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[Beginning of Tape 1]
[Jeff Zink]: This is Jeff Zink, a statement taken from Bob Pickett. Okay, Bob, just go ahead and start wherever you saw things from Friday, Saturday, Sunday, whatever you think of first.
[Robert Pickett]: Okay, Jeff. First of all, I think what is important is that–I think we all know what happened on Friday and Saturday and Sunday and Monday. But, my general comments would tend to look at the underlying condition and the lack of respect for the students that the civil authorities has with the students. Okay, like for example, I was harassed a couple of times by the National Guardsmen. I was walking over past Verder Hall, looking for two young ladies who happened to get lost, and I had suspected that they were somewhere in the vicinity of Dunbar and Prentice Halls, so I immediately set out on foot to locate them. Now, National Guards were all around that area and at this time it was approximately about–wow–it was about 10 o’clock.
[Jeff Zink]: What day?
[Robert Pickett]: That was on Sunday.
[Jeff Zink]: Sunday night?
[Robert Pickett]: That was that Sunday, May 3rd, 1970. About 10 o’clock, or, I’d even venture to say 9:30, but the curfew was not set to go into effect until 12 o’clock. So, now, I had presupposed that it was safe to go out until the time the curfew was imposed. But, as I saw the Guardsmen, I approached them with my arms up in the air, having experienced and having seen what Guardsmen do to Black people. And I approached them with a great deal of caution with my arms in the air, indicating that I had nothing–you know–I was coming in peace. As I approached them, they began to holler obscenities at me. For example, “Where you going boy? Get your ass out of here boy,” and so forth. So I kept approaching them and explained to them the fact that I am going, as it turns out, to locate two young ladies who were lost, and they said, “Do you live on campus?” and I replied, “No.” They said, “Turn around, boy, and run.” And I kept telling them that I’m trying to locate these two girls and that the curfew is not on us as of yet.
[Jeff Zink]: Was this a group Bob, or was this like one or two guys?
[Robert Pickett]: This was a group of guys. It was a group of Guardsmen, but particularly two men who stood out from the Guardsmen–they were like a group of them and they came out to meet me. One was, I venture to say a captain, and the other was just an ordinary soldier.
[Jeff Zink]: One was the officer there?
[Robert Pickett]: I believe so, right–he had a .45 in his hand.
So, you know, I began to talk to them and tried to convince them. But, see, what comes out of all this–they were imposing the arbitrary curfew, you know, any time. And that, in effect, students were not allowed to walk on campus when, in fact, it was very safe.
So, I kept talking, and so one of the soldiers cocked his M16 on me and pointed it towards my head, and the other officer came over and he cocked his .45 and pointed it at my head and told me to “Move and run–turn around and run.” Of course, turning around and running has its precedence because if you run, they could say you were running away from them and they had to ask you to halt. So, I immediately refused to run and I turned around halfway and began to limp and stated the fact that my knee was injured, which it was not. This was my excuse in order to prevent them from harassing me or hitting me with the butt of their rifle as they, I suspect, wanted to.
So, this is, I think, not an isolated incident. This occurred the whole weekend, beginning Saturday night, Sunday, and continuing on until Monday night. Many students have reported that the Guardsmen disrespected their civil liberties and took–just did not have any respect for them as people, or as individuals at all. But, if you look at it very carefully, I think what primarily may have sparked the whole thing was the fact that the Guardsmen were on our campus, and it’s like when a person comes to your home and threatens to beat you up in your house. Your immediate reaction is to react in a very negative fashion, or in a very positive way try to tell them that, “You’re in my house, and I want you out of here. If you’re going to act like that, get out.” And, if the Guardsmen hadn’t been the cause of it, I think everything would have subsided. But, continued harassment by the Guardsmen directed towards students, I think, perhaps added to the tension that existed for the past–the last two days, mainly May 3rd and May 4th.
[Jeff Zink]: Do you feel, Bob, that the main reason for the mass rallies on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday–the breaking the windows downtown and things like this–was Cambodia, or do you feel there are other underlying causes?
