SEARCH UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES
Kenneth Frohlich, Oral History
Recorded: May 5, 2015
Interviewed by Lae’l Hughes-Watkins
Transcribed by the Kent State University Research and Evaluation Bureau
[Interviewer]: This is Lae’l Hughes speaking on May 5,  at Kent State University Special Collections and Archives as part of the May 4 Oral History Project. I will be talking with Kenneth Frohlich. I would like to begin with a few biographical questions. First, where were you born?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: I was born in Brooklyn, New York.
[Interviewer]: Where did you grow up?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: I grew up—after Brooklyn, I spent—we moved to the suburbs of Cleveland, I was there for a few years and then I went back to—we moved back to New York, I went through all the way through high school in Great Neck, New York and Long Island. Then I went on to Lehigh University where I got a bachelor’s degree in math and I wound up getting a fellowship to Carnegie Mellon. My future wife was a grad student—well she was a student at Kent State and she was going to do graduate work here. I wound up transferring to Kent State.
[Interviewer]: So, what year did you first come to Kent State?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: I first came in January of 1967.
[Interviewer]: So, you came at a time where it was probably very alive on campus, I guess, with protests. So, could you—
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Yeah, there was—Kent was not exactly a radical campus, it was pretty conservative but there was a group of people who would have a protest at noon outside of the Student Union building, every day, protesting the Vietnam War. And yeah, it was—I mean the war protests were across the country, in many places they were huge and violent and at Kent State they were small and reasonably quiet.
[Interviewer]: So, could you tell me again, what was your major when you came to Kent State?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: I was majoring in evaluation and measurement. I wound—I did complete my PhD at Kent and I had a minor in mathematics.
[Interviewer]: So, were you active yourself in any of the protests or did you have a certain feeling or sentiment about the protests at the time?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Yeah, well I was really sympathetic, I was anti-war, I did march on—I remember marching through downtown Kent singing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” I remember I did participate in protests and once or twice I sat in with the group that was having the protest. What I really—what I did—I became a faculty member—I finished all my doctoral coursework and I was A.B.D. [ed. note: All But the Dissertation] by the summer of 1968 and I became a full-time faculty member at Kent. I was teaching math courses in the math department at various branch campuses while working on my dissertation. And as a faculty member, I joined, I went to the formative meeting of the faculty marshals. And the faculty marshals were a group that was going to make sure that there was no violence here, they were going to show up and be a calming trend, a calming influence and try to prevent any violence between students and whoever was trying to stop the protests or keep order. I went to the formative meeting and I think I went to one other thing but it was—Kent was not particularly active and I stopped going and dropped out of that group.
[Interviewer]: So, when you say you went to the formative meeting, were you aware of potential training—or did they talk about training that they would do with the marshals at that time?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: I don’t remember, I don’t remember. I think—I remember a name: Jerry Lewis, a faculty member.
[Kenneth Frohlich]: I remember his name because it was “Jerry Lewis”! But I don’t remember anything about any of the meetings. The only thing I remember was that I stopped being part of that group.
[Interviewer]: Do you remember the environment in your classes and the prevailing attitudes amongst the students that you had at that time?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Yeah, there was quite a split. Because I taught at, for example, at the Salem branch and at the—I taught at the branch in—that was reasonably close to Youngstown, the Warren branch. I had some students who, in those classes, who were going to school on the GI Bill who had come back from Vietnam and wouldn’t talk about it. That’s what I remember. They didn’t talk much about their experiences but most of them were really appalled at the protests. On the other hand, most of the other students were against the draft and there were mixed feelings about the war. It was a fairly conservative attitude area, at the time, you know, the branch campuses that I was teaching at.
[Interviewer]: I just want to clarify, you were stationed at those branch campuses?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Well at the time, I was living on campus in Married Student Housing on Allerton. My wife and I were married and I was able to live there because I had dissertation hours.
[Interviewer]: So, do you think the branch campuses had a different environment than the main campus or would you say it was the same?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: I think it was a little bit more conservative. A little bit more, a little bit less anti-war because it had more—I think a higher percentage of veterans.
[Interviewer]: Could you share with me what you remember in the time, April thirtieth leading up to May 4, 1970?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Yeah, I remember that, I think April thirtieth was a Thursday. The funny thing is I can’t remember necessarily what happened last week, but I can remember like it was yesterday a lot of the events that happened during that period. On April thirtieth, I remember President Nixon announced that he was invading Cambodia. He was bombing Cambodia and invading Cambodia. On May first, I remember there was a small protest and somebody buried a copy of the Constitution as a symbol, and there was an announcement, there was going to be protests in town that night.
There evidently was because we heard that—we lived at Allerton, we lived in Kent. My wife was teaching in Hudson, Ohio. We were both commuting in different directions. Plus, I was also spending a lot of time on campus trying to finish my dissertation. On the first, I remember—I didn’t see it, but I remember hearing that there were protests, I remember that—hearing that some student got stabbed in the back by a bayonet, or something—no, that wasn’t it. I remember on Friday, it was the police, the Kent Police. They sat down in the street and they blocked traffic that was the Friday protest. And then on Saturday, um, there—everybody knew there was going to be a protest in The Commons and a lot of the protests—there was kind of a World War II era, wooden, small building. Wooden, that the ROTC department was in. Often that would be a focus of where the protests would be. We went to the movies on Saturday night with friends and we were trying to drive back and there was a lot of traffic. We couldn’t understand it and then we heard that someone had set fire to the curtains in the ROTC building and the Guard was coming out to campus.
