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[Lafeyette Tolliver]: My name is Lafe Tolliver. And I live at 4663 ½ Walford Road, Warrensville Heights, Cleveland, Ohio. And the number there is 292-3741.
To begin with, I’ll start with Monday, May 4th. At the time, I was in an 11 o’clock Philosophy class over in Bowman Hall. It’s called “Introduction to Philosophy,” or the other term is known as “How to Think Straight,” taught by Dr. Moulds. And on that day, we were having a test over some preceding chapters, and the test would run from 11 o’clock to 11:50, which is also the time of the class, which normally meets Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
I went there at the normal time–11 o’clock. But I left early around 11:35-11:40 because I finished the test early and I wanted to go over to The Commons to see what was going to happen this afternoon with the students and the National Guard. So, I left Bowman Hall at approximately 11:35, 11:40, walked across the street in front of Bowman Hall, down between Johnson and Lake/Olson, that road there, and onto the sundeck of Johnson Hall, or the wooden platform right next–right between, or I should say, right above SAC. And there, me among many other students standing there watching The Commons and the National Guard, which were formed up in front of the burned-out ROTC building, I noticed the students gathering at the Victory Bell. It was ringing–I don’t know who was ringing the bell.
And the National Guard was standing in skirmish line, which is a long line of troops placed out approximately five to seven feet apart from each other with bayonets in the port arms angle in front instead of the side. And, there were Jeeps around the back, on the road, and there were students standing way in the far-back by the Union. And there were students coming towards The Commons by the Fletcher–by the Engleman tennis courts–that pathway that leads by education, Engleman, and the tennis courts–that path. There were many students coming towards The Commons. There were students standing on top of the balcony at Taylor Hall, and there were students standing around Johnson-Stopher doorway hall, the grass, the sidewalks, the trees, the sundeck–everywhere there were students, everywhere. And so, I was one of them.
I was watching this while it was going on, and I would say around 15 minutes later, 10 minutes later, around 11:40, 11:45–maybe 11:50–yeah, I would say 11:50, yeah, quite a crowd had gathered on The Commons–quite a crowd, I would say. But in all fairness, you must say that quite a few of the students were standing on the edge of the main body. Now, if you know any–if you know the layout of Kent State, especially the Commons/theatre hall area, you will see that the Victory Bell is like in a little valley with hills to its back, and on the top of the hill there is Taylor Hall, Journalism, Architecture, and on that sidewalk there were many students standing around. Some were walking to classes, some were stopping, talking, laughing, joking. You know how students are, how people are in general about any kind of excitement going on.
Okay, on the balcony there were many students too, doing the same thing, but one thing I noted in the whole time of the students standing around–they were just curious on-lookers. I noticed the body down by the Victory Bell was composed of so-called “radicals” and regular–so-called regular–students. The reason I say so-called is because definitions are pretty shaky things these days. Radicals, so-called moderates, you know. Nothing’s hard-and-fast these days.
And okay, to continue, some students were wearing war paint, you know, red or yellow stripes of paint from the forehead to the bridge of their nose, or they were wearing red headbands or black headbands or wearing black armbands or carrying the red flag or the black flag and the whole atmosphere was very festive, very lively, like a carnival atmosphere. There was an air of expectancy. People were expecting something to happen–something great to happen, maybe.
People were talking about whether or not the National Guard would move up and disperse the crowd since we learned earlier in the day, or the day before, that any gathering, any rally, any demonstration was considered illegal and therefore subject to dispersion. This ruling, I believe, was made by the Portage County Judge whose name escapes my memory at this time, and the County Prosecutor, Ronald Kane, who I’ll say some more on later on. And I would say close to three to four hundred students were in the main body down by the Victory Bell with an additional three to four hundred to five hundred standing around the top of Taylor Hall, on Taylor Hall’s balcony by Johnson-Stopher grass, sidewalks, and sundeck. Plus, this does not include those students coming to The Commons from the tennis courts by Engleman Hall. Nor does this include the students walking on the sidewalks to and from classes.
