Linda fifer, Oral history
Recorded: May 4, 1990
Transcribed by Rhonda Rinehart
[Linda Fifer]: My name is Linda Fifer. Today is May 4, 1990. I was a student here, starting in the Fall of 1970. I was not here during the time of the shootings, but the shootings themselves had such an impact upon me that the events after that--every May 4 goes by and I think of this place.
During the five years that I was here--I graduated in August of '75 with my master's in speech pathology--the message that I kept receiving from Ohioans was that students were at fault for the shootings; and that was something I never believed. That was something that I couldn't believe. I never felt that students were at fault for any of the incident there. I was angry that the FBI report was made--was, um, a 99-year ban was put on it by Nixon and that has never been recalled. I was angry with the sense of blame that students were expected to carry.
And I was in Montana--where I live now--two days or so when the Guardsmen were acquitted, and for the next three years or so, I would have recurring dreams about the shootings even though I was not here. It was the same dream, where I was a member of a jury, I guess, and Guardsmen were called in to re-enact the shootings so that we, the jury, would get an idea of what was happening; except that it happened again, and people were being shot again. And I would wake up from this dream not ever knowing why I was having this sensation since I wasn't here at the time of the shootings. And I really do believe it was a lot of the blame that we were told to carry for this.
I happened to go to the library in Great Falls, Montana, where I was living; it couldn't have been more than two after the Guardsmen were acquitted, and I happened to be wearing my Kent State tee-shirt, which I had learned not to wear in Ohio because you would get ridiculed. And finally I could wear my Kent State tee-shirt. And as I was walking to the library, I heard a voice behind me say, "Kent State, huh?" And I just froze because I didn't know--I expected more abuse. And I turned around and looked and here was this kind of grizzled man in his--I don't know--maybe early forties, hadn't shaved, tee-shirt rolled up, cigarettes in the sleeve, jeans, and he was smoking a cigarette and peering at me through the smoke. "Kent State." he said. "You know," and he shook his head, "that never should have happened." And that was the first time as an adult that I had heard another adult say something supportive about the students at Kent State. And I thought, how sad as the years went by, that was such a strong memory, as the years went by, I kept thinking how sad it was for me to have to go 2,000 miles away to hear someone say that they thought the students got a raw deal.
Some of my other recollections of being here during the '70s, it seemed that every spring there was some kind of uprising or unrest and I could never convince my parents or convince even my friends, my peers who were not here, how scary that could be. And I had images of riot police at night. A real strong memory for me is a helicopter with a searchlight searching at night, and the helicopter was right next to my dorm window shining a searchlight through. The percussion from the rotary, from the blades, was causing the window to bend in rhythm to the percussion of the rotary blades. And I could never convince people, including my parents, that even if you are in a dorm room you are not safe. And their feeling was if you stay inside you'll be all right. Well, that wasn't true because many things did happen - bullet holes in buildings that my folks never saw that night, my friends never saw. They could never sense the feeling of overwhelming helplessness as a student here because we were expected to be blamed for this.
Another recollection I have is the very first anniversary in 1971, there were rumors that students were buying guns and it was going to happen again. And I was very scared. And I was calling home seeing if I could get a ride from my folks home, or make some kind of arrangement for me to come home because I sensed something very awful was going to happen as a result. Nothing did, because I think some subtle planning on Kent's part--they cancelled classes on Friday and Monday, and May 4th was on a Tuesday that year, so it was effectively a five day weekend. And I think they carefully planned to have those cancelled to encourage students to be away from the campus in case something did happen. And I remember calling home to my folks and saying, "Sounds like it's really going to get crazy here, I really need a ride home. I lived 200 miles away from Kent, and it was not an easy bus trip and there were no trains at that time and there was no other way to get home and I remember my father asking me if Kent State was going to give him a refund for the two days that classes would be cancelled. That was the kind of mentality a lot of parents and adults had. He was angry and they refused to come and get me. I was in a panic and I remember going through the Kent State directory for the students and trying to find anybody who lived in my area--the Dayton area, the Columbus area--anywhere; just calling people anonymously and saying, "You don't know me but I really need a ride home. Are you heading home this weekend?" Well, no they weren't going or their car was already full or other reasons. So finally what happened was my--the rumors were so strong that this would happen again that it reached my hometown north of Dayton, and a friend of mine's dad who used to work for the government had also heard that things were going to be rather uneasy here, and happened to run into my mother and convinced her that yes, I should come home.
So that first anniversary, I was not here, but I remember coming back and it was still as a pin dropping on a carpet. You could not hear even the rustle of the breeze. It was just so quiet, so respectful and so, almost, repressive with the silence when I did come back that Tuesday afternoon.
The following year I did stay and my room looked over Prentice parking lot; I was in Prentice Hall and we watched the Candlelight Vigil from my room, and I was amazed that so many people could be so quiet. And the night it was just--it was a carpet of lights on the parking lot. It was all these flickering candles and lights. And I never saw so much respect for people that they didn't even know. And part of me started to understand the impact of these shootings.
The next day it really hit me. I had one class and then the rest of my classes were cancelled. And I opened my curtain to look out, and here it had started raining; and I looked out and there standing in the four marked places were four people standing in the rain holding candles. And it was kind of like a zoom lens on a camera; my mind just zeroed in on those four people. And at that point was when I realized that my life had been forever changed by this--that I would never be the same. I cannot describe it but it is as if I have lost something here, too. I cannot describe the sadness I feel on this day. And yet the anger I have toward this state and towards the government and towards the national government, because I do believe they were involved on making such a disastrous decision--just shooting down innocent people. I don't understand that. In light of Tienemen Square last year when people were shot down and Americans everywhere said, "What a horrible thing that is!" And yet, still to this day, people say, "Those kids at Kent got what they deserved." I do not see the difference. To me it is the same thing.
Any other reflections I have are pretty much second-or-third-hand stories of what people have told me, one of which I would like to share. Sandy Scheuer was a Speech Path student and so some of my professors knew her. And one of my professors shared this, that right after the shootings--of course the campus closed down and he didn't have contact with a lot of the students, but over Memorial Day weekend, he made an effort to contact the Scheuers. He went and visited them in their home. And while they were gracious in receiving him, they were also very bitter and told him he was that the first person from Kent State to have made contact with them, fully three weeks later. To me, there is no excuse for that. To me, there are still many unanswered questions. And my anger is that most of us will let those questions go unanswered. We will be satisfied in our lives to never really probe that. That's all I have to say.
[Interviewer]: You said that--are you living in Montana now?
[Linda Fifer]: Yes, I am.
[Interviewer]: So you came back just for May 4th?
[Linda Fifer]: Just for May 4th, yes. I had made a contribution to the Memorial because I felt that it was long overdue and very necessary. And also, I couldn't imagine not being here today.
[Interviewer]: Well, thank you for coming. Thank you. ×