SEARCH UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES
James and Paula Banks, Oral History
Recorded: April 21, 2020
Interviewed by Kathleen Siebert Medicus
Transcribed by Kathleen Siebert Medicus
[Interviewer]: This is Kathleen Siebert Medicus speaking on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 from my home office in Kent, Ohio. As part of the May 4 Kent State Shootings Oral History Project, we are recording this interview over the telephone. Could you please state your names for the recording?
[James Banks]: James Banks.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Paula Hewitt Banks.
[Interviewer]: Thank you very much. I want to thank you both for joining me here today, really appreciate your participating in the Kent State Shootings Oral History Project. If we could begin with some really brief biographical information about your backgrounds. Could you tell us where you were both born, where you grew up?
[James Banks]: Yes, I was born in Gary, Indiana, February 14, 1940. Undergraduate was Purdue University, where I met Paula. We moved to Medina in December of 1962 because I had just been named as a high school teacher beginning January in Medina High School, teaching government and economics. So, I started there in January 1963 and, by 1965, I basically quit and got a part-time job, started commuting to Kent, and finished my master’s degree, my M.A. in History at Kent State University. And then found a position at Cuyahoga Community College, the Western Campus, and joined them in September of 1966 and have been there ever since, with the exception of two sabbaticals and completing my PhD then in the period from 1968 to 1970 as dorm director, or Wright Hall director. Completing my doctoral dissertation in the summer of 1970.
[Interviewer]: Okay. And Paula?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: As he said, we met at Purdue University. I grew up in a small community, northwest Indiana, called Koontz Lake. I completed two years at Purdue and, when we married and moved mid-year to Medina, at that time, there was a shortage of elementary teachers in Medina and the county school superintendent contacted me to see if I would be interested in teaching. And I did not feel that I was equipped to do that, so I started courses at Kent and commuted for a year. And then, I did accept a second-grade teaching license at Brunswick, Ohio, on the cadet program. And I worked those years teaching, 1964 to 1967, going to summer school and going to take classes in the evening. And then, when we moved to Kent, it was in mind that I would finish my degree in education there. And I did in the summer of 1970.
[Interviewer]: So, you were both, from the fall of ’68 through summer 1970, students at Kent State and you were Resident Director in Wright Hall the whole time, is that correct?
[James Banks]: Yes, correct.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Yes. Well, in Tri-Towers. In the summer, we were in charge of Leebrick Hall, but then in the fall moved back to Wright Hall, the men’s dorm.
[Interviewer]: Okay. So, from there, maybe if you could talk about some of your experiences as Resident Director and what the mood on campus was like, things that you were seeing happening, 1968-1969, for example?
[James Banks]: Well, I think the summer of ’68 and, most historians know this, but the accumulating events from January of 1968, beginning with the Tet Offensive and the double assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and then the Chicago convention, was just an enormous load to try to digest. And then we did have, or I did have, a number of meetings with Residence Halls staff, probably in the early part of August as we were preparing to start the new academic year. But I don’t think anyone in the Residence Halls leadership had any idea what was about to happen. And, when I say what was about to happen, and that was later on, in the fall of ’68, when the Oakland, California, Police Department was recruiting on campus. I was not aware of the raid in Oakland and the shooting up of the Black Panther headquarters. But that triggered, as you know, a major walkout, engineered by BUS, Black United Students, of a walkout in the fall, October-November, I guess, of 1968.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: My impression, first of all, our dorms were not finished when we moved in. And so, there was plaster walls and, if you brushed up against them, you would get the white, you know, dust-type thing on your shoulders. There were boxes and furniture and rolls of carpet which quickly walked out the door. Then, the carpet wasn’t down. So, we had students moving in, parents looking at these conditions and the housing, Residence Hall Department, was concerned with getting the building finished, getting people in, and it didn’t seem that—in my opinion, they were very concerned in their world, which did not include the outside world. And so, I think that when students started protesting and behaviors like that, they were shocked because they were still in nuts and bolts of running a building, getting it finished, getting it painted, this type of thing. So, it seemed to be a big disconnection from living in the world and living in the dorm.
[Interviewer]: Do you have any other memories of specific protests or incidents from that time?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Well, one of the first things, of course, David was still a little wobbly and we would take walks around the campus and I was exploring the areas and where I needed to walk to class and things like that. Jim and I had set up our schedule so, obviously, one of us was with him at all times. But, as we were walking around the hill outside our dormitory, all of a sudden, a bunch of girls from the girls’ dorm came running over the hill shouting, “Panty Raid!” And these guys are flinging their jockey shorts out the window! David [unintelligible] went to pick them up. And I’m thinking, oh my gosh, all the problems that—they’re boys, clean underwear, and they’re flinging them out the window. David and I took a walk in another direction. I just was ironic to me. And it was in fun.
[James Banks]: Well, and just little things: we didn’t have any drapes. Our apartment on the ground floor of Wright Hall and, underneath there, is a portico where you can park your bikes, motorcycles and you also had a door, you could go right outside. Of course, people were continually trying to come in, so I finally put a big sign, “Private.”
But, here’s the great one. We had a tour of the building by Head of Plant Operations and, in the stairwell, again Wright Hall, ten floors. You have the elevator, of course. I noticed a four-inch standpipe going all the way up with a big wheel and threaded, but no cap. And I pointed it out to Tom, I said, “Look, that standpipe is not capped.” He said, “Well, there’s nothing in it.” “Okay, well, you know the building.” So, I don’t know, a few days went by. Now, you have to understand, our bedroom wall was at the end of our apartment and faced the stairwell, so you could hear beer cans being dropped because the game would be to drop a beer can from the tenth floor and see if you could make it all the way down, dodging the railings, and score a point in the trash bin at the bottom of the basement.