Now, about this time, which is 11:55 or so, after observing rooftops and windows and students’ faces and hand gestures and National Guard movements and The Commons movements–the reason why I observed all this is because I’m in Journalism/Photography, and I like to see what–everything’s going on at one time–get a total picture. Because to me people are very interesting, and mob psychology, mob behavior. And, when people gather, it’s just interesting to watch what they do, what they say, and how they say it. And also you learn a lot about people this way, and you pick up some bits of information.
Then, around 12 o’clock–during this time the bell was ringing, the Victory Bell, that is, was ringing, signalling to students that there was a rally. About the rally–I guess word shot around the campus that there will be a rally at 12 o’clock on The Commons. I saw no posters or flyers about it, although there may have been some out. But, personally, I got it through the grapevine, that is, indirectly by hearsay. And so I attended because I’m interested in student activities, student government, and student affairs, which I classify this under.
Around this time, going on towards 12 o’clock, a Jeep, an Army, National Guard Jeep–either one, that is–pulled up by the ROTC Building and its occupants, I believe, was one Kent State Police, and three National Guard. Upon talking with some of the people back there, most likely officers in charge, they moved out in a semi-arc heading towards the Victory Bell in an arc, and during this time they were saying, on the loudspeaker–and I believe the campus police were saying this: “Disperse, disperse, this rally is illegal, disperse, go back to your dorms, go back to your classrooms, disperse, disperse. This rally is illegal, go back to your classrooms, go back to your dorms.”
At this the students, in almost unison, really, jeered and booed and hooted and raised the clenched fists, which they had taken from the Black Power movement, and they jeered the cops and I saw very few stones–not bricks and rocks, but stones. There is a difference in size. To me a stone is very small, however, like I said, it can do damage just as much as a stone or brick or rock can. But I saw stones being thrown at the Jeep. Me, I would say I saw no more than two or three stones being thrown at the Jeep, and I heard one hit the side of the Jeep. Other than that, I saw no great pelting of rocks and stones on the Guard Jeep. Of course, there might have been, but I had a good–I was fairly close to what was going on, and I saw everything, and it is my estimation that I saw very few stones being thrown at the Jeep. When the stones were thrown, the Jeep continued in a semi-arc towards the–not towards, I should say–past the Victory Bell and going back towards its point of origin.
At this the students cheered, thinking it was a victory. However, when the Jeep returned, the skirmish line, which I said before, moved up on the students in this long, fanned-out line, and about half way before they reached the victory bell, in other words, they have gone about–oh, it’s pretty hard to judge distances these days, especially if you don’t have a tape measure, but I would say they had gone about 30 yards, 40 yards, before they began firing tear gas, of which I had two canisters in my room, I picked up two days ago when they were firing around The Commons–not The Commons–around the dormitory areas. And, when they began firing, some students ran out and threw it back. Those students, I do not know who they were, nor did I recognize them on sight or the names. Two students ran out with gloves and threw the canisters back. And when this happened the students left, retreating, were cheering for them.
The students, some of them said, “Don’t run, don’t run, walk back.” I would think this was in fear of a stampede and kids getting hurt falling down and being trampled. Also, this is to show that the students couldn’t be bluffed as easily by this tear gas because I was there in the so-called--walking back towards the knoll by Taylor Hall, and the students were walking back most of the way. But when the National Guard started advancing more and more and started firing tear gas more and more, the students became fearful and began to break out in a run up the knoll, down the other side of Taylor Hall past the road onto the practice football field towards the parking lot and down out the gate by the practice football field towards Eastway and Tri-Towers. Now, the National Guard at that time was still advancing up the hill.
Now, when they came that far, I went on the balcony, but later left because I thought the tear gas will reach me also, and it wasn’t too pleasing. So, I left the main body of students and ran up the knoll, down the knoll, across the road, and on to the edge of the practice football field, and turned around and saw what was happening. Now, when I turned around I was still looking at the whole campus and I saw no evidence whatsoever of any snipers on any roof or any persons whatsoever on any roofs, be it Taylor Hall, Johnson-Stopher, Prentice. I saw absolutely no one whatsoever. Now, there is a picture in the paper with the National Guard advancing up the slope that shows, I believe, two or three students on Johnson Hall corner looking down. That may be true, the picture says it is. But when I was going back towards the practice football field, I noticed no students anywhere on any rooftops whatsoever.