The thing that I remember was that Governor Rhodes was running for Senate, trying to show that he was strong on law and order. He had called out the National Guard in several other places in the last few weeks, including for a labor strike, a Teamster strike, where the National Guard was actually being fired at from bridges by striking Teamsters. And after the ROTC Building was set on fire—Oh, I know there was damage on Friday night, I think, done to some of the merchants in Kent, but there were people there Saturday, students, people from the university there, cleaning it up. There wasn’t widespread support for cleaning it up but on Saturday he announced he was calling out the National Guard and, on Sunday, we heard that he landed in a—with a General Del Corso—in a helicopter. God, I can’t believe I remember some of these names.
They landed in a helicopter, he gave a news conference, he said the student protestors were worse than the Nazi “Brown Shirts” and he gave an order banning all demonstrations. And somebody, I don’t know whether it was the Governor or someone else, defined a demonstration, or an illegal assembly, as consisting of four people, so two couples walking together on campus was an illegal assembly. And there was, I gather some, tension. When I heard—and I wasn’t there on Sunday night, but I heard that there was the Guard—at that time no dorms were air conditioned, and it was warm, and the students had windows open and outside of Terrace Hall and outside of some of the other dorms somebody fired tear gas to break up a demonstration and the tear gas went into the dorms and the dorms became uninhabitable and suddenly there were hundreds of people coming out of the dorms to get away from the tear gas, and now you had big demonstrations. The students, I understand, sat down on the street.
A lot of what I’m telling you is just what I heard from rumor cause my experience didn’t start ‘til Monday. Other than the traffic and difficulty getting back to Kent on Saturday night, I had very little experience, I was reading—we subscribed to the Akron Beacon Journal and we got the morning newspaper, we watched things on TV.
On Monday, my wife was teaching, when we woke up there were what I thought were tanks at the time, it turns out—I guess they were armored personnel carriers—but they had treads and they were huge military vehicles—were parked in the faculty lots and they had taken over the faculty lots, so when I drove to campus, I couldn’t park anywhere near the library, so I parked on a far side of The Commons, and I had come out of—I was in—I was in a class, and I don’t remember why I was in the class, whether I was teaching something on campus or whether I was taking a class, but I was coming out of, um, out of the math—I was in the math department and there were—all demonstrations had been banned, but the thing that hit me was when I walked into the building where the math department was, there were Guards, guarding the door. There were armed National Guardsmen by the doorway. People were posting notices that there was going to be a demonstration on The Commons at noon. The—everybody knew it.
And May 4 was a beautiful day, it was sunny, the temperature had to be close to 80°, it was an ideal day for a picnic or a demonstration, or watching a demonstration, and the Guard had said that demonstrations were banned and would be broken up and they were—they were declared illegal. But people were handing out fliers, saying that there was going to be this demonstration, and the demonstration was focused on getting the Guard off of campus, now, the rumors that had spread was that the Guard had bayoneted somebody in the back the day before and that and the tear gas that had been fired had gotten people annoyed and upset. Plus, the inconvenience of having, you know, the faculty lots taken, and the Governor echoing some of the “Washington speak” about the horrendous students who were protesting. But I still wouldn’t call it a really angry campus, it was a campus that now was in the news unexpectedly and Kent wasn’t Berkley, and it wasn’t Columbia, and it wasn’t University of Wisconsin, which were fairly radical campuses. It was a reasonably conservative Midwestern school where you didn’t expect too much to happen, so it was a surprise to find ourselves in the news and people were a little excited about it and they certainly wanted to see what was going on. So, I talked to a lot of people who were going to watch the demonstration to see what people were going to do.
The other thing I remember was that SDS had been thrown off of campus, they’d been banned about eight months earlier—or ten—sometime early in that academic year. Some places, if you try to ban an organization, it would’ve been thriving. But not at Kent, they were mostly disappeared. And so there wasn’t an active SDS chapter on campus, it may have been off campus, but if so, it was pretty small. So, nobody had an expectation that it was going to be anything violent. And everybody knew that the guns weren’t loaded. And I don’t know why we knew that or how we knew that.
[Interviewer]: You said that you knew that the guns weren’t loaded?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Weren’t. Were not. There was that general understanding that, in order to—they could only load on specific orders, and so the guns weren’t likely to be loaded. Or actually we thought—but that’s what we believed—stuff. There was a general feeling that the guns weren’t loaded. I saw the tapes and I went to the—later on, I went to the Kerner Commission [ed. clarification: actual title of this commission is the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, commonly known as the Scranton Commission] hearings when they were on campus. But that day, I decided I was going to go to the library and do some work and that was the library that was at that time, it was on the corner of campus. I went to the library, I was working there, and then about—whatever time, it was just before the shootings, I left the library to walk to where I’d had to park the car since my lot was taken by the military. As I’m walking sort of toward The Commons, I heard the shots. And, I didn’t know they were shots, I figured they were firecrackers that probably some of the protesters had firecrackers because everybody knew the guns weren’t loaded. As I continued to walk, I ran into people running. I ran into a neighbor who had tears running down his face, and he says, “They’re killing everybody!” I said, “What!?” He said, “The Guard—they’re killing everybody!” I don’t know what he saw, but at that point, I started to go around, to make a wider berth around The Commons and, as I approached The Commons, I saw a faculty member—I think it was Jerry Lewis. I saw somebody, he was telling the kids to sit down. Stay on the ground. The Guard was trying to tell everybody to leave and it was chaos because people were going in all directions. He said, “Just stay down, let’s just get calm down.” I could see that, but I didn’t stay there and get down, I continued to walk around and I did get to my car, and I got home. The thing that I—the perspective I have to add to this—starts afterwards, because I don’t think I’ve said anything that probably a thousand other people didn’t say at this point. But I had a little different perspective on the aftermath.