[Robert Pickett]: Well, I think the primary issue was Cambodia, but I think there were underlying causes, but not geared to what other people have talked about, in terms of exposing the university. I think, perhaps many frustrations of the past two quarters, being very dormant and being very quiet, frustration in regards to the administration's inactivity.
[Jeff Zink]: Do you–
[Robert Pickett]: You know, it goes deeper than the Cambodia issue, but I think the Cambodia issue was the primary focal point of these students. But if you would have asked a student what was his concern, he would simply say, “Cambodia,” but I think you have to go beyond that and the fact that it was a lack of communication and just the general student, administration, and faculty relationship.
[recording resumes after a short break]
[Jeff Zink]: Okay, Bob, now you said that you felt that the underlying cause was faculty, student, administration relations. Now, could you go into this in more detail?
[Robert Pickett]: Yeah, well, students being students are treated somewhat as they–like me, you know, I’m the–many southern whites would call me “nigger.” By virtue of being a student, and a nigger, I’m in double, triple. But most of the majority of white students are classified as students and therefore they’re only a nigger one time, you know? But being that they’re more put down and not respected by the faculty in general, in that many faculty abuse their rights in regards towards the students, and–take for example the events of the past two weeks, and the faculty, I’ve heard, have put a great deal of work on students and, you know, wow. And this is really surprising after the events that occurred. It seems as though the faculty are coming down really hard on the students and blaming them for [unintelligible], when in fact it was not their fault at all. But there is a general lack of communication. I think this communication we lack is the result of a lack of understanding, a lack of compassion, not only on the faculty’s part, but on the students’ part.
[Jeff Zink]: Let me ask you a question now–we’re going to backtrack little bit to when the Black students walked out last fall and then the deal with Speech last spring, and I think out of this came the understanding or the idea that there was a great need for better communication with administration.
[End of Tape 1]
[Beginning of Tape 2]
[Jeff Zink]: Okay, we’re going to have to start again. Now, Bob, as I’ve stated, there was all these incidents that caused or showed the need for better communication. Now, as a leader of the Black students, do you feel that there was any better communication as a result of these incidents, or did it get worse, or just what do you feel?
[Robert Pickett]: Well, as a result of the, as you call, “incidents,” I think that communication did increase quite substantially, but the point to remember is that communication only increases after a demonstration or a tragedy, and the sustaining, or the everlasting impact of increased and better communication is not there–is not present. It is only a short-lived, let us say, phenomena that may be only–will last maybe six months, and then people will tend to fall back and quote the same [facts?] as they were before. And I would certainly agree with you that, on a short-range basis, communication has improved, or will improve. But in the long-range basis, communication has failed, and/or will fail, if the appropriate forces are not aware of the fact that all their efforts are directed more or less towards short-term communication, keeping people on a very short-term manner.
[Jeff Zink]: So, in other words, you feel that any increased communication that came out of all of these things that had happened before was more of an appeasement and not really a real attempt to solve the problem?
[Robert Pickett]: I think the real attempt was there, but not enough energy went into it. I hope you’re getting what I’m saying.
[Jeff Zink]: Yeah.
[Robert Pickett]: The desire was there for long-term communications, but as a result of–I really don’t know what–but as a result of the bureaucracy as it is, I think somewhat tended to more or less be counterproductive to increasing communication. But I think long-range or long-term communication can be very effective and can be in effect here at Kent State, not only after tragedies and not only during periods of crisis, but during periods of complacency and during periods that the students are just being students.
[Jeff Zink]: Do you feel now–let’s go to the faculty for a moment–do you feel that the faculty has done an adequate job of helping, number one, to create a better relationship with the student body as a whole, and number two, did they help to let’s say keep things quiet during major times of–like this weekend, May 1st through the 4th.
