.
posted by y2karl at 1:22 PM on April 25 [30 favorites]

I wonder how the kids who did the shooting turned out; did it affect them as strongly as their targets? Did they talk about it back then, and do they talk about it now? And what about Jeffrey Miller's family: have they ever tried to … not make amends, but do something?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:33 PM on April 25 [7 favorites]

Kent State (1981 TV Movie)

I recall seeing this back when it was aired and being rather flattened by it. I suppose because, in 1981, I was the age of those in the line of fire.

There's very little info about it online, though this pops up from the NY Times archives.

Mr. Goldstone is reluctant to call the result ''docu-drama,'' which he describes as fiction wedded to fact. He insists that ''what we're doing is all fact,'' more in the manner of carefully researched British docu-dramas, such as ''Invasion,'' the dramatized re-creation of the Soviet take-over of Czechoslovakia shown recently on ABC. But ''Kent State'' does contain composite characters. It contains scenes that have obviously been reconstructed from memory, a faculty that is often notoriously unreliable. It uses a Crosby, Stills and Nash song that was actually written several days after the shootings. And it wasn't even filmed at Kent State. Not surprisingly, college officials there refused to allow the filmmakers on campus and the production was forced to move to a college in Gadsden, Ala. The setting is similar but hardly exact.

posted by philip-random at 1:43 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]

I wonder how the kids who did the shooting turned out...

See here. I have never heard of any of them ever being interviewed.
posted by y2karl at 1:53 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]

I wonder how the kids who did the shooting turned out; did it affect them as strongly as their targets? Did they talk about it back then, and do they talk about it now?

Good question. The Kent State Guardsmen oral history project may have the answer.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 2:07 PM on April 25 [8 favorites]

The graphic novel Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, by Cleveland-based comic artist Derf Backderf ("Derf"), was published a year ago: The book also follows one of the guardsman. "He gave his account anonymously," said Derf. "It's in the May 4th collection and it's a great account, full of details over the course of these four days." The guard member is present at every part of the story, said Derf. "He was in Richfield, and he took part in all the actions at Kent State, and he was one of the shooters." (WKSU/Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio) Comics Journal review.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:08 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]

Good question. The Kent State Guardsmen oral history project may have the answer.

I looked it up, saw I was wrong and came back with the goods to find Ahmad Khani had found them before me. Good on him.
posted by y2karl at 2:13 PM on April 25

I wonder how Terry Norman turned out.

Kent State tape indicates altercation and pistol fire preceded National Guard shootings (audio) (Cleveland Plain Dealer, updated March 27, 2019) A noisy, violent altercation and four pistol shots took place about 70 seconds before Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on antiwar protesters at Kent State University, according to a new analysis of a 40-year-old audiotape of the event. [Terry] Norman was photographing protestors that day for the FBI and carried a loaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 36 five-shot revolver in a holster under his coat for protection. Though he denied discharging his pistol, he previously has been accused of triggering the Guard shootings by firing to warn away angry demonstrators, which the soldiers mistook for sniper fire. [...] He was shooting the pictures for the Kent State police department and the Akron FBI office, "for the purpose of identification and prosecution of violators," he said in a police statement that day. The FBI later acknowledged having paid Norman $125 in April 1970 for supplying information to the bureau.

Shortly after the Guard gunfire on May 4, a reporter and camera crew for Cleveland's WKYC TV saw and began filming Norman as he ran down Blanket Hill toward a cordoned-off area where Guardsmen and police officers had gathered. Norman was being chased by two men. One of them, a graduate student named Harold Reid, yelled, "Hey, stop that man! I saw him shoot someone! Stop him! Stop him! He's carrying a gun." Norman, panting and disheveled, sought shelter among the Guardsmen. As the WKYC camera rolled, he reached under his jacket and handed a gun to a police officer. [...] What happened next is in dispute. Both former WKYC reporter Fred DeBrine and sound man Joe Butano have said repeatedly over the years that they heard Kent State police Detective Thomas Kelley, who took possession of Norman's gun and had opened its cylinder, say, "Oh my God, he fired four times."
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:31 PM on April 25 [22 favorites]

What a great thread! I didn't know half this stuff.
posted by jamjam at 2:50 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]

Most all of you truly have no idea how awful times were then
Oh, I've heard stories from people ten years older than me. Before Willie Nelson and Skynard, it really was dangerous to have long hair, in many places.

....we got to hear Merle Haggard sing The Fighting Side of Me the whole time we were there. Most all of you truly have no idea how awful times were then.