I got back to Married Students Housing and we heard that there was a—the Guard had ordered the campus evacuated. The first question was—did that include Married Students Housing? And it turns out it didn’t. We were on Allerton, I think it’s still there.
[Kenneth Frohlich]: And that was, I guess, far enough from the main part of campus—for whatever reason, people somehow knew that that didn’t include us. My wife was trying to call me, but the phone service had been cut off to the town. There were no longer any phones. But I later learned from the Kerner Commission [ed. clarification: actual title of this commission is the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, commonly known as the Scranton Commission] hearings was that somebody was—they were worried about rumors that there were bands of armed Weathermen—the Weathermen were a radical part of SDS, there was never a Weathermen chapter at Kent, but there were bands of armed Weathermen from other campus converging on the city. And so they set up Guard checkpoints on the—all of the roads into town, into Kent. They ordered the—they cut off the phones. At that time there were no cell phones, there was no mobile phone industry, it was all landlines. So, when they closed the switchboard, suddenly we were cut off from phone service. My wife was in Hudson, teaching, and she heard from one of the teachers who got it over the news that there were people who were—there was shooting on the campus, my wife knew I was on campus and tried to call me and couldn’t reach me.
Her—at the end of the school day, she was still nervous cause there was no way to call into Kent. She tried to get home but there were roadblocks and the city was closed, you couldn’t get there. She and other residents of Kent who were trying to get back into the city, somehow the police chief in Hudson, Ohio, worked out a deal with the Guardsmen where he would get together all the teachers who were teaching in Hudson who lived in Kent, and would escort them to the border, and then the Guard would individually escort them home. Because there really were border crossings like you were entering a foreign country. You couldn’t get in without permission. They eventually—they gave her some kind of letter so the chief didn’t have to escort her to the border every day. I don’t remember what the letter exactly said, but basically it allowed her, when she got to the border, to be allowed into Kent because Kent remained closed.
They also issued a bunch of orders, they put a curfew in Kent. They banned the sale of gasoline. I remember one of our neighbors was pregnant and we were saying, Boy, if she went into labor, she couldn’t call anybody, we hope they had enough gas. The things that I remember during that week was, I wrote a letter—that night, Monday night, it was really tense on campus. We were the only people left, the people in Married Students Housing. We later found out from some neighbors that they’d pulled busses up in front of the dorms labeled sort of, north, south, east, and west—and loaded them with students and taken them there to hike—to hitchhike home. We had students from all over the country and all over the world and they had closed the phones so they couldn’t call to make plane reservations or get family members to meet them, so it must’ve been quite a scene on the highway.
The thing that I remember Monday night is that we were in with our neighbors, we were first at their house, then some other neighbors came over to our place, we were watching it on TV, where, depending on which channel you watched, some said that there was a sniper on a rooftop, but most of them were starting to get the story to what we now know is the correct thing, that there was no sniper, there was no reason for the firing, they just fired into the crowd. But at that time, there was—the tension now, was in the air. You could feel it. In addition, there were helicopters who were crisscrossing overhead with searchlights. That, um, evidently we were—the married student’s housing was on part of their route because through most of the night, occasionally there would be a helicopter that would pass overhead and the light would kinda shine in the window or you’d hear the helicopter and they were pretty loud. We were—between the excitement and the helicopters and wondering what was going to happen, because we heard they ordered the campus closed. Everybody living there was a student, some of them like me who were concerned about finishing classes because I was doing only dissertation hours. I was writing my dissertation, but I was concerned about what it would mean to finish my classes, to finish the classes I was teaching, cause I didn’t know.
I had—we were up and when we finally got to sleep it was pretty late, it was well after midnight, it was like one o’clock in the morning or two o’clock in the morning we fell asleep. At three o’clock in the morning, or approximately thereof, there was a pounding on the door. I remember my wife and I huddled in our bed, terrified, and the instructive thing was—we weren’t terrified that it was radical students. We were afraid that the people out there were the Guard, and up until that point we hadn’t realized how much the Guard, in our minds, was the enemy. That was the first time we really realized, because we were really scared, who was out there pounding on our door? I eventually got up and yelled through the door, “Who’s there?” It was our next-door neighbor. He wanted me to see—he had been having trouble sleeping, he’d gotten up, he looked out the window—and there was a barn—I don’t know, it was maybe a mile away. I can’t really judge the distance. But there was a barn that had been used for storing things, some boats—row boats or canoes, some equipment. It was one of these hundred-year-old rotting barns that was being put to good use and storing things, and some idiot, during the night, had set it on fire as kind of a last futile act of protest. I’d never seen a barn burn before, but there’s lots of air and there’s lots of height, there was wood, and it was spectacular. It lit up the whole sky.
