SEARCH UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES
Paul Tople, Oral History
Recorded: April 25, 2017
Interviewed by Lae’l Hughes-Watkins
Transcribed by the Kent State University Research and Evaluation Bureau
[Paul Tople]: I was born in Barberton, Ohio. I grew up in Norton, Ohio, which is a community just to the west of Barberton and I went to Norton High School and I graduated in 1966.
[Interviewer]: What brought you to Kent State University?
[Paul Tople]: Well, I had two choices: it was Vietnam, or it was college.
[Interviewer]: That’s a common statement.
[Paul Tople]: And the 2-S deferment was worth gold and I had an interest in photography and knew that Kent State had a photojournalism program, so I decided to see if I could enroll in the university. They accepted me and I started at the Kent State Wadsworth extension for my freshman year and it was held in a church in Wadsworth, in the church classrooms, and the professors would come from the university and present their classes at—in this church building and that’s where I started my Kent State experience, was in Wadsworth, Ohio.
[Interviewer]: I have never heard of this opportunity. So, at the Wadsworth extension, was it various classes being taught at the church?
[Paul Tople]: English, math, there were some introductions to journalism, there was several different classes available. Yeah, you could start the basic requirement classes and then come onto the campus and you could then switch to classes that would be in your major.
[Interviewer]: That’s a very interesting note, that’s new to me. Thanks for sharing that. So, did you work for the Daily Kent Stater and the Chestnut Burr as a student?
[Paul Tople]: Yes, when I came onto campus, I first got involved with the yearbook, the Chestnut Burr and, at that time, the office was in the basement of near the Administration Building on the front campus, of one of the buildings. That was our office and I worked on the yearbook. When they built Taylor Hall, we moved up here and the Kent Stater office was right next door to the Chestnut Burr office so I worked for the Chestnut Burr but I also would work on different—we were on a quarter system then—I would work for different quarters for the Daily Kent Stater. Jokingly, we called it the “Daily Can’t State It,” which was the nickname that we called the Daily Kent Stater back then.
[Interviewer]: Was that censorship issues you felt, or—
[Paul Tople]: There were certain stories that they wouldn’t publish and so that’s why they called it the “Daily Can’t State It.”
[Interviewer]: That’s a new one, too. What would you say were your prevailing attitudes among students in the spring of 1970 that you noticed?
[Paul Tople]: Well—I have somewhat a jaded perspective because I had been covering the protests from 1967 through 1970, and it seemed every fall, school would start and there would be protests in one form or another, there were protests mostly against the Vietnam War, you would have recruiters come on campus from the different universities and these would spark protests. You would have—in ‘68 and ‘9 we had racial concerns in the nation and these brought protests also. There were a core group of people that would meet in The Student Union at the time, which was near front campus. They had their own little area, it seemed like, in the cafeteria area of The Student Union that they would meet. That’s where a lot of these protests, I think, were organized and they would set up tables sometimes outside and register their protests that way or they would also have protest marches.
So it was funny, we would document these for the yearbook and whatever and they would go on a march around the campus or sometimes towards the university president’s home or whatever, but it was just to do something, it would form a march. And it was funny because we, as photographers, were always ahead of the march and I often wanted to just take a turn down a street just to see if they would follow me but I didn’t.
Anyhow, back to your question, what was the attitude, well the attitude was one of—we had had a draft in December of 1969, I believe. I think it was in ‘69. I need to check that fact, I have it here. But—and what that did is eliminate all the 2-S deferments. So, if you were going to go to Vietnam, you would have a low number, and if you weren’t going to get drafted, you usually had a number probably above 200, and that was in the back of a lot of people’s heads. In mine—say we’re thinking that this is pretty serious, so when President Nixon said, “We’re going to expand the war and go into Cambodia,” I think it just triggered everybody’s response and said, Oh no, this is going to require more people, the chances of me getting drafted is going to increase and it’s going to expand the war and this is going to last for a long time. So yeah, I think there was a fear in a lot of people’s minds that they might get drafted, but I also think there was an anger that people were saying, What are we fighting for, what is the reason for this war? People are dying and life is going on here in a normal way and what is the reason? So, I think you had anger and fear, to answer your question.