Well, one morning, I don’t know, 2:00-3:00 a.m.—that’s another thing, we never actually settled into bed until well after midnight because we knew there would be a call or somebody that got locked out, or—you understand, I had a master key, so I could [unintelligible] every room on Wright Hall. And also, people have to understand that the operative law at that time, throughout the state of Ohio, was in loco parentis. So, in effect, I had the authority to go into rooms without a search warrant or, you know—in loco parentis. Anyway, here’s the point. At about two o’clock, or sometime in the morning, I hear, “Pssssssshhhhhhhhh!” I said, “Paula, you know that what that is?!” I raced out, went over through the lobby, opened the door of the stairwell, and cascading down the stairs was a small waterfall of water pouring out of the standpipe. So, I called Plant Ops immediately. And I said, “Tom, you know that standpipe that you said was capped? Well, it isn’t and there’s water in it!”
That was—again, that’s all ’68, ’69 and then the issue that got very political as we move into, after the Black—BUS walkout, was I think February, March possibly, the so-called Speech and Music break-in over due process and charter of the local chapter of SDS. And there was a real violation of due process which really agitated many of the more, shall we say, apolitical students, because clubs and organizations had to be officially approved by the university. So, what we now call the Speech and Music break-in, I think, galvanized a lot of, shall we say, apolitical students by the end of academic year 1969.
Now, I’m going to give you an incredibly important quote and Paula will want to comment on this. So, we’ll begin the discussion at what is May, probably May early June 1969, she’ll tell you something, on bended knee practically, and I’ll give you my comments. So, Paula, you—
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Well, but another thing leading up to this: Jim, of course, since our dorm was the headquarters of many of the protests, I would be downstairs in our apartment and, at one of the protests, there had been a Black student dance on campus and we’d had an incident on the eighth floor. So, most of the people who were at the dance came directly to our dorm and Jim was upstairs trying to cool tempers and, luckily, he had made friends with some of the leaders of our dorm and the Black men in our dorm. But, the people who didn’t know us were pounding on the walls in our apartment and at the windows of our apartment. By that time, we had drapes and they were all closed, but it was very scary, you know. David slept through everything, he learned to sleep through lots of noise. But, you know, I’m worried, my husband’s up there, I don’t know what’s going on, it sounds very scary from where I was.
[James Banks]: “Paula, listen, the worst of this is over. We’ve been through a lot. What could possibly be worse than the end of this year, 1969? Please, I’m halfway there, it can’t get any worse.”
Boy you have a—Paula reminded me now of the incident on the eighth floor. You see, you had rooms with four in a room and two in a room. And the policy by the Residence Halls staff was no room changes for “x” number of weeks and you could never issue a room change based on race, ethnicity, or, you know. So, you had to have to have almost written evidence from a physician why you need a room change. So, that was a policy that was handed down by the Residence Halls. So, we did have, on the top five floors, four to a room and then, I think, maybe two to a room on the lower floors. Anyway, the incident that Paula is referring to was a so-called gassing incident on the eighth floor. I don’t think that actually happened. But, anyway, the bottom line is very late one night, I don’t remember the month, might have been…
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: March or April.
[James Banks]: Yeah. But anyway, the Black community was very sensitized after the BUS walkout. And there was a Black fraternity that heard there was an incident at Wright Hall on the eighth floor, and so I went up there and each floor had a small lounge and it was totally packed with BUS and they were quite agitated. A couple of campus police were there and, I think, I vaguely remember seeing, in the background of this crowd, David Ambler. David Ambler was a remarkable individual and basically head, I think, of the residence hall system at Kent State. But, the point is, the student in question wanted to know who did what to who and, of course, they’re demanding answers. And, of course, I have a key, master key. So, I brought, it happened to be a white student who was a witness to the event, whatever the event was. We were never really sure. The Black students were quite agitated, I remember they kept saying, “Bring the dude out! Bring the dude out!” Well, I said, “Okay, I’ll bring the dude out, but I’m not going to have this kind of attitude.” And the police were just in the background with their fingers crossed, hope this will go away.
So, I brought the student out, sat him down, he’s surrounded by, you know, essentially fifty or sixty members of a Black fraternity and their dates, a sorority, what have you. And, I said, “What did you see?” Well, he described what he saw, something over a water fountain. And somebody got squirted with water, or, anyway. And I said, “Okay, I promised the assembled crowd that I will do my best to find out what happened and who is responsible and exactly what happened.” And there was some student, Black student, from the back of the crowd, “High noon tomorrow!” And I said, “Well, it’s now about 2:00 or midnight, that doesn’t give me much time, but I promise I will get back in touch with you if I—you know, I will learn—so, I’m buying time. Well, of course, things calm down, I never did find out who did what to who and whatever. It was just these sporadic, intense, emotional showdowns that would interrupt that would interrupt your, quote, “normal day.” But then you got used to it.