[Interviewer]: Did you say that was the following day?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: That was Monday—okay, the shootings were during the day May 4, this was, I guess, after midnight, so it would have been, wee hours of May 5. Someone set fire to that storage barn and the fire was spectacular and I’m sure it convinced the powers that be that they really needed Guard presence there. Because, by now, the campus was deserted. I mean, there was really nothing happening. But that barn lit up the whole sky. My neighbor—he just wanted us to see it. Gee, I haven’t thought about these neighbors. David and Beth Kuhn were our next-door neighbors, at that time.
Anyway, they woke us up and I got my wife up and we just looked out the window at the fire. We didn’t go anywhere or do anything. The next day, my wife got up and went to work and I tried to find out—I couldn’t phone—whether I should be teaching at the branches. I didn’t know if closing meant they were closing the branch campuses, and I was teaching computer science, so I had become head of a program—co-director of a program at the Warren campus, that trained computer professionals. I knew several programming languages and systems design, and I was training people in that. My students would need computer access somewhere to finish their classes, to finish the semester. We had a computer—we had a full-blown computer center in Warren. I drove there to find out if it was open, but they closed the branch campuses, too.
As a side note, the interesting thing is all my students finished all of their—they had to hand in programs that had been preassigned and in order to hand it in and know that it ran, they had to get access to computers and mainframes at that time were not plentiful, there’s no such thing as a desktop computer, that was still ten years away. They all got access—I didn’t have anybody who didn’t finish the class, because if they went into a local university, wherever their home was, or if they went into a business, people really were kind and let them use a computer. So they—people got their work done. And of course, most of my students, virtually all my students, were commuting from other places in Ohio, but the same was true for people who needed the computer to do on-campus stuff.
Anyway, getting back to Tuesday and Wednesday. My wife, on Tuesday, was in the faculty lounge at her school—if you ever want to talk to her, I can put her on. She can tell you what that was like. But you had a mixture of people who thought it was terrible, and people who said they should’ve shot more of them. There was that mix. I mean, things were so polarized in the country, and in the local communities, that there were both views expressed and my wife was so upset at lunchtime at some of the comments of some of her fellow teachers. She got in an argument and started crying, and told her principal, “I can’t stay here.” He let her leave early that day—come home. In the meantime, I was at home writing a letter to the Akron Beacon Journal. A real unifying letter. I mean, it really wasn’t radical, but it said that we needed to find ways to come together, it was that kind of mood, letter. I’m sure I have it somewhere still. It was published. The way I know it was published—the way I found out it was published was on—when they turned the phone system back on, which was, I believe, Friday, as soon as—the way I knew that it got on was that the phone started ringing. And I picked up the phone, I was really pleased. I hadn’t been able to call parents and friends, and I figured that people were trying to call me. So, I picked up the phone and I hear, “You goddamn fucking Communist!” And I said, “What are you talking about?” “I read your letter in the Akron Beacon Journal.” It wasn’t delivered, that’s how I found out it was published. I hung up the phone, the phone was ringing again. And I picked it up, “I’m a veteran of World War II, and I want to tell you—!” And so I stopped answering the phone. During that week, we kept hearing stories about students—about radicals, especially people with beards and long hair who were arrested in town for violating curfew, when the curfew wasn’t even in effect. I, later, at the Kerner Commission hearings [ed. clarification: actual title of this commission is the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, commonly known as the Scranton Commission], learned that—why some of the townspeople thought the world was coming to an end. As I listened to one mother talk about how her kids were escorted home from elementary school, the mayor of Kent, whose name I think was Johnny Carson, ordered the town—ordered the schools closed. He asked the Guard to escort all the kids home. You could imagine a parent when her child was escorted home by a National Guardsman, that must mean that her child was in danger. That’s—you know, that sort of heightened things, the tension.
I remember when I had gone into town to mail the letter, I’d gone to the post office on Water Street and there were Guards surrounding the post office to protect the post office. I later learned that there were rumors that people were going to put LSD in the water supply, that they were going to bomb the post office, I mean there were all kinds of crazy things [rumored] and some of it was done [i.e. rumored], you know, just to see if they could get a reaction from the Guard. The—in any case, we had heard that there was a—that the faculty was not being allowed—we originally heard that the faculty was going to meet on campus and they would be allowed to go on to campus on Friday. Only that was not to be—the Guard decided that was too dangerous. I think it was—was that Friday? I know that I had a meeting in Akron, at a church that was a faculty meeting, there were hundreds and hundreds of faculty there because we couldn’t get on to campus. Eventually, they did succeed in getting the campus—maybe that was on Friday, it’s been a long time, forty-five years.
What I do remember is that, at some point, whether it was that Friday or the following week, we were allowed on to campus for one meeting, and to go to offices on campus. It was only once, and people were told, Take what you need, because you’re not coming back. What I remember was having to be patted down and we had to go through checkpoint to get onto campus. I was a pretty suspicious-looking guy, because, at that time, I was very young faculty member, and it [unintelligible] what young faculty members did, I’d grown a beard and as a bearded guy, I was naturally suspicious. So, I got more than typical amount of scrutiny, but even the—what I considered the really older professors, everybody had to go through this to be allowed on campus. At this meeting, we were told that we should complete the semester—the quarter—for our students in the best way we could. I forget what other rules, but that the campus remained closed.