Merle Haggard played in my town a few years ago, and I found myself with a powerful desire to stalk him and explain to him that here, we don't particularly give a fuck what they do or don't do in Muskogee. But I suppose he'd heard that before.
posted by thelonius at 4:59 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]

"At the time I wrote 'Okie From Muskogee,' I didn't smoke. It was '68. I had been brainwashed like most of America about what marijuana would and wouldn't do. I thought it was responsible for the flower children walking around with their mouths open, said Haggard. "It was not so. But if a guy doesn't learn anything in 50 years, there's something wrong with him. I've learned a lot about it, and America has, too."
He changed his mind.
posted by y2karl at 5:21 PM on April 25 [12 favorites]

Merle Haggard also wrote songs like "Irma Jackson," but these are lesser known and paint a different, more complicated picture.
posted by Bob Regular at 5:25 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]

Before Willie Nelson and Skynyrd, it really was dangerous to have long hair, in many places.

For 1970, my hair was not long by any standard outside of Muskogee. But for, say, Little House on the Prairie era Michael Landon, it would have been torches and pitchforks all the way down.
posted by y2karl at 6:15 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]

No discussion of Kent State is complete without listening to Hey Sandy or Four dead in ohio (and shedding a few tears)
posted by mbo at 9:16 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]

(* Minor pedantic correction: the song title is just "Ohio". Which is likely useful to know if you're looking for it on a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young discography, though typing in the full line "Four dead in Ohio" from the chorus will almost certainly yield better internet search results, and is an instantly recognizable lyric for anyone who has heard the song. So carry on.)
posted by eviemath at 10:11 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]

He changed his mind.

Yes, but I took the liberty of reading the song as an indicator of counterrevolutionary attitudes beyond the issue of cannabis.
posted by thelonius at 10:42 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]

I also only learned recently that 10 days later students were gunned down at Jackson State. a HBCU in Mississippi.

Kent State: National Guardsmen killed 4 people and wounded 9 other people.
Jackson State: City and state police killed 2 people and wounded 12 other people.

Hmm...those seem like roughly similar incidents to me. I wonder what incredibly subtle differences account for one being internationally known and the other almost forgotten over time?

Wait, wait... just say racism.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:08 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]

I also only learned recently that 10 days later students were gunned down at Jackson State. a HBCU in Mississippi.

I wonder what incredibly subtle differences account for one being internationally known and the other almost forgotten over time?

Even less well known is the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, when South Carolina state troopers opened fire on a crowd of unarmed protestors primarily from HBCU SC State College (now SC State University). They were protesting the refusal of a local bowling alley to integrate in defiance of the 1964 civil rights act. 3 young men were killed (including a high school student who was not a part of the protest but was waiting for his mother to get off work) and 28 others were injured.
posted by TedW at 5:44 AM on April 26 [12 favorites]

Merle Haggard also wrote songs like "Irma Jackson," yt

and White Line Fever and Sing Me Back Home.
posted by philip-random at 7:34 AM on April 26

Wait, wait... just say racism.

I've heard it direct from more than one white ex-American for whom Kent State was the final straw. After that, they couldn't clear the border for Canada soon enough.

"Kent State made it clear. They were coming for us now, white kids with long hair. With shoot to kill orders."

This live recording of CSNY's Ohio comes from a 1972 album, but the recording date is June, 1970, barely a month after the events in question. So what you're hearing are people who are still in the line of fire, the smoke hasn't even cleared, they're singing for their lives.

I guess I prefer to call it a wake up call, a reality check, a galvanizing moment. Before Kent State, the malevolent threat of xenophobic America (the silent majority) was still mostly anecdotal if you were a white kid from the right side of the tracks. Not anymore afterword.

Also Easy Rider.
posted by philip-random at 7:56 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]

A sidenote:

Fifty years is a long time. My 1970 ride from the east coast is something I have not thought about much over the last 50 years and it pains me me so much that I cannot as yet remember the name of that now no doubt retired doctor with whom I rode nor that of his dog but he was so kind to me and his character was absolutely sterling.

For example: his dog. She was a pound dog if I recall correctly -- a compact collie/lab mix with longish hair and the sweetest personality. She was a lab animal who, after performing experiments upon her, he was supposed to put down but he just could not and adopted her instead. And they had one of the best dog and human relationships I ever experienced. They adored each other.

This is what I recall now -- and much of it does not make sense to me. For instance, who had to perform experiments on dogs in medical school and then had to put them down thereafter? It just seems so senselessly cruel now and did even then in 1970.

And now I cannot even remember what city it was where I met them.

All I know is that she was one of the goodest good dogs who I ever met, he one of the goodest of good guys and meeting them both was such a blessing in my life. Which I only wish I appreciated then as much as I do now.
posted by y2karl at 10:56 AM on April 26 [11 favorites]

And, hah, now I realize it was while with them that I saw the Parthenon in Nashville.
posted by y2karl at 11:06 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]

After looking at maps and recalling who we met where --- two women camping outside of Mammoth Caves who were terrified by moths at their lantern, for instance -- and through which city I recall passing that had a medical school, I realize I met them via a bulletin board in Buffalo NY -- not Syracuse. Now I have a project...
posted by y2karl at 12:44 PM on April 26 [4 favorites]

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