I remember one time we were on a stakeout. I had all the graduate students with their doors open watching for a drug buy. We didn’t know where it was going to happen but, we were alerted by Campus Police there was going to be a drug buy and so, you know, not that it was obvious every graduate student’s door was open that looked down the hallway, that never happens. Nothing happened. Then another bizarre incident, again, I don’t know, one or two o’clock in the morning, I get a call from Campus Police, this is all ’68-’69, there’s a runaway and, the Campus Police said, “Mr. Banks, is this you?” “Yes, yes.” “Did I wake you?” I said, “Oh, no, I had to get up to answer the phone, you know, at two o’clock in the morning.” He said, “We have a report of a runaway and she might be in Wright Hall.” And I said, “Well, do you know where?” “Well, we don’t know, maybe on one of the floors.” “Well, can you give me more information?” “No, we can’t. She might be on the sixth floor.” I said, “Well, do you want me to go up and find her?” “Oh, no, no, don’t do that.”
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: “You might wake them up!”
[James Banks]: Yeah, you might. I said, “Okay.” I’m dealing with Barney Fife, I don’t know. But don’t—strike that—he said “No, no.” Anyway, so it really is intermittent fear, terror, trauma, life, death, comedy of errors, and then Paula, rightly says, “Please, let’s leave here.” And then, that’s how we ended 1969.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Well, just think of it. Most of the students in the dormitory were freshmen and sophomores. By the time a student was a junior or a senior, they were usually living off campus. So, I mean, you’re surrounded by 1,500 teenagers! And if you’ve raised teenagers, which we hadn’t at that time, it can be very mercurial, they’re mellow and happy one minute and the next—
[James Banks]: Well, Paula makes a very good statement. But now, we’ve got about 500 adolescent males in Wright Hall. Anybody that’s studied psychology or sociology knows something about the adolescent male. At the age of eighteen and nineteen their brain isn’t fully developed and, you know, it could lead to—
Oh, I must tell you this, this is a bizarre aspect and I don’t know the actual date of this, but as the protests were beginning to heat up, we were instructed by Residence Halls leadership not to engage in any debate or discussions because The Pit were just a perfect congregating area for a small town of 1,500 students all confined in three dorms because of their meals and their location, recreation area. We had a bear blast there, we had, you know, a lot of social events. But we were told as Resident Directors, and that was including the staff, not to engage in debate or discussion. I thought that was bizarre, here I am, a history major, and perhaps it could be an actual learning experience.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Our normal routine after the evening meal, the three of us would be down in The Pit talking with students. David got to run around, he liked climbing up the—there was like a three-step ladder, up and down.
[Interviewer]: I think we should introduce to the listener who David is.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: David is our son and he was ten months old when we moved in. And he aged amazingly, he enjoyed playing with the students and they’d play peek-a-boo. And then he had a plastic rabbit with wheels on it and wore the popcorn popper as a helmet [unintelligible] because he saw the motorcycles parked outside our apartment and he loved motorcycles. He still does, he’s fifty-one and he still does! But he would be playing there and so we got to know a lot of students that way.
[James Banks]: That’s when we met Sandy—
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: And that’s when Sandy Scheuer was in Koontz Hall, the girls’ dorm equivalent of ours. And that’s how we met her. And she became one of his babysitters when Jim and I couldn’t arrange our schedules compatibly.
[Interviewer]: Quick question about—did the administration or your supervisor give you any reason or rationale why you were discouraged from engaging with students about political discussions or, you know, rap sessions, things like that? Why? Did they say?
[James Banks]: Well, I don’t know that any of us pursued it. I was pretty close to Bill Fitzgerald and Anita, they ran Johnson Hall and our coordinator, the first year, was Ray Bayh and his wife lived in Leebrick [Hall]. And Ray was kind of known as coordinator and so as—hang on.
Anyway, my train of thought got jumbled and we got a phone call. But anyway, we’re carrying on here with the interview. The explanation was that this would only escalate the confrontation. Again, I don’t know why that was because, again, I’m in touch with my graduate committee and, you know, trying to understand that this would be a place to maybe engage in some discussion of learning about the Vietnam War and race in America. But I just think that the leadership of the Residence Hall executive—the leadership of the Residence Hall community was trying to figure out, as we were trying to figure out, what’s going on and what can we do. I think a fair assessment would be, it only takes a tiny minority, fifty, sixty, eighty, a hundred students, you know, who are living either in the dorms or have proximity to the campus, to really create a confrontation. Because it was always, I think, a minority movement in terms of sheer numbers.
I remember one of the funniest things regarding race was the young student Lafayette Tolliver. Tolliver was a very bright guy, very quiet, did not affect a dashiki or afro, maybe he wore a dashiki once in a while, but did not have an exploding afro. But, one time, he was wearing a sign made out of cardboard, tied with string around his neck, this could have been the summer of ’69. And it said, “See me about tanning lessons.” I just thought that was remarkably humorous as well as ironic. And I now know that Lafayette Tolliver is an attorney in Toledo, Ohio. That’s all I have to tell you about that. But, you probably have some more specific questions.
[Interviewer]: One thing I’m curious about, if you could share with us, what kind of person Sandy was, her relationship with your son, anything you could tell us about what it was like to know Sandy Scheuer.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]; Well, she was just sort of like the stereotype All-American girl, you always saw her with a smile on her face. I’m not sure what her studies were, but she was very interested in David and what he was learning and doing and what he could recite and different things like that. And one year, the first year, Halloween, I made a Christmas tree outfit for him out of a pillowcase and I just printed it like a Pillsbury flour sack, so he had his arms and head out, but [unintelligible] on the floor. And so, she took him around for trick-or-treat at her dorm. And whenever she came to sit, which, we didn’t use sitters a lot, she always had something for him to play with or something for him that she would read to him. She was just a sweetheart.