[Robert Pickett]: I think some faculty–I can’t generalize to all the faculty–but some faculty. I think we all know who we’re talking about when we say some faculty. Not all the faculty are capable of communicating on a one-to-one basis, and not all faculty have the desire to do so. But I think it’s going to become necessary for faculty to go beyond their research, and go beyond the limited scope of their field, and begin to talk to students, and find out what they’re thinking and what they’re doing, because, in effect, these students will be controlling them in a couple of years, and will be taking their jobs in a couple of years, and I think it is very important that they get to know who these people are.
[Jeff Zink]: Do you see any other underlying causes for the violence, we’ll say, on the campuses today?
[Robert Pickett]: Time magazine had an essay out about, I believe a year ago–two years ago–in regards to Black violence occurring in the ghettos as a result of the oppression that has occurred for four hundred years. And they said, and I agree with them, that violence is oftentimes a cleansing force, but–and violence is oftentimes people’s last resort. Violence is not justifiable–well, let me back up on that–violence is justifiable only when there are no alternatives, no other courses of action left open to the people. And on a college campus, where reason is what prevails, violence should be the very, very last resort, and there should have been other alternatives open to students. But as a result of a lack of communication on the part of the local authorities, on the part of Governor James A. Rhodes and on the part of the Adjutant General–
[Jeff Zink]: Del Corso.
[Robert Pickett]: National Guard, Del Corso, violence was the only resort the students had. And I agree–violence is not, in a very abstract sense–not justifiable. But to put it down in real nitty-gritty terms, violence is sometimes all people have to really depend on. But, abstractly, I–no, violence is not justifiable. Only when, as a result, something good comes out of it. And then, you can’t even justify it because the destruction that’s left in its wake is too monstrous to even be aware of–to even realize. But, only when alternatives are exhausted. Living in a ghetto, your alternatives are very limited. Being on a college campus, your alternatives should be wide open, you should have more alternatives there.
[Jeff Zink]: Another comparison that’s been made recently is between the ghetto and the university today is that there’s so many people it seems cramped into a relatively small area. A lot of times where you lose the communication, the accessibility, the relationships that should be in between let’s say the leaders, that is being the leaders of our university, the leaders of the community. Consequently, with this total breakdown, you have violence happening like that. Do you think there’s any connection here?
[Robert Pickett]: In terms of–
[Jeff Zink]: Just in sheer number, if we had 4,000 here instead of 20,000, it would be a lot easier to help solve the problems?
[Robert Pickett]: It would be a lot easier, but you can never be guaranteed of solving any problem. Eventually–it would be the job of controlling people and communicating with people would be a lot easier, but if you can’t–well, yeah I agree. I agree.
[Jeff Zink]: What do you feel now is the basic feelings of the Black students towards what happened here on May 1st through the 5th.
[Robert Pickett]: They couldn’t tell–if I could sum it up in one–it would be a rather trite cliche, namely that “I told you so, that it could happen to you.” And, you know, what comes out of all this very painfully is the fact that many, or the majority, of white students are seeing what Black people have been subjected to for the past couple of years in regards to their justifiable violence in regard to ghetto riots of ‘67 and ‘68 and the reaction, or should I say the overreaction, of the Guards. Now they’re seeing exactly how the civil authorities react in such cases, and it’s too bad it had to come in such a painful and very tragic way as this that happened at Kent. But it happened, and if Black people had to sum it up, they would sum it in a very trite cliche–that “I told you so.”
[Jeff Zink]: Well, now that we–do you have any other causes or things that you think contribute to the violence.
[Robert Pickett]: Yeah, well, violence takes many forms. Violence with bureaucracy, violence on the part of faculty, intellectual violence, violence on the part of police.
[Jeff Zink]: That’s a question–let me stop you there for a second. Do you feel that it would be a lot more effective if the University Police did not wear police uniforms or such, or dress in civilian clothes without carrying weapons–
[recording resumes after a short break]
[Jeff Zink]: –administration. Bob is the leader of the Black students. Did you find that this communication became any better after all of these events, was it the same, or was it worse?