[Interviewer]: I do want to back up a moment, you mention the racial protests in 1968 and 1969, so were you here for the walkout, where there was a significant amount of Black students?
[Paul Tople]: Yes, there was a walkout and when they protest—they had the protest for—or you had a group of Black United Students, BUS, and it was very active. There was also an organization on the University of Akron campus, and it’s ironic on Saturday night or Friday night of May 2nd or 3rd, there was a Black United Students rally at the University of Akron in 1970. Yeah, so, you had both protests going on towards the end, at the same time, two different topics but they were—they’re very active.
[Interviewer]: Were you personally, politically active on campus?
[Paul Tople]: No, the only activity I could say I was involved with, was working towards my degree and photographing whatever happened—documenting.
[Interviewer]: Did you have any feelings, one way or the other, as far as the Vietnam War personally and the protests that were happening on campus?
[Paul Tople]: Towards the end, towards 1970, I, like the other students, questioned why we were there. So, this seemed like it was just—we were not committed to really winning that war and the people were dying over there for, it seemed like, a cause that wasn’t worth fighting for because they weren’t getting the support back here in the United States from the government and so, my attitude did change. It’s interesting, the different groups came on campus over the year, every spring. I said I had a jaded type of feeling about this, and we’d say it’s almost like the natives are restless in the spring, because the warmer weather would bring out the protests and they would meet in the Student Union, their homes, and organize, it seemed like, during the winter and then protest in the spring. There was kind of that feeling in 1970, here we go again, because one year it would be the Kent Liberation Front or it’d be The Weatherman or it would be the SDS or it would be—every year it just seemed like they rebranded the same group of people with a different name and they would have a protest and so that’s what I meant by my jaded attitude. We had seen this happen so many years in a row, under different names, that why was this going to be any different than anything else, you know, here we go again.
[Interviewer]: Since you were covering so much on campus with respect to the protests, did you share any of that activity, informing your family of what was taking place and did they have any reactions?
[Paul Tople]: No, and my mother, probably, if she knew how involved I was with photographing things, she would have probably tried to pull me out of the university. I don’t know. But no, I didn’t share that too much with my family and they didn’t have an opinion about that. I, at least, didn’t talk with them about it. I have two brothers and sisters, who were younger than me, I was the oldest, and I never talked about it much with them. I don’t know why, that’s a good question.
[Interviewer]: Can you recall what the environment was between Kent State University and then the City of Kent and the residents, with all that political and social activity?
[Paul Tople]: Well, the university was always the big elephant in the room and it was getting bigger and the town, economically, would suffer in the summer because the students would leave and the restaurants and all the other stuff and the bars wouldn’t have the—well, the bars maybe, they would do okay—but that wouldn’t have the support and economic gain that they would get from when the university was in session during most of the year. So, I can talk about what, in1970, if that’s what you want to know.
[Interviewer]: That’s fine.
[Paul Tople]: The university students’ protests didn’t really affect the university until the bars were closed on Friday night and the students went and broke the windows of some police cars, and they also broke the windows of several businesses. Then it became a situation where, as I will read later in this statement that I wrote for another organization, you’ll see that the mayor was concerned so much that he couldn’t handle it, and their local safety services couldn’t handle the situation and he called the governor’s office.
[Interviewer]: Were you downtown at that time?
[Paul Tople]: I was not downtown on Friday night.
[Interviewer]: So, we’ll go there then. Starting with the announcement with President Nixon, April 30th and then going up through May 4, what can you recall in the days leading up and then during the actual day of May 4th?
[Paul Tople]: I think it was just a situation where the people couldn’t believe that we’re going to escalate this war. You know, it’d been going on for several years and this just meant we were going to get in deeper. I remember there were stories in the Daily Kent Stater, I believe about this, and editorial opinions. I think, for the most part, everything was kind of negative, that we didn’t want to get involved.