[Interviewer]: David must have loved her as his sitter. Do you have any other memories of Lafayette Tolliver, he was living in Wright Hall at the time?
[James Banks]: Well, again, Lafayette Tolliver was part of the leadership of BUS. I think he may have been in Wright Hall for the full twenty-four months that we were there. In the case of Sandy Scheuer, she left, I think, by the end of 1969 and lived off campus. The same thing could be said, perhaps, of Bob Pickett, that was the president of BUS. I did not stay in touch with Bob Pickett other than that period in October-November ’69 or ’68-’69 and he may have moved off campus. But, there were also others in the BUS leadership that were on ROTC scholarships and I do remember one in particular. I can’t give you his name, I just don’t remember, I can see him and we talked frequently. And he was conservative in the sense that he didn’t want a police record or any arrests or any incidents associated with his scholarship as an ROTC student. So, even though he was a member, perhaps of—not only a member of BUS but possibly in a leadership position, he did not take the visible, overt role.
Another interesting thing from a political and social point of view is, that when things got really nasty politically, leading up to May 4, you didn’t see anybody from BUS prominent. I think they knew, as a Black community, that you start messing with The Man, you’re going to wind up dead. That’s a very clear impression I got. So, the Black community at Kent State University was very savvy about who you quarrel with because, as they always say, The Man has got the guns and the power and we don’t want to be part of that. I think the real core of anti-war protests were now warming up to the issue, of course, of the burning of the ROTC Building and the confrontation over the War in Vietnam. I think it was noticeably white, upper-middle-class kids, many from out of Ohio, maybe New York state and other areas. But, that’s just my aside of the, shall we call it, the socioeconomic makeup of the protest movement at Kent State University as we get—approach the showdown, April in 1970.
[Interviewer]: Where would you like to pick up with your memories from there? You mentioned in your outline fall of 1969 was relatively calm. Do you have any memories from fall of ’69?
[James Banks]: Well, no, just what we’ve said about the Black student walkout in ’69—or ’68, excuse me, fall of ’68. That was the first thing, the BUS walkout, 600 students gone from the campus. It was a front-page story everywhere. Time Magazine ran it. And then, by the time we get to the spring of ’69, there’s the procedural question of the, for lack of a better word, the Speech and Music break-in, because that’s when the student court, or the hearing was being held about the charter of SDS and the Kent Committee to End the War in Vietnam and other associated groups. By the time we get into ’69, you know, we think we’re through the worst of it.
[Interviewer]: And you convinced Paula to stay.
[James Banks]: Just to fast forward, what really set it off was Friday night. May 1. 75 degrees. Downtown Water Street. Cavaliers basketball team might be winning, you know, a berth in the playoffs, possibly.
[Interviewer]: Oh, I’ve never heard anyone mention that also happening, oh my gosh.
[James Banks]: So, Friday. But you have to understand also that Nixon, on Thursday, April 30, had just suddenly widened the war—about the incursion into Cambodia to shorten the war. And remember, Nixon had been elected in 1968, that he had a secret plan to end the war which nobody would discuss. So, April 30, the President—network just launched—I think he chose his words very wisely. An incursion, kind of a surgical invasion to capture weapons and stop the infiltration from Cambodia into the war in Vietnam. Which immediately became, “You just widened the war!” Now, April 30, then May 1, Friday night, downtown Water Street and what, the motorcycle gang from Youngstown—
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: That was a rumor that they were coming, wasn’t it?
[James Banks]: No, no, Friday night was just, you know, Water Street and—
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Well, Friday nights were students-blow-off-steam-nights on Water Street and they could drink beer and that was the normal habit along with the basketball game. And then, when did the Governor come to make his speech?
[James Banks]: Well, that’s Sunday because what happened Friday night was, with the chosen few and the motorcycle gangs, what have you, doing tricks—we’re not aware of any of that, but Saturday morning I was called, an emergency meeting with all Residence Hall staff because the City of Kent was very alarmed. Mayor Satrom, Mayor of Kent was aware that windows were broken, vandalism, students running amok downtown, maybe destroying the city—called the Governor, got panicky. We were called then, Saturday morning about what had happened in downtown Kent. We didn’t know anything about it, of course, I can’t even give you [unintelligible]—any Tri-Towers or Wright Hall students were involved in it, I don’t. But, it really set off a great alarm among the Residence Hall leadership.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Well, and I’d also like to comment that the Governor was in a tight race for the Senate seat. So, he was running in the primary against Robert Taft—Seth Taft. And he wanted to look strong and in control, but he never came to campus. He gave his Brownshirt [speech]—no, that was the Vice President. But anyway, students were on the target for most politicians because of the protests against the war.
[James Banks]: Actually, we had left campus Saturday because, again, if anybody knew the general pattern of Kent State during this time, many students would go home on Friday, they were within maybe fifty or eighty or a hundred mile radius of the campus, so they would go home. And then, it was Saturday night, we came back, and we heard on the radio that an ROTC building was on fire. And I just said, “Oh my God.” It just, you know. Back to the dorm and everybody was very excited about the fire, of course, we were going to our apartment and I just remember one student very vividly, like, you know, freaked out. I saw him, he was running around trying to get some friends to go to—I don’t know what he was—anyway, I just remember his words. He said, “Man, the revolution has begun!” And I said, “Man, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s Saturday night.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: And ironically, that Saturday we were in Medina in the process of buying a house. We go from quote “a normal life” to a revolution. Quite a stark contrast!