Now, when I turned around, when I was about to the practice football field, the students were scattering. I mean, they were really scattering. I mean, it was no conglomerations of nine here, ten there, eight there–they were scattered. And I saw no more than two or three in bunches and I would assume they were passersby because they looked pretty confused at what was going on there. Whereas, the other students who were running, they had a look of they knew what was going on. I could tell facial-wise, that some students knew what was going on and some didn’t. Okay, now, the National Guard came over the knoll in skirmish formation as best they could because between Taylor Hall and that cement structure on the knoll–I call it the bottleneck, and it can get pretty tight when you have a lot of students coming through there at one time. Well, the National Guard was coming through there in a skirmish line as best they could, almost like a broken formation with clusters on both sides, and the skirmish line between the clusters–like a baton, you could say.
Well, anyway, they came over the knoll–and still firing tear gas, I should say–they came over the knoll, down the knoll, crossed the street, to the practice football field, to the gate of the practice football field and stopped, the whole while firing tear gas. Tear gas canisters went everywhere, even the construction workers got gassed. And all of this I saw because I was observing this as I was retreating also. Now, the students, like I said, were scattered, and when the National Guard came over the knoll and down the–cross the street–they were more scattered than ever. Now, the students I saw throwing rocks or stones at the National Guard were really having a hard time doing it–I mean, they were heaving those rocks and stones–I mean, they were so far away that they had to heave those rocks and stones–that is, the students I saw personally. The ones I saw personally were like winding up to throw because they were far away. They weren’t no 50 yards or so. These kids were really throwing them and the ones I saw throw the rocks, they landed away, I mean, they landed far away from the National Guard. So, as the National Guard was coming over the knoll and down the knoll, across the street to the field and firing tear gas, the students were more dispersed the whole time.
Now, we go to a very important part here. The National Guard–which they are now at the gate of the practice football field–they stopped a couple of times and they got down in a kneeling position, you know, like they were ready to fire or something, but they didn’t fire. And they were walking around talking with one another, like what to do next. They looked pretty confused, they looked pretty disorientated. They looked pretty scared, too. My distance at this time–I was down by the tennis court from Dunbar on that sidewalk, but I had an excellent view of the whole knoll, Taylor Hall, Commons–I mean football field–everything.
Well, I guess they ran out of tear gas because they didn't fire anymore, and so they started walking back towards the road which leads to the knoll of Taylor Hall, which is by that piece of sculpture. The students, which are still dispersed at this time, some of them, some of them began to follow them back towards The Commons it seemed. Now, I would say that the whole time since the National Guard came over the knoll and down towards the road, no more than 200 students scattered around, or if I’m going to be very liberal with numbers, I would say 350. But that’s being extreme, I would say, in my estimation of the situation. Okay, now as the Guard was going back up the knoll, some of them were looking back behind their backs, I guess in fear of rock or stones or whatever they were throwing. I had not made a close examination because of my position.
It seemed to me like, if you had seen the Pied Piper before, how the rats followed him back–well, that’s how it was on the knoll. The National Guard was a scared Pied Piper and the students were the rats–so-called “rats,” not really rats, rats, you know what I mean, symbolically. And they were following the Guard back towards the knoll. Now, to make things clear, as the Guard was going up the knoll towards the bottleneck, like I said before earlier, the students, which were scattered as far as Tri-Towers, Eastway, the practice football field, the parking lot, all over the balcony of Taylor Hall and, I mean, they were everywhere. Only some began to follow them back, only some. The rest just stood there and hooted and booed or just stood in silence or whatever.
Now, I don’t know what was happening on The Commons at this time, but this is what I saw. The National Guard went up on the knoll it seemed and all of a sudden they turned around and dropped–some dropped to the knee, some didn’t, and fired. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Boom. Boom. Boom, boom, boom, Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom, boom.