[Interviewer]: So May 1st and then May 2nd, what do you remember, do you want to read—
[Paul Tople]: Can we stop for a second, yeah I don’t know—
[Paul Tople]: My name is Paul Tople and a couple weeks ago, it’s 2017, a friend asked me to talk to a book club that met at the North Canton Public Library and they were reading a new book, I believe it’s called, 67 Seconds, they wanted to have my opinion of what it was like at my campus and also I had a PowerPoint slideshow that I showed them, that went along with what I took a few minutes to write this, which was kind of a recall letter for me, of what happened and my experiences of Kent State, in 1970.
So I’m going to read from this and it says that:
It was forty-seven years ago, Kent State University was an all-American college, it was a cross between Happy Days and Animal House, and back after I had completed my freshman year at the Kent State Wadsworth extension, and there were several extensions around at different communities, around the Kent State campus that students could go to, where I took the basic courses before I came onto campus, for the courses related to my major, which was journalism with an emphasis in photojournalism. So at that time in ‘67, ‘68, it was like Happy Days, the fraternities were ruling the nest, so to speak. The Commons, which eventually where the bell was rung on May 4th, 1970, at that time, that was used for the Greek fest and all the sororities and fraternities would get together there and have parties. It was a fun time. They would have races on tricycles, they would have all kinds of different booths set up. It was just a different atmosphere and as time went on, things became more serious. But football, basketball, those were important things at that time in ‘66 and ‘67. The football games were held where the Student Union parking lot is now is where the football field was located. It was very close to campus, football was a very important part and Saturdays were great times to go to the football games. That stadium was eventually cut up and transported down Summit Road and that is part of the stadium in the end zone on the north end of the current Kent State football field. So, it was interesting.
But, I was a student and I was recently had moved into campus after attending the Wadsworth extension, Kent State, for my freshman year, as I said. I lived in Stopher Hall which was a dorm on campus. My major was journalism and I had an emphasis on photojournalism. I was a member of the Chestnut Burr staff and Daily Kent Stater newspaper and sometimes it was known as the “Daily Can’t State It,” and that’s because they were not allowed to publish certain stories for one reason or another. I also had been hired part-time at the Akron Beacon Journal to work Saturdays and Sundays, as a photographer.
The atmosphere was changing. The Vietnam War was grinding on and numerous organizations would suddenly appear in the spring with names like SDS, Kent Liberation Front, The Weatherman, and many more. They were protesting the university’s participation in the Liquid Crystal Institute on campus which was doing research for the military. Various recruiters, like Dow Chemical and others, would come on campus and their military involvement with things like—because of their military involvement with things like napalm, this caused unrest.
The Civil Rights Movement was underway and the Black Panther Party and other groups would make their voices heard. Protests were nothing new, we’d been covering them as part of the campus news coverage for years. I had been locked inside the Music and Speech Building, which was taken over by students, I’m not sure why that happened, maybe no more than a reason that the students wanted to see themselves on the 6:00 p.m. news, who knows. There would be a rally and then a march, usually. Often the news media was at the front of the marches. I always wanted to take a turn down some street to see if they would follow. Protests on campus reflected the mood of the nation, there had been a My Lai massacre in November of 1969, followed by the first draft lottery in December of 1969. Student deferments were eliminated and President Nixon announced on Thursday April 30th, 1970, that the war in Vietnam was escalating into Cambodia. All across the nation, there was unrest, and now it was in our backyard.
Which brings us to Friday May 1st. In the center of campus was a commons area with an old school bell called the Victory Bell, that would be rung after winning the different sporting events. This was the hub for all types of activity. A noon rally was scheduled and students gathered during the class changes. Protestors used bullhorns to express their concerns about the Cambodian involvement and announced that there would another rally scheduled on Monday, May 4th. The group broke up and students went back to classes.