[Interviewer]: I’m curious, Thursday when Nixon made the announcement and it was televised, were you in the common area, The Pit, with students while that announcement was happening? Were you with students or did you see how students reacted to that?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Yes, not while it was happening, but they were all quite [unintelligible] and that was the talk in The Pit area, students were quite concerned about the escalation of the war.
[James Banks]: Well, some [unintelligible] and I think Michener—oh, Thursday, April 30.
[Interviewer]: Yeah, the immediate reaction to Nixon’s announcement among students, just curious.
[James Banks]: I think that’s more of a national flashpoint, but it did immediately begin to mobilize Ohio State and many universities across the United States on a protest. So, by the end of April 30-May 1, hundreds of universities were shut down either in protest against Nixon and the widening of the war, which did have a ripple effect, I think, by the time you get to Saturday night and the burning of the ROTC Building. That was a very, again I did not witness that, but Bill and Anita Fitzgerald in Johnson Hall which, I think, geographically, was closer to the ROTC Building, a wooden building. It was a very amateurish attempt to burn down the building, using railroad flares or other kinds of igniters and I think, I’m not sure, I’m just repeating what I’ve heard, that the Kent City Fire Department came out trying to put it out, were either harassed and students were trying to cut the hose, which I don’t think happened, because the hoses are very—you know, students don’t carry machetes and saws to do things like that.
That was the incident that caused the lockdown and the occupation—that’s a good word, I think—military occupation of Kent State University. Because when students then started coming back Sunday, they saw every entrance roadway blocked with armored personnel carriers, Ohio National Guard with M1 rifles, in full uniform, checking people in and out as students are now amazed that the university is being occupied. And then, we fast forward to Sunday night and there is the confrontation at what was called Prentice Gate. And the use of helicopters and tear gas to drive the students off the Kent City street of—I can’t remember the two streets, but anyway, at the so-called Prentice Gate.
We had been, then, told earlier in the day, should there be any incidents, and then it was repeated again, I think, over some kind of network, I can’t remember, but we were only to allow students of our dorm back in. As if, somehow, you’re going to interview hundreds of students fleeing in different directions trying to find shelter because, with the helicopters, pretty terrifying sight, sound of a Huey helicopter and its rotors and the high-powered spotlights on the ground. You know, who knows what’s going to happen? And so, there were some Student Marshals, they had yellow or white bandanas on, trying to help. The university staff corralled students back, but we were told, only admit students in your dorm. Well, are we going to stand there and block entrances? That’s insane.
And then, this is where things really get bizarre. This is the big moment, I think, in terms of what I would describe as a surreal and totally bizarre incident. It now must be eleven or twelve o’clock at night and a Student Marshal said, very concerned, “Oh, Mr. Banks, Mr. Banks,” they called me that. He said, “the National Guard is outside, the soldiers are outside!” I said, “No, you’ve got to be kidding.” So, I went outside and, sure enough, standing right in front of Wright Hall, between Wright and Korb [Hall], which is the women’s dorm, there are fifteen or twenty soldiers lined up, very nice, at attention. I go out and, up in the window, in one of the dorms of Wright Hall, a speaker is put in the window and they’re playing the Mickey Mouse Club song.
So, that was Sunday night, midnight, May 3.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: I would also like to note that the Guardsmen were around the same age as the students. They had been hauled from a truckers’ strike in Akron where they had been shot at and pulled from there to Kent. So, we had nervous, scared young men on both sides of this issue. And Jim is more kind about the university leadership than I am. I don’t feel that, definitely the leadership of the Guard, I don’t think the leadership presented by the Governor at the time, and I don’t think the leadership of the campus existed, or it certainly didn’t exist in an area where we could see any direction or any plan. So, I will turn this back to Jim.
[James Banks]: Paula makes a very good point about all that. I think rhetoric and inflamed speech is very important. I should mention Paula is a speech—has a master’s degree in communication. But I just remember what Rhodes said when he was at the Fire Department in downtown Kent, and I think this is a fairly accurate quote, when he was in that tight race with Seth Taft, in the Ohio primary, which was on Tuesday, May 5. This is a quote attributed to Governor Rhodes, “We are going to eradicate the problem. We’re not going to treat the symptoms.” So, that kind of rhetoric, Sunday at twelve o’clock noon, at a press conference, I think suggests that certain leaders, certainly in the military, or in the Governor, or in that entourage, would maybe act irrationally using helicopters and tear gas to force students back on campus.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: A lack of leadership and the lack of communication through the university was very apparent. Faculty, some faculty, were saying one thing and some were saying another thing. There was obviously no directive as to what to do. And never decided that we should lock our dorms and you have hundreds of kids trying to get in all these various entrances. Kids are being gassed and we’re going to say, “Oh no, you have to go down a couple blocks down to your dorm.” I mean, that is not realistic.
[Interviewer]: I’m curious, on Sunday during the day, Sunday before that incident that James, you talked about at 11:00 pm, was there a smaller Guard presence throughout the day, sort of guarding the driveway.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Yes, there were students who put flowers in the Guard’s rifle barrels and it was a beautiful spring day and it seemed like everything was going to be calm and okay, till that night.