I don’t remember how long the curfew stayed in effect, but later on, someone said that we been—we were under Martial Law, and that was why the police and the Guardsmen could basically suspend all civil liberties including assembly, including, you know, putting in the curfew, including banning gasoline, including closing the telephones. Once again, some of this stuff is fact and some of this is just what we thought we knew at the time. We heard that it was the first time that Martial Law had been declared in the United States in the North since the Civil War. We also were told that there were not allowed to be any services commemorating any of the four dead students within the City of Kent. So while there were services in Akron and in Youngstown and in some of the other—Canton, some of the other communities, in Kent the services that were on—held at various churches that Sunday were not allowed to commemorate the deaths of the students. Which, I guess got into religious freedom.
I would go into town and I was obvious I was with the university because I had a beard. In some places where I’d been dealing with regularly, the people with the normal warm welcoming, but in some places it was real hostility toward the university from people in the town. And I understand some of it and some of it was crazy. Mob paranoia.
I got to see that, once again, just to jump ahead to when the Kerner Commission [ed. clarification: actual title of this commission is the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, commonly known as the Scranton Commission] was there, one of the people who testified was someone with a mother who had collected hundreds or thousands of signatures supporting the National Guard. So, she had this petition in support of the Guard and so she was called before the—they asked her to testify. They asked her what she had seen, and she hadn’t seen anything. What she had—well, she hadn’t seen anything, nothing had happened to anyone in her family, and why had she done this? And what I remember, she said, “This used to be such a nice town, and now you got all these people with beards and long hair.” One of the—I think it was the head of The Christian Science Monitor, who was an older guy on this council, “Well, did any of them ever accost you, or hurt you, or threaten you?” She said, “No, but they scared me, and then the movies changed. We used to have nice family movies here, now movies have sex and violence in them, and that’s because of the students with the beards and the long hair.” I mean there was some measure of that, and some measure that probably was rational because there had been people who had broken some windows in town, and because there are mothers reacting to their kids being escorted home by the National Guard. They must’ve thought that there was insurrection in the streets.
What happened to my wife and I, after, as soon as the school year ended, we did something that we now recognize was running. We decided we needed to go away, we needed to get out of there, we needed to get away from this all. I hadn’t realized how involved I was in everything and how torn up I was, and how angry I was that this had happened. And how angry I was that the whole world didn’t sympathize because I was seeing things from a local standpoint which was not as objective as the rest of the country. And in fact, the day my editorial—because I went out and I bought a paper the day my editorial appeared—my letter to the editor appeared on the paper, which I think was that Friday, May 8, you probably have the papers there, you can check. The lead editorial was bemoaning the fact that they only shot four.
But, we had lived in the town and there were rumors, you know, I remember hearing, Well, you know, Jeffrey Miller’s body was riddled with syphilis, and, These are all radical kids who deserved it, and, If they didn’t want to be shot, they shouldn’t have been out there. All this kind of stuff. So we ran and we basically, my family—my dad was approaching retirement age, and he and an uncle of mine had bought a condo in Florida for use when they got older and for use, occasionally, in the winter. We asked them if we could get there and we just ran to Florida. And it was mainly to get away from the local environment. Of course, when we—not that Florida was particularly liberal at that time—but once we got out of Kent, we began to realize that the attitude of the world was not the same as it was locally. We—when I returned, we—I remember they opened the campus and the university seemed to me to just be wishing it away. There were—there weren’t events that commemorated it or did anything, in fact I remember years later there was even a proposal to pave over the area. I think the lack of immediate things to help heal, but the university wanted to pretend like it never happened.
The thing that really affected me, other than the shootings itself, was one of the things that happened in the aftermath. Governor Rhodes did lose in the primary to Taft—bid for for Senate. But later on the Board of Trustees, or the State Board of Regents or whatever board had—they took the faculty budget and they took the money that had put aside for faculty raises, and they decided that that money should be used to hire more campus police, which was sort of a non-sequitur, as if more campus police would have prevented this from happening, or had anything to do—or the lack of campus police had anything to do with this. Because it didn’t. But, they ordered faculty salaries frozen, and the money that would’ve been used for faculty raises, they used to hire more campus police. That was going to be effective for the 1972-73 year. By that time, I had finished my doctorate and, in 1972, I got notice that my promotion had been approved by the department and signed by the dean, and had been sent to the Board of Trustees, and this was going to be the year of my promotion. The same letter said—and I still have the letter. Take me a while to put my fingers on it, but if you ever, if it’d be worthwhile, I can get you a copy.
[Interviewer]: Oh, that would be nice.
[Kenneth Frohlich]: The National Guard—oh, the campus salaries were frozen. I had one child at that point, I had another child on the way. My wife was pregnant in 1972 with our second child and they froze our—we had been looking forward to this raise, and of course in academia, you get three promotions in your lifetime. You know, instructor to assistant professor, assistant professor to associate professor, and associate professor to professor. I’d been an instructor, and I had finished my doctorate and I was being promoted to assistant professor. The letter said—I remember the phrase, Unfortunately, due to the rate freeze, this will be what’s known as a dry promotion. That is a promotion in rank, without the usual accompanying raise, but you should take comfort in the fact that it does show the high esteem that you’re held in. When I showed this to my wife, she pointed out that the esteem wouldn’t help us pay our bills. People started saying, You’re crazy for staying here, your fields are statistics and computer science, and there’s a shortage of those, a lot of universities would want somebody like this. So, I started applying to universities, and I wound up also applying to the business world. And I wound up getting a whole bunch of job offers from the business world that were a lot bigger than the offers I was getting from universities, and I wound up leaving, and going—leaving academia and becoming—going into work for an insurance company. That changed my whole career.