Now, I would say the volley lasted no more than five to six seconds, if that long. Now, my position was, as I was saying before, I was on the sidewalk leading towards Eastway, and when I heard those shots, the first shots, I turned and ran thinking, “Live ammunition. They’re shooting.” I knew it was live ammunition because I have shot guns before, and I have heard blanks before and something inside me told me this was live ammunition, and so I ran for a while. While I was running they were still shooting. Then I turned again to see–I was curious, even though I could have got shot myself, I was curious. And I saw the students hitting the ground–I mean, falling flat on their face to the ground. Some did, some didn’t. Some believed they were shooting blanks, but I knew it was live ammunition.
When the Guard fired, they stopped after a while and then they got up out of their positions or whatever they were doing and retreated back towards The Commons. Well, they got up, but some students didn’t get up. When I finished running, I grabbed me a pair of binoculars from a student who was standing nearby and looked and I noticed one student who did not get up. I believe he was laying by the sculpture part or down by the curb of the road. But whatever, some students did not get up.
After that, I went back in the dorm to eat. I was not sure–I did not want to go back towards the shooting because I thought if you got too close they’d rush you for something, some trumped-up reason so I decided not to go back and risk being shot or arrested. Although I wanted to go back. Now, before this happened–the shooting that is–I heard absolutely no shots whatsoever. The only shots I heard was the National Guard firing into the students. Some fired up, some fired into the students. Looked like some took very careful aim too, to make sure they got some.
And the whole thing seemed unreal for a while. First of all, they said they used every means possible to prevent this, but they did not use water hoses which would have been very effective, very effective. High power water hoses. They didn’t use dogs, which well, they didn’t use them. They used guns. Now, why they used those on a college campus against rocks and words, I don’t know. The National Guard should be well-equipped enough mentally to take people–to take abuses, especially verbal abuses. I mean, you know they’re not true, so why let them bother you? It just shows how ill-prepared the National Guard is for any kind of emergency if they can’t take four-letter words. They know they’re not true, so why worry about them? Rocks and stones are a different story, true. You can receive bruises and cuts and damages to your limbs. However, if the National Guard came prepared with those eight-foot polyethylene shields, rocks would have been no problem and they could have dispersed the students.
Second of all, when I was on the dormitory, I think it was six-four Leebrick, I saw a bullet hole in the window. This told me that anybody could have been killed on the campus, facing towards Taylor Hall, because of the way they were shooting. Anybody could have been killed. I mean, you could have been sitting, laying in your room sleeping and got killed in your sleep because they were just shooting any old way. Some in the air, some into the students.
Well, also I thought it was pretty funny the way the situation was handled. I mean, why not–why couldn’t faculty acting as marshalls and the concerned students acting as marshals control the students on The Commons? Why was an injunction issued against demonstrations? Why was the repression put upon the students of a curfew–of a downtown curfew? Why were these measures which to me seem very repressive put upon the students when the only thing they did was make the students rally? Curious students go to the rally. In other words, these so-called “injunctions” really caused violence, in my opinion. True, buildings and property must be protected, and people’s lives. However, the National Guard was assembled for the students, the radicals, to pounce upon. If you move the agent of trouble, you have nothing left, it seems.
And, I feel President White’s hands and the Administration’s hands were tied because of the power-handed tactics of Governor Rhodes trying to control Kent like a marshal in the war. To me, if Governor Rhodes kept his hands off the situation and Del Corso and Canterbury stayed out, things would have never happened and four students wouldn’t be dead, and 10 wounded. Now, the best way to handle the situation, in my opinion, if you had to have anybody on campus: have the Highway Patrol using high-power water hoses, pepper gas, and the shields. But of course, that’s after you try using the faculty/students to control the situation by loudspeakers on The Commons at all times, at all the rallies, and explain the situation instead of having National Guard on campus, big helicopters circling around on campus with powerful spotlights, and rumors galore about people being shot and arrested and everything else.
Because some nights, the front campus was like a battlefield. I mean I was out there on front campus at a dormitory and–Moulton Hall–and it was like a battlefield, helicopters zooming over with big, powerful beams coming down from the sky like mobile stars. Students running every which way, cars screaming and sirens yelling and all. National Guard running here and students there. It was something else. But back to the things before.