[James Banks]: You know, Michener’s book is very controversial. I was struck by the fact that it’s not even included in your bibliography of resources in Special Collections, but that’s an issue for another time. But I do think Michener captured that Sunday in his term, “carnival” because the weather was good and there was clear, clear fraternization between students and National Guard Sunday during the day. Things grew ugly at night and eventually tragic with the National Guard outside Wright Hall trying to “put boys to bed.”
When Monday dawns, Monday, May 4, Paula is off, she’ll tell you where she was.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: I had a class in Taylor Hall first thing in the morning. And that’s—many classes were cancelled. I went to my class, there was a bomb threat in the building and my professor said, “We are having class and if we die, we die learning!” So, that was not a real happy hour for me. But, again, these are the classes I need to graduate in June. So, the practical sort of overtook fear. Then, right after my class, I got David and drove off campus to a friend’s house. They had been in the dorms and her husband had taken their two children up to Michigan because was expecting her baby any time. And I took her, so I had David with me, and I took her to the gynecologist to have her final check-up.
[Interviewer]: And Paula, you had your son with you, correct? David was with you at Allerton?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Yes.
[James Banks]: So, it’s now Monday morning and the smoldering ruins of the ROTC Building has yellow tape around it and all demonstrations, of course, are prohibited. However, that did not stop the Victory Bell ceremony of burying The Constitution. I think that took place, maybe, prior to May 4. But anyway, there was a protest now called around noon on Monday, May 4, to protest the presence of the National Guard. And that’s when the Riot Act, it’s actually a piece of legislation, that the general, Del Corso and Canterbury, read the Riot Act to those assembling around the Victory Bell to protest the presence of the Guard. And it’s ironic, they are—the National Guard is protecting the burned ruins of an ROTC building, the burned ROTC Building. Why are you protecting this rubble? But anyway, that’s when things started to move into the tragic and final phase.
Meanwhile, I’m having lunch in Tri-Towers and, it’s the second floor, you could see the surrounding areas and I noticed students making their way over to Taylor Hall and a couple of students came to me and said, again, in quotes, “Mr. Banks, aren’t you going to the rally? We’re going to the rally.” And I said, “No!” “We’re not protesting, we’re just going to watch.” And I said, “Don’t you get it? By watching, you are adding to the crowd and, therefore, to the emotional example of—you’re adding to the problem, bottom line.” So, I said, “This is not good.” They went anyway and I went back to the dorm and either borrowed or had binoculars. So, I’m on the patio of the other entrance to Wright Hall which faces Korb [Hall] and I’m using binoculars, looking up at Taylor Hall, maybe a hundred and fifty yards maybe, at the most. I haven’t been there for fifty years, so I don’t know the distance. But anyway, I see Guardsmen and then shots and, oh my God.
Paula, of course, I figure she’s with Marilyn, but I don’t know where. I know now she was at off-campus married student housing. But, students may not understand, well, why didn’t you call? Well, cell phones weren’t invented yet, little things like that. And then one of the bizarre aspects was, there was a confirmed story that Jeff Miller had been killed, shot. Well, there’s a Jeff Miller living in Wright Hall but it’s not the Jeff Miller. So, I’m there, in my dorm, what am I going to do? I’m all alone, David and Paula are off campus, it’s getting dark.
The other reporter, which really blew my mind, I can’t remember his name, but he was from the Manchester Guardian in the U.K. He probably had been based in New York City but, when wire services picked all this up, he probably got a flight down to Cleveland and, by nine o’clock, he’s in my dorm, went to my office, I had a little office in the dorm, and he calls his editor, telling his editor where he is, I’m assuming his editor in New York. I don’t think he called Manchester, England, but anyway.
[Interviewer]: So, how old is David by May 4, he must be two years old?
[James Banks]: Yeah, His birthday is August 10—
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: October 15.
[James Banks]: October 15, I’m sorry! David was born October 15, 1967.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: So, he was with me and we tried to make things as normal as we could. The campus—they gave us an hour to get out of our dorm, so I gathered clothes for him and clothes for us and I had called a friend in Medina and we stayed with them. I don’t remember the length of time.
[Interviewer]: Did you have some students living in Wright Hall in the summer?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: No, mostly—some, but not really. But we left at the end of June, I graduated then. Then again, we had to live with these same friends, good thing they were good friends! And our house wasn’t ready, which—very much like Wright Hall. But anyway, we had our furniture in storage, so Jim was teaching back at Tri-C and I got the house unpacked and put things away and cleaned up. We couldn’t live in the house yet because the natural gas had not been connected, but I had water and electricity. I would be at the house all day and it made for a very leisurely move, that when we moved in, we were moved in. I didn’t realize how nice it was at the time.
[James Banks]: A couple of interesting things trying to get back to normal on the campus and trying to restart summer school. What we saw frequently as we would enter and leave the campus, because we had windshield stickers that showed that we were faculty/staff, but more than once, whether it’s Brady Lake or a sheriff’s office, invariably, not every time, but at least two or three times, you would see a silent—an officer would silently just show four fingers and he would then—that was code, score is four to nothing and we are winning. What that clearly means is, war radicals have been killed and we, the establishment, are winning.
And I want to make a comment about my testimony before the Portage [County] Grand Jury. Ronald Kane was the prosecutor for Portage County. As Paula said, he was the one that authorized a search of all dorm rooms to confiscate evidence which he then invited the press and photographers to show all of the equipment and other revolutionary activity of the students. Syringes which, of course, proved they were drug addicts but, of course, they were hypodermics for presumably diabetics and perhaps others.