One of the other things that it did was it—the shootings at Kent State really heightened my interest in law. I paid a lot of attention to all the legal things that happened and tried to understand. Both the lawsuits for civil liberties and afterwards when they charged the students and later with the lawsuit. I don’t think I have anything to add to those, but it just heightened my interest in reading about the law. Forty years after Kent State, I decided to go to law school. And I—actually, it was less than forty, it was thirty-eight years later, in 2008, I was retired and I applied to and went to law school. Three years later, I had a law degree and passed the Bar in a couple states and opened up a law practice, and I’ve practicing law now for—I’m seventy years old, I’ve been practicing law for four years. Part of the interest in law—I had some interest before then but, I was a mathematician, I wasn’t supposed to be good in things like law. But I—I’m a lawyer now, too, as well as a mathematician. I did eventually—I did teach some more after that. I taught statistics at St. Joe’s University in Philadelphia, where they were looking for somebody with a PhD and teaching experience, so I taught a few statistics courses, but right now I’m practicing law full time.
[Interviewer]: Math and law is an interesting combination.
[Kenneth Frohlich]: An unusual combination, I think. Yeah, while I was at the—I also have—I’m an actuary. When I was working for the insurance company, with the degree in math I realized that actuarial career was really advantageous. So I took the exams and became an actuary.
[Interviewer]: Well, I wanted to back up a little bit, and actually, that might be quite a bit. When you said you were in the married housing in Allerton, could you remember how many families or married couples were still there with you at that time?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Let’s see. I was [apartment] 814, I was the middle one. There were, of our floor, there were—not 814, it was 845—[adding up the apartment units on his floor out loud] it was one, three, five—so there were five on a floor, two floors is ten—there were four sides to it. So that would be forty, and there were probably, I would guess it was like one hundred—I’m guessing—that there were forty, eighty, I would guess one hundred twenty apartments, total. So, two adults and sometimes kids and sometimes not kids.
[Interviewer]: So, do you remember if whether a majority of those couples still stayed or did people, most of them, immediately evacuate or did—
[Kenneth Frohlich]: No, I think virtually everybody stayed. A few of them evacuated, went home to their families, because the classes were cancelled.
[Interviewer]: Do you remember if you and your wife, during the—or when things seemed to calm down, if you walked through the area and tried to see what the campus still looked like in the aftermath?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Campus was closed, there were Guardsmen guarding the entrances to campus. You would be arrested if you went on to campus, at least that was our perception. The campus was closed by the Guard, by order of the Guard until, I think, I think it was second summer session. I may be wrong that’s when it opened, it may have been first summer session, I was pretty sure it was open before fall. But, maybe not. I don’t know because we ran. But we didn’t run, I mean it was May 4 and the semester—the quarter—didn’t end until mid-June. So for the next roughly five weeks, we were there, but we didn’t go onto campus.
[Interviewer]: And then you said that you did, you know, your students still managed to complete their work, so how did you communicate, or did they try and communicate with you during that time?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Mail.
[Kenneth Frohlich]: There was no—well, initially, there was no phone service but later on, there was phone—I did actually speak by phone to some of the students. I did—there was no internet, so there was no email, there were no cell phones, and students, you know—there was—I also I had one or two students from my programming classes who joined a community at—what was that school—I think it was—was it at Antioch? It was a school in southern Ohio, that took in about four hundred students from Kent and let them sleep on the floor in the dorms and my students got access to computers there—the ones that wanted to, went there. Most of them just went to businesses in the local communities. The businesses that they—they went to businesses that had computers and they let them run their programs to debug them.