I detest the search of the dormitories by the Patrol and the Guard. I hope the ACLU draws suit against this because I feel that it was a violation of the students’ constitutional rights, and against student code here on Kent State’s campus. Also, the University should not have been closed down, because I felt if they had to close it down it should have been after the students were given a chance to voice their opinions on it instead of just the Faculty Senate vote upon it. It’s our money and our time and our campus so we should have a voice in it.
That’s what’s wrong right now with this campus between the administration and students. We don’t have a thing to say. They give us a powerless student government which is a puppet. They pull the strings on us and we jump. They give us a powerless KIC [Kent Interhall Council]. I mean, we are student niggers here. I mean, that’s the appropriate word to use, I believe. I’ve been here for three years. I’ve been involved in student government and the paper and dorm life and everything else and I feel the students here have very little say-so in decision-making, curriculum-making. Any kind of decision-making is usually the Faculty Senate, the Board of Trustees, or other unknown, anonymous groups or single individuals who say what goes on here and what doesn’t. It’s time the students, or the Board of Trustees, or advisors to the President, it’s time the students should take over this campus and run it with the faculty, with the administration. Not by ourselves–with others.
Yes, I too saw the burning of the ROTC building. I was there that night. Me and some other Black students making sure no Blacks were involved in these demonstrations. Making sure no Black sisters were being hurt. You could say we were the marshals for the Black students, in a way. Of course, we had no armbands were on. I remember coming over towards The Commons from the direction of Nixson Hall and I heard an explosion, I believe, and we ran towards The Commons and we noticed a large gathering of students by the ROTC building. Of course it was very dark. I think it was 9 o’clock or so or later–but it was dark–it was not dusk, it was not twilight, it was dark. And we saw the students on The Commons and we moved from our position by the burnt-out shack, which at the time wasn’t burnt, towards Johnson sidewalk in the path going at the base of that hill in front of Taylor Hall, by the Victory Bell. And we noticed students sitting on the hill, talking on the hill, and the students down on The Commons by the ROTC Building. And, when I first arrived there on The Commons with my other comrades, or friends, or whatever you want to say, there was, I believe, a flare inside because we saw something red and the first thing I said was “They’re burning the ROTC Building.” But I believe it was a flare because no flames ensued thereafter. Well, when we got to the other side by Johnson sidewalk, some students whose names I do not know, whose faces I do not know, ran towards the building and threw rocks and busted the windows, whereupon the crowd would yell and cheer and whatever they would do. And some students, or student, ran up and threw a gas bomb, I believe, or whatever it took to make flames pop up–happen–and therefore it was on fire.
Now, it was on fire for a while, and then the firetrucks came and I believe tried to start spraying or were spraying and the closest–cause I saw the water start spraying erratically all over the students and I thought the hose was cut. At this time, we were watching the building burn and I believe it was the Portage County Sheriff Department come down with their men and started firing tear gas into the crowd. At this, we left towards the Black House, or the Kuumba House to make sure it was safe and the students dispersed towards–back towards Taylor Hall–
and from there on I don’t know what happened because I left. It was at nighttime. I don’t know no names, no faces, no nothing. I only saw the building burn down and I was there when it was burning as an observer, as I was at the shootings. I took no violent part in any of the demonstrations whatsoever and I know of no one who did. So this is all I have to say. You’ve got my name, my address, my number. If you have any questions or anything give me a buzz. That’s it. ×
Recorded statement of Lafe (Lafayette) Tolliver conducted by the CKSUV. Tolliver was a student at the time of the shootings. He talks about Monday, May 4 and ROTC fire on Saturday night. He had a class that morning at 11AM but left early after completing his test. He then walked from Bowman Hall to the sundeck of Johnson Hall, near the SAC and observed the scene on the Commons. He describes the atmosphere around the Commons before the shootings and notes that he was a journalist and photographer and was very attuned to making observations of the scene. After teargas was released, he moved to behind the football practice field to avoid the gas. He reports that he saw no evidence of a "sniper" being present before the shootings. When he heard the shots fired, he knew it was live ammunition. After the shootings, he left the immediate scene due to fears of being shot or arrested. He is critical of Guard's and authorities' handling of the situation from the weekend and believes students need more power and voice in how to administer the University.
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Commissions, Hearings, Tribunals
|May 4 Provenance||
May 4 Collection