I must tell you then what Paula did and this gets us to a letter that Paula wrote because we wrote a joint letter—I wrote a joint letter to every resident in Wright Hall about what I thought was an illegal search of their possessions. Paula, however, had written a letter to Sandy Scheuer’s mother and Paula will tell you about that.
[sound of a dog barking in the background]
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Well, I as I said, my heart ached for Mrs. Scheuer but I had not met them. But I just felt so tenderly towards Sandy. Did Jim send you a copy of her response?
[Interviewer]: I think that all got interrupted by our COVID-19 shutdown, so we can talk about that after.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: We’ll make sure you get that. But she just could not understand why kids were allowed to drink beer, there was 3.2 beer and this type thing. And I would have been in the same place had I been her, having this wonderful, positive, forward-looking young woman. And I mean, she wasn’t even near the site—the bullet—she was in another parking lot going away from class or to class. And it severed her jugular vein and she bled to death, there was no help there.
[Interviewer]: So, you wrote a letter to Sandy’s family and then they sent a reply to you?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Yes, and we’ll make sure you get a copy of that. But, she thanked us for our sorrow but she was filled with all kinds of questions about life on campus and you’ll see that when you get that letter. It did get worse, I want to go on record, 1980 did get worse. What could go wrong? We’ve had the [unintelligible]!
[James Banks]: The letter from Mrs. Scheuer, I’ve got the envelope, the letter, four-page, handwritten note, quite touching. It just—it’s been a long, I’m looking at my watch, it’s 12:40 almost, we’ve been at this for quite a while. I’m sure there might be some audio glitches or something that you might need clarity about, but, Kate, ask anything else that you might want to get clarified.
[Interviewer]: Okay. I do have a few things I want to touch on, but let me ask if you would rather have a break or continue this even another day?
[James Banks]: No, let’s wrap it up.
[Interviewer]: You’re good, okay. I just want to make sure.
[James Banks]: There’s always next week or next month but, I mean, as far as this session, let’s get this down.
[Interviewer]: Well, one thing I’m curious about because I’ve never heard anyone describe this, the four fingers thing. So, if I understand right, you’re coming through a checkpoint, the security guard or the National Guardsman sees that you’re faculty/staff and gives you this four-finger symbol, sort of in solidarity? That we’re ahead by four? Do I understand that correctly?
[James Banks]: Oh yes, the score is four to nothing and we’re winning, oh yeah. See the National Guard is now gone and this is now being handled by, I said, Brady Lake sheriffs, deputies, and so, and what we would do is give the peace sign, which is, you know, two fingers. They were going for another thing, four to nothing and we’re winning.
[Interviewer]: Another thing I just want to clarify or make sure I understood correctly: when the dorm rooms were being searched in Wright Hall and evidence was being confiscated, were your son’s toy guns taken? And also this tool set that was kept at the dorm desk, that was also confiscated?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Yes, and I think David had maybe a squirt gun, I mean, we were not enamored of guns, so he didn’t have, and at [age] two, you don’t have too many things like that. But the toys and things were gone through and the fact that they took the box of tools that students would check out to show, you know, what, were they going to take over the world with a hammer? But it was just so obviously one-sided, biased, and—
[James Banks]: Well, and Kate, this is going to sound terribly contemporary and political. But the fact that Paula had an experience in teaching speech and communication, the fact that I’m a historian and have an appreciation for how history works, I think that the vision and the polarization of that period immediately following and during 1968 to 1970 is something so profound that we can only look back on it. Yet, I must say, the degree of polarization, division that we’re seeing right now, right this very minute, today, over the pandemic. Plague is seeping into all of our political dialog independent and over and above COVID-19. And if anybody has any sense of history, the division in the United States today is reminiscent of the degree of political polarization in 1968-1970.
The Scranton Commission, and you know we have so many commissions after tragedies, whether it’s the assassination of Kennedy, but the Scranton Commission still haunts me with those three words when they concluded after their investigation of Kent State and then Jackson State. But specifically, the Scranton Commission Report, in terms of Kent State, the four killed and the nine wounded, again, you probably know the quote, but three very important words: unnecessary, unwarranted, inexcusable. Those three words, I think, will echo for decades about what happened on May 4.
[Interviewer]: Thank you. I have just one more thing, I wanted to go back and ask a question about your personal story and your families. I can’t imagine what it was like that Monday afternoon, May 4, 1970, when you and Paula couldn’t get in touch with other, didn’t know exactly where each other were, were you okay, was she okay, and what your families were thinking and going through and not knowing if you were okay yet. If there’s anything from that that you would like to share with us.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Well, Jim and I did touch—he was finally able to get through to Marilyn’s phone number where I was staying and I found out that he was physically fine and out of danger. Then, on Tuesday, we were able to let our families know via the telephone, that we were okay. When I called our friend to see if we could come be with them, as soon as she answered the phone, I just started crying. It was very traumatic and so it was hard to fathom.
[Interviewer]: Do you remember that professor’s name?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: [Unintelligible] I’m doing this, this is just—and having gone to Purdue where you could register for classes in a unique and on a computer way and to stand in a gym at Kent to sign up for classes, it seemed like I had stepped back into a cornfield or something. I was not a fan.
[Interviewer]: And you were from Indiana, full of cornfields!
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Yeah, we have more cornfields!
[Interviewer]: Do you remember that professor’s name, by any chance?
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: I don’t because I just had him for a teaching seminar and it’s a wonder I could even function, frankly.