Around midnight, downtown in Kent, the protesting continued with students, bikers, and transients, and eventually throwing beer bottles at police cars and breaking their windows and also starting some fires in the streets. Business windows were later broken. With the help of county police departments and the city police department, the crowd was brought under control. Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declares a state of emergency and he calls Governor James Rhodes for assistance because he didn’t feel that his safety forces could handle this situation. All the bars were closed, fueling the fire even more, and tear gas was used by the police department to help bring the crowds under control.
Then we moved to Saturday, May 2nd. There were rumors of revolutionaries that were on the Kent State campus and they were in Kent to destroy the city and the university, this is also mentioned in the James Michener, Kent State book, I don’t remember hearing these rumors, but apparently they talked to someone who had. Mayor Satrom met with city officials, together they asked Governor Rhodes to send in the National Guard because they didn’t think they could handle the situation. This was about 5:00 p.m. on Saturday evening. The Guard will eventually arrive around 10:00 p.m. I came back to the university after working at the Akron Beacon Journal on that Saturday day and I thought, I just better take a look and see how things are going because I wasn’t sure that there was going to be any more protests, but I wanted to take a look. I parked in the Taylor Hall parking lot and I saw a group of people gathered on The Commons below. Maybe forty to sixty people. I met a fellow photographer, Dick Swede, who worked for the Record-Courier, both for Kent and Ravenna. He walked toward the group of students and started taking flash photos of the students. He was yelled at and eventually chased away. They saw me coming with my camera and they started to come after me and I told them I wasn’t there to take their photos, I was just here to report what was happening, and I don’t know why, but they believed me and they left me alone.
Changing—started to occur in the group, the group continued to grow in size and, finally, I saw a person with a light-colored jacket run towards the ROTC Building, which is the Reserve Officer Training Corp group of buildings on campus near The Commons, and he threw what looked like a railroad flare or a flaming rag into one of the windows and a fire started in that room and the drapes caught on fire and eventually spread to the rest of the building. The Kent Fire Department finally arrived and the students made it very difficult for them to fight the fire. They threw rocks at the fire department and, reportedly, cut some of their hoses—I didn’t see this, but that supposedly happened. And finally, the fire department left because they couldn’t continue to fight fire without the water and they didn’t want to be in danger. The students then went to the other side of The Commons to an archery shed under a tree and they set the archery shed on fire, which eventually spread up the tree and caused the tree to be burned. I don’t know why they did this. It was about 10:00 p.m. and the National Guard arrived on campus in full riot gear, led by an armored personnel carrier. General Del Corso and Robert Canterbury led them. The Kent Police arrived and the Guard fired tear gas at the crowd to disperse them. The Kent Fire Department came back and continued to fight the fire but, at this time, the building was almost fully involved and it was almost useless to fight that fire. Also, around this time, twenty Ohio State Patrolmen arrived in full riot gear and they were there, as I understand, to guard the university president’s house, and it was my personal opinion that these people were trained in riot control, why weren’t they used? But, who knows. I took a photograph of this group of Ohio State Patrolmen, they had shields, they had helmets, and they nightsticks, they could have broken up the crowd because that’s what they knew how to do. Arrests were made and the group disappeared into the night.