[Interviewer]: Did you ever get into any conversations with the students where they were expressing their concerns about what had taken place on campus in addition to their classwork?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Well, after the shootings, I didn’t have anything—any students who were on main campus, I had only students at the branches, so they were a bit removed from it. I had conversations with people, because that was a—I mean, if you can imagine, everybody talked about it, sort of continually, or it kept coming up even after things had gotten back to semi-normal. It was this—it was this aura over it, or stigma of it, or the feeling of what it had—what it was. There was still some—there were people, the local people, the people I lived among, because I lived in Kent, until we finally moved in 1972 when I took a job in Connecticut. The town we lived in, the conversation among the people who we were friendly with, was virtually all anger at the Guard. The—we knew that there were a lot of people who disagreed with that and had anger at the students. At the campuses, when they talked about it, nobody—I didn’t hear anybody say shooting the kids was a good idea. But, I did hear people who defended the Guard, I mean a lot of them had been in the Guard or were in the Guard. If you remember, there was a universal draft at that time. You know, it was—and therefore, one of the alternatives to going—to enlisting and going right to Vietnam was to be in the National Guard. So, either they were in the Guard, my students were in the Guard, had been in the Guard and got called up, or they had friends and family who were in the Guard, and so they didn’t look at the Guard—and the Guard was the same age as the students. They didn’t look at the Guard as something terrible—but nobody defended much what they did, at least not to me. I was biased, I mean—
[Interviewer]: I know you said that in the aftermath of May 4, that it changed the trajectory of your career. Are there any other things that you would like to express where May 4 had a lasting impact on you in some particular way?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: As I said, the biggest one, of course, was the freeze on salaries, which was a really stupid, mindless reaction so they could show they were doing something—it’s hard to figure out what was going through any intelligent person’s mind that caused them to do that, but it was the freeze on faculty salaries that made me leave permanently, and of course, when I left, I wound up leaving academia. I built a career, very successful career in business. I became president of a number of companies, both in the U.S. and overseas, I was Chief Actuary of several large organizations. It changed it in that way. I was a PhD college professor, loved teaching, was going to make that my career and stay in it my whole life. And, suddenly, I felt I had to leave Kent, and as part of leaving Kent I wound up not only leaving Kent but also leaving the teaching profession. And, of course, as I said, it did heighten my interest in law. I don’t know if I, if it made the difference but it kept me interested in reading cases and supreme court decisions and buying books about supreme court and ultimately after I retired, I decided I wanted to go to law school, and I’m now very unretired. So it affected that. It affected my political beliefs very, very definitely. Up until then I had—I didn’t—probably, I’d been independent, I was probably Democratic-leaning because I was liberal, but at that time there were lots of liberal Republicans, and I voted for both Democrats and Republicans. And after that, I became a lifelong Democrat and I’m now part of—I’m a Democratic committeeman in the town I live in. I’ve supported Democratic candidates for forever. In fact, while in law school, I was a congressional intern, too old for that, but I was, at the age of sixty-five, I was a congressional—I was a congressional intern. I was the only intern on Medicare. The typical intern was either—was somewhere between eighteen, wel,l actually, some of them were as low as seventeen or sixteen, and twenty-five, they were mostly either college kids, a couple high school kids, but mostly college kids, a few grad students or law students. I was a law student, which is why I had to become an intern, a full-time law student. But, I was probably forty years older than the next oldest intern. But I interned for a Democratic congressman and I’ve been involved in Democratic politics. So it had that effect also. It affected my wife’s and my attitude toward, being suspicious of government, whether it be the Iraq War or the Vietnam War, or what people said, or excessive use of force, which we’re seeing a lot of now. Yeah, it affected a lot—it affected my attitude—it affected my career, my attitudes, and eventually my additional schooling after, late in life. So, yeah, that’s the effects it had.
[Interviewer]: Well is there anything else that you would like to add, that I didn’t think to ask you today?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: I’d like just to give a couple comments on the Kerner Commission [ed. clarification: actual title of this commission is the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, commonly known as the Scranton Commission]. After the shootings, President Nixon appointed Kerner Commission [ed. clarification: the Scranton Commission]. He wanted to be sure that it wasn’t too balanced because he didn’t want a—conclusions that disagreed with his formulation of what had happened and why it had happened. This commission consisted mostly of older, conservative men. There was one young, long-haired guy. I remember, I think he was from Harvard. But, it consisted of people like the editor of The Christian Science Monitor who was this white-haired old guy from a conservative newspaper. He had—I remember it had a general on it, he wanted to appoint a Black man, so he appointed a Black general to the commission. I forget who the other members were, but it was headed by Governor Kerner, a Republican, fairly moderate, Republican Governor from Illinois [ed. clarification: actual title of this commission is the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, commonly known as the Scranton Commission, which was chaired by former Governor of Pennsylvania, William Scranton]. They went around the country and they visited Columbia, and they visited Berkley, and they visited—I remember they visited somewhere in Boston, they visited Wisconsin where there had actually been an explosion in a lab. They went all over the country to places where there had been violence. It was a campus commission—it was the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest. They went around the country, talking to other universities, and the last place they came was Kent, and they had three days of hearings at Kent and I sat in on all three days. I remember there were two generals who had been involved with the National Guard. I remember the—however conservative they had been, whatever their preconceived notions had been, they were really trying to be fair, and they’d had their eyes opened by some incontrovertible evidence that a lot of the violence wasn’t caused by students, it was caused by reaction to the protests. They were looking for answers and they asked good questions, I was impressed with the questions. But, I remember a few in particular, I mentioned the interview with the young woman who had—I say young, it’s young now, at the time she was older than me—the townsperson who had collected the petition, but I remember when, I think it was Del Corso, or what was the name of the other general? There was another on campus—they asked him, you know, about firing, and he defended it vociferously, they had to fire, they believed their lives were in danger, all that kind of stuff. He asked, “Why didn’t you fire a warning shot?” His answer—somewhere that I’m sure there’s a written record or recordings—his answer just blew me out of the water. His answer was, “Warning shots are dangerous.” And the incredulous questioner said, “They’re dangerous? More dangerous than firing into the crowd?” I just remember that moment—I remember a whole bunch of things, I remember other people saying that everybody thought the guns weren’t loaded. I remember a Guardsmen or somebody saying that, in general, they were only supposed to load it on command and nobody quite knew why, but the guns were loaded. They were all loaded. Even though the students were convinced that they weren’t. I did not see the actual demonstration except in film and on TV. So, I can’t really add anything to, what I’m sure you’ve got voluminous stuff there.