[James Banks]: I remember that, it was very common in the summer for, at least the history department, to hire for the summer only, a very well-known, internationally-known scholar in some field of history. And that would be for summer only. And I think Paula had a very unpleasant experience about a professor, I don’t think this was the one—
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: No, no.
[James Banks]: This was a regular person, a regular faculty.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: In Education, yes.
[Interviewer]: Well, I’m so glad to hear you were able to both graduate that summer. I’m wondering if there’s anything that you’d like to share with us about how these experiences have affected your life over the years? This happening in your early adulthood, basically.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: I think that I knew this, but I was certainly more judicious in practicing it, that confrontation rarely yields something positive. And, in problem-solving and, I think I—what drove me more to the communication background rather than another degree in education, was blame usually does not solve a problem. If you’re working with a person and you’re in charge of the office and I’ve been in a variety of leadership positions before I retired, unless you have an employee making the same mistake over and over again, then blame applies. But, most of the time, if you have a problem, blame doesn’t do anything. It muddies the water in finding a solution. So, I would say that is something that I’ve taken with me. And looking at the big picture rather than the micro picture.
[James Banks]: Paula, as you can probably tell, has some great insights and wisdom, it took me awhile to learn that, it’s only been fifteen-seven years of marriage, but I’m coming around almost daily about her brilliance in terms of insights and people and what matters.
[Interviewer]: So, your dual vision—part of it is the historian with that perspective. Is there another part to it? Does that make sense, my question?
[James Banks]: I didn’t—as a historian, you said, does it what?
[Interviewer]: Well, you started out saying you feel like what you took from these events was a perspective where you have sort of a dual vision. So, you’re looking at it from the perspective of a historian but also looking at it from an individual person who lived that history, I guess? It’s a very interesting perspective.
[James Banks]: Well, right, you’re the same person, but there’s a, I think a danger to over-intellectualize the historic experience and I don’t want to do that. And that’s why I’m kind of carrying two conflicting ideas or two conflicting emotions that are coexisting. I don’t want to—and that’s why I kept saying about where we are today without mentioning any names. Because then, “Oh, I know what he is, he’s one of those liberal, left-wing Democrats, he’s a university professor and we know how they are.” No, no, you’re missing—not you—but we’re missing the whole point that a level of awareness—again, I come back to Paula’s great insight, that confrontation and blame doesn’t move us to where we need to be. Where we need to be is [unintelligible] our humanity, that we’re all linked to historical process. And what better way than in a pandemic when even breathing can cause death? I’m serious, breathing can cause death.
Paula just said, “Calm down.” Is it sunny out? I think I’m due back at “the home” now. Why are those white coats and handcuffs coming? But I hope you appreciate what I’m trying to say regarding the duality of citizen and professional reflection of history and the danger of over-intellectualizing the experience.
Interviewer]: Thank you for clarifying that, that’s really interesting and really important. Unless you—is there anything else that’s popped into your mind that you remember that we haven’t covered? Otherwise, I think we’re ready to conclude the interview.
[James Banks]: Yeah, and again, this is not the coda, this is not the final movement of the symphony, but if you, by email, think of something, you have my email. Please inform me or Paula after you digest—and yes, the original four-page letter from Sandy Scheuer’s mother. Yeah, all of that. So, you know where—you know my phone number and you know my email address, so we can conclude.
[Paula Hewitt Banks]: Nice meeting you and nice talking with you.
[Interviewer]: Wonderful, thank you Thank you so much. It’s so nice talking with you and I want to thank you both for sharing so generously these memories, what you saw, what you heard, it’s so important. Thank you very much, we really appreciate it.
[James Banks]: Sure, okay.
[Interviewer]: I’ll conclude the recording here.×
Banks, James G., 1940-
Banks, Paula Hewitt
Student at Kent State University in 1970
|Date of Interview||
James and Paula (Hewitt) Banks were both students at Kent State University in 1970. Paula was completing her undergraduate degree in education. James was a graduate student studying history and was the Resident Director of Wright Hall, a men's dormitory that was part of the Tri-Towers dormitory complex. Together with their young son, David, they lived in an apartment in Wright Hall. Among the many memories they share from their days on campus, they discuss the mood of students and the rising tensions that were building in the months leading up to the shootings. James relates his encounter with members of the Ohio National Guard and General Canterbury outside the Tri-Towers dorms on Sunday, May 3. Paula shares memories of Sandy Scheuer who was a babysitter for their son David. They both discuss their experiences on May 4, 1970, the evacuation of campus, and other memories from the aftermath of the shootings.
|Length of Interview||
|Time Period discussed||
Armored vehicles, Military
Canterbury, Robert H.
Community and college--Ohio--Kent
Evacuation of civilians--Ohio--Kent
Jackson State Shootings, Jackson, Mississippi, 1970
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970
Kent State University--Student strike, 1968
Kent State University. Black United Students
Kent State University. Residence Halls
Kent State University. Tri-Towers
Kent State University. Wright Hall
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Ohio State Highway Patrol
Ohio. Army National Guard
Polarization (Social sciences)
Rhodes, James A. (James Allen), 1909-2001
Roadblocks (Police methods)
Scheuer, Sandra, d. 1970
Scheuer, Sarah, 1924-2010
Searches and seizures--Ohio--Kent
Tear gas munitions
United States. President's Commission on Campus Unrest
Women graduate students--Ohio--Kent--Interviews
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