[Robert Pickett]: Yeah, I think the communication increased as a result of demonstrations, but immediately, let’s say we’ve got a six month period of time–
[End of Tape 2]
[Beginning of Tape 3][
[Jeff Zink]: [Unintelligible] Bob, about the police. Do you feel that them having civilian uniforms without carrying guns would help [unintelligible]?
[Robert Pickett]: Yeah, I think students would have a more positive attitude towards policemen, but I think those people who are charged with protecting the grounds of the university–that should be their sole charge. They should not be dressed in the traditional garb of policemen. They should be dressed up in maybe a uniform of sorts, but not in the traditional sense, and perhaps they should have a student patrol of some sort, and they should be disarmed. You know, I think it’s absurd to have guns on a university campus where, as I said before, where reason is supposed to prevail.
[Jeff Zink]: Another question is, how would you prevent such events as Saturday night, the burning of the ROTC building without the use of such a mass police force like the National Guard. How would you suggest–?
[Robert Pickett]: How would I suggest it? Bringing the issue to the students, talking about it, making yourself open to their criticism, making yourself available to sitting down and talking with them, and in essence–saying that, we have questions about the ROTC ourselves and we’re in the process of reviewing what course of action to take.
[Jeff Zink]: In other words, if the students came out with a suggestion, there should be no ROTC.
[Robert Pickett]: Okay.
[Jeff Zink]: We would have none then.
[Robert Pickett]: Right.
[Jeff Zink]: Okay, any other suggestions that you would have personally?
[Robert Pickett]: No, I’ve suggested to President White already that in order to show that the university is working in a direction towards students and trying to increase communications that he–
[talking in background]
[Robert Pickett]: –hey, Carl, I’ll see you later man–that he take it upon himself to make two students a formal part of the commencement ceremony, then we’d have them speak. However, he can make that decision. And by doing that, making them a permanent part of the commencement ceremony, and that, I know, is what our president here at Kent–but other institutions, eg., Harvard, Michigan, Berkeley, have gone that direction, allowing students to be–not necessarily a valedictorian because that designation doesn’t mean a thing at all. That just simply says that you studied all the time. But–and the other suggestion was that perhaps he could have, or invite Coretta King as the commencement speaker in order to support or reinforce his call for nonviolence.
[Jeff Zink]: Another thing is, do you feel that as far as the dean of students goes, they’ve made the office now where it’s so much of an administrative office that a lot of times the dean will lose contact with the students? Do you feel that we are in need of a very charismatic individual as dean of students who would have the sole duty of communicating, working with, and understanding the views of the students, who would have the administrative burdens taken off his back and given to someone else? Do you feel that this is a good idea?
[Robert Pickett]: That’s an excellent idea. That is an excellent idea. I can’t say anymore, but it certainly is an excellent idea. It’s a good idea. But that person is very hard to find, that would appeal to everybody.
[Jeff Zink]: Anything else then, Bob, that you have to say?
[Robert Pickett]: I appreciate the opportunity to discuss my views and give my opinions as to what happened the week of May 1st through the 4th, and what happened afterwards. But I hope that the Commission comes up with an adequate, or perhaps a more than adequate decision, or consensus as to what happened and perhaps make several recommendations, if not more, as to what the University would now do in order to become that great university that they want to become. And that Kent now is a symbol among many universities and many universities are looking to Kent for new ways of doing old things, and maybe new ways of saying old things, also. But I think it’s a grand opportunity for Kent to come up with something creative that they could perhaps justify her being a symbol. I just appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.
[Jeff Zink]: Well thank you very much, Bob. This is the end of the tape for Bob Pickett.
[End of Tape 3] ×
Recorded statement of Kent State University student Robert Pickett conducted by the CKSUV.
Kent State University
Special Collections and Archives
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Digitization was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
|Subcollection||Commission on KSU Violence records|
Commissions, Hearings, Tribunals
Kent State University. Black United Students
Kent State University. Police
Reactions, Responses. Students
|May 4 Provenance||
May 4 Collection