That leads us to Sunday, May 3rd. Governor James Rhodes made an appearance at the charred ruins on the ROTC campus. I was again working for the Akron Beacon Journal, it was Sunday morning, so I was there to cover his visit to the campus and then he called a press conference in the Kent Fire Station and I went down and covered that. This was an election year. He compared the protestors to Brownshirts, vigilantes, and Night Riders. He made the impression that he would ask for Martial Law, and this never really happened, but that was what he tried to say. Kent Mayor Satrom orders a curfew until further notice that evening. So, it was around 8:00 p.m. and another rally forms on The Commons on Sunday night. The Guard drives the group off The Commons and they head to the intersection of Lincoln and Main Street on front campus. They sit down on the road and block traffic on Route 59. They want to meet with the Kent mayor and the University President Robert White. This never happens, and it was a strange situation because helicopters were flying overhead and they had searchlights and the searchlights would—it was kind of an Orwellian atmosphere—shined the lights on the crowd and up and down the different streets near the university. The curfew was changed from 1:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and the Guards, students, were at odds for two hours while they were waiting for the president and the mayor to show up. And finally, the Guard advanced to drive the students back into the dorms and out of the intersections. Several students were reportedly hurt by the bayonets. I saw one situation, the Guard didn’t intentionally, I think, try and use their bayonets to hurt these people. They used the bayonets to kind of move the people. I saw one of the Guardsmen just use his rifle and bayonet behind him to scoot them to the side, and, of course, the bayonets are sharp and I could see how maybe somebody did get cut, but it wasn’t an intentional movement that I could see, to hurt the students with the bayonets. I followed the Guard, I was probably the only photographer to move with the Guard at the time, after they dispersed. The Guard went around the campus, we came down by the freshmen dorms and they wanted to make sure that the students were back in their dorms and the campus was secure. And then after that, I will again say I was the only media, it seemed like. At the time, I was back to being a student because my day at the Beacon Journal was over.
The Guard met on the practice field below Taylor Hall. At that time, I heard something which may have been an omen for Monday, I don’t know. But the Guard was gathered and one of the Guard leaders, I’m not sure who it was, it was totally pitch dark, and I heard them say, “You’re not following my commands, you’re moving ahead on my flanks, as we move down the streets, you’re not watching me, you’re not listening to me like you should,” and the Guardsmen were told then that they needed to pay more attention to their leaders. I was there and I heard that. You have to understand what these Guardsmen were doing, they were pulled off a truckers’ strike that had been going on, they probably were tired, but also they were weekend warriors. Most of the people in the Guard joined the Guard so they didn’t go to Vietnam and they would attend their meetings and the lot of them would throw their uniforms in the back of their trunks and put them on again, when they went to the meeting a month later. It was kind of a casual situation, so I can’t say the Guardsmen were really fully trained to handle a situation like was on the campus.
[Interviewer]: Where were you positioned when you heard that statement?
[Paul Tople]: I was right in the group—I was standing right next to them. I didn’t take any pictures of them, I just stood there and I listened.
[Paul Tople continues to read his prepared statement:]
This brings us to Monday, May 4th. The Victory Bell is rung at noon. I’m in Taylor Hall in the Chestnut Burr office and you can hear the bell ringing outside Taylor Hall. Students start to gather and they’re told to disperse. National Guard companies A and C of the first 141st Infantry and Troop G of the second 107th Armored Cavalry are on—around the university in force and the Ohio State Patrol is here. Kent [State University] Patrolman, Harold Rice, rode around in an open jeep with a bullhorn telling the students to leave The Commons, or face arrest.
Probably about eight years ago or maybe five years ago, it was during the time of May 4th, we were doing different stories, we interviewed Harold Rice. And I asked him, “Why were you in the jeep?” And he says, “Oh, that’s really easy. I had a broken leg,” and he says, “I couldn’t do anything else, so my commander said, ‘You ride the jeep’.” So, that’s why he was in the jeep and he used the bullhorn to tell the students to disperse. Rocks were thrown at Harold Rice and other Guardsmen. The Guardsmen then responded with pepper and tear gas. Students would pick up and return these volleys and throw them back at the Guardsmen. And all this is happening on The Commons area. In the background, was a charred and burned ROTC building.
Seventy-seven National Guard troops from Company A and Troop G with fixed bayonets and M1 rifles with live, thirty-caliber ammunition advanced and drove the groups up Blanket Hill and around the ends of Taylor Hall. Eventually, they ended up on the practice field and they held their position. Students gathered near Taylor Hall and on the parking lot next to the practice field. There were other students just walking between classes because, once again, this was a class change time. Some protestors threw rocks at the Guard on the practice field, but they were almost 300—at least 300 feet away from the closest student, so I can’t say that the Guardsmen were really in any danger, but they were also in a kneeling position and they were aiming their rifles at the students, at that time, on the practice field, they could have fired then—and you can see that in some of the photographs.