Oh, I did get asked, I had a couple other things that follow along that actually are kind of interesting. One, is I had a friend at University of Michigan who asked me to write a book review of a book. There were several books that dealt with Kent State, there was Michener wrote a book that was really fiction. It was designed to—I don’t know what it was designed to do, but he had preconceived notions and they came through in the book and that was really—it was fiction. A lot of stuff was fiction, a lot of things were biased one way or the other. But she asked me to review this book, 13 Seconds it was called, it was named after the fact that, at the time they—I don’t know, they may have corrected it, or revised it, but at the time, supposedly, that the Guardsmen fired fifty-five shots in thirteen seconds, hitting thirteen students and killing four of them. The thirteen seconds was the length of time that the gunfire actually took place. So, the book was called 13 Seconds. I wrote the—I wrote a book review of it—that was published. I probably have that somewhere down in my carton of Kent memorabilia down in the basement, if I can find it.
And also, because I’d had a letter published in the Akron Beacon Journal, the FBI came to see me. They were investigating things, and I didn’t have anything to tell them, they talked to me—I talked briefly to someone on the phone and told them I really hadn’t—I didn’t know anything that led up to it, and I hadn’t been there, and then they didn’t care much. But, for some reason, they did come to my house while I wasn’t here. Also, for reasons that I thought had to do with the fact that I had been—I’d gone and signed up for the Faculty Marshals, but it could’ve been for any one of a number of reasons. I was invited—one of the Kennedys, I think Ted Kennedy and his wife had a cocktail party at their home outside of Washington to raise money in support of the students who were later charged—with crimes.
[Interviewer]: You said it was one of the members of the Kennedy family?
[Kenneth Frohlich]: It was one of the members of the Kennedy family. I saved the invitation—I have all this stuff somewhere and if there’s any interest, I’d be glad to get it to you.
[Interviewer]: We can have that conversation, definitely.
[Kenneth Frohlich]: But there was—because I didn’t throw out anything from that. I have the newspapers, I have the book I reviewed and the review. I have the letter telling me that there was—that how my promotion was dry—I have the invitation from the Kennedys to cocktails to raise—what they did is they charged—see, everybody knew who had set fire to the curtains in the ROTC building. I don’t think there’s much doubt that he should’ve been arrested and charged, and then they didn’t even need to send the Guard onto campus, there was a lot of witnesses there. So, the fact that he was going to be charged with a crime was no big deal. But the Portage County Grand Jury, and there was a prosecutor in Portage County who was pretty right-wing, and I don’t remember his name. But he got indictments against a whole bunch of people for unindictable things. Including one guy who was indicted for being pretty much being head of the student body. As I said, it’s been a long time, and I can remember a lot of events, and a lot of the feelings and the mood and specific things like they were yesterday, but when they—the trials and the court things were a bit out in the future. I was no longer living here and my memory is fuzzy on some of those. But I remember, they charged a bunch of people and in order to—maybe it was to raise money for—the Kennedy thing was to raise money—it might’ve been to help the people who were wounded instead of people who were indicted. I don’t recall, but I couldn’t make it. Regretfully, I regretted years later that I didn’t drop everything and go. But I didn’t. But I was invited, I don’t know why, I was invited. As I say, I have the invitation somewhere. It was one of the Kennedys, I think it was Edward Kennedy, who at that time was the young senator, the youngest senator, he had just turned thirty.
[Interviewer]: Well, I would like—I’m sorry.
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Go ahead.
[Interviewer]: Well I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time out of your day to share your experiences pertaining to May 4, and if you don’t have anything else you wanted to add to what you shared today, I would like to conclude the interview at this point.
[Kenneth Frohlich]: Yes.
Faculty at Kent State University in 1970
|Date of Interview||
Kenneth Frohlich was a faculty member who was also working on his dissertation in mathematics at Kent State University in 1970. He and his wife, Judith Frohlich, lived on campus in Married Student Housing in Allerton Apartments. He discusses the climate on campus that academic year and his experiences during the days leading up to May 4, 1970. He also relates his memories and experiences during the aftermath, including attending the Scranton Commission hearings.
|Length of Interview||
|Time Period discussed||
Akron Beacon Journal
Kent 25--Trials, litigation, etc.
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970--Trials, litigation, etc.
Kent State University. Allerton Apartments Married Student Housing
Kent State University. ROTC Building--Fires
Ohio. Army National Guard
United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation
United States. President's Commission on Campus Unrest
Special Collections and Archives
This digital object is owned by Kent State University and may be protected by U.S. Copyright law (Title 17, USC). Please include proper citation and credit for use of this item. Use in publications or productions is prohibited without written permission from Kent State University. Please contact the Department of Special Collections and Archives for more information.
Kent State University
|DPLA Rights Statement||
|Format of Original||
audio digital file
The content of oral history interviews, written narratives and commentaries is personal and interpretive in nature, relying on memories, experiences, perceptions, and opinions of individuals. They do not represent the policy, views or official history of Kent State University and the University makes no assertions about the veracity of statements made by individuals participating in the project. Users are urged to independently corroborate and further research the factual elements of these narratives especially in works of scholarship and journalism based in whole or in part upon the narratives shared in the May 4 Collection and the Kent State Shootings Oral History Project.
May 4 Collection