Finally, the Guard headed back up the hill towards Taylor Hall, they fired pepper gas and tear gas and again these canisters were thrown back at the Guardsmen. As they approached the pagoda at the top of the hill near Taylor Hall, the students continued to follow behind them, but once again I didn’t see any students really close to them. Again, they were probably at least 100 yards or less, not too much less, from the closest Guardsmen.
At 12:24 p.m., the Guard turned around and opened fire in direction of the parking lot and practice field for thirteen seconds. At least twenty-nine rounds of the seventy-seven Guardsmen claimed to have fired sixty-seven rounds. And really, that’s not many, if you took that many Guardsmen with eight clips, a clip of at least eight bullets in each gun, there could have been a lot more had they all fired, and it would have been a really big massacre on campus because there was a lot of ammunition up there in their guns on the hill. Four students were killed, nine were wounded. Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller were participating in the protests, they died. Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder were walking between classes. Schroeder was a member of the ROTC. They died also. The thirty-caliber ammunition went through trees and pierced the Don Drumm sculpture called the Solar Totem #1. Ambulances came and eventually took the students away. This is before we had EMS and paramedics, and many of the ambulances came from funeral homes or private ambulance companies. It took a while to have the ambulance arrive on campus.
The Guard turned and they left. The group of the students after the students had been taken away, a group of students moved to the south side of Taylor Hall, where Professor Frank told the students that enough people had died that day and the students should go home because the university was closed. After that the students left.
It was interesting, the quarter was not over. Students still had, I believe, two or three weeks left before the quarter was over, so to finish our classes we met with the university professors in their homes or we corresponded with them, or different means were used so that people could complete their degrees. It was kind of interesting to go through that. I eventually graduated from Kent State University in December of 1970 and was hired full time at the Akron Beacon Journal where I worked for forty-two years as a staff photographer and retired in 2013.
[Interviewer]: Thank you for that statement. Since so much time has passed since then, do you think your views of May 4 have evolved over time?
[Paul Tople]: Have what?
[Interviewer]: Have evolved over time, your views of May 4?
[Paul Tople]: Well, yes forty-seven years is a long time to remember what took place then, but you have to remember that that was a traumatic experience. A lot of those things that happened—that experience has reinforced their memory in my mind. While maybe I may have some of the details are not totally accurate, or maybe shaved off of what actually happened. I think for the most part, my memory is pretty clear about what happened that day.
[Interviewer]: Well, if there isn’t anything else you would like to add to the interview, we can conclude at this time.
[Paul Tople]: I think that, unfortunately, the death of the four students on our campus and eventually the deaths that the university in Alabama—?
[Interviewer]: At Jackson State.
[Paul Tople]: Jackson State. I think a combination of these things help bring it in to the war in Vietnam. I think it speeded it up and people realized, oh my gosh, this is happening here, this war has to come to an end, and it did.
[Interviewer]: Well thank you very much, Mr. Tople, for sharing your account with us today.
[Paul Tople]: Thank you.
Student at Kent State University in 1970
|Date of Interview||
Paul Tople was an undergraduate student studying photojournalism at Kent State University in 1970. He started as a freshman in 1966 and worked for the student newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater as well as the yearbook, the Chestnut Burr. He discusses campus unrest during that time and the rallies and marches that he covered as a student journalist. Mr. Tople then reads from a prepared statement in which he details the events he witnessed May 1-4, 1970, including witnessing the ROTC Building being set on fire and the sit-in that took place on the street near front campus Sunday night, May 3. He concludes with his eyewitness account of the shootings on May 4.
|Length of Interview||
|Time Period discussed||
Akron Beacon Journal
Daily Kent Stater
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970
Kent State University. ROTC Building--Fires
Kent State University. Taylor Hall
Ohio State Highway Patrol
Ohio. Army National Guard
Photojournalism--Study and teaching
Tear gas munitions
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
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