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Barry Seybert, Oral History

Recorded: May 3, 2000
Interview by Betsy Zajko
Transcribed by Maggie Castellani


[Betsy Zajko]: I'm Betsy Zajko. It is 3:10 on May 3rd. And this is for the oral history project. And I'm speaking with ...

[Barry Seybert]: ... Barry Seybert. And I graduated Kent in '78. I attended Kent from '74 to '78. So actually May 4th, '70, I was in ninth grade at Roosevelt Junior High in Cleveland Heights. And I was sitting in the library. And a very good friend of mine walked in and told me and made an announcement that there was a shooting at Kent. And I was totally blown away by it, as other people. Then later on that day, I found out that Allison Krause was one of the four killed and I happened to have known her. She ... her boyfriend was actually the brother of my Hebrew school teacher. And I had gotten to know her at several parties 'cause this Hebrew school teacher used to have all these barbecues at his house. And so I had gotten to know Allison. I had just seen her like about a week or two before. And what happened here May 4th was one of the reasons why I decided to come to Kent. I wanted to get involved in commemorating the May 4th event and not let it be forgotten. I wanted to go into architecture or TV/film. And so I was looking at a number of schools and Kent was one of them. And I came down here to campus and liked it. And also the fact of what happened here at Kent, I just decided that, you know, I want to go here.

So, I came to Kent, got involved in student government because nobody else in my dorm on my floor wanted to represent the dorm for KIC. So I got involved in KIC. And all of sudden there was ...

[Betsy Zajko]: What's KIC?

[Barry Seybert]: Kent Interhall Council. I don't know if it still exists. So I was representing the fifth floor of McDowell Hall for McDowell Hall. And then McDowell Hall needed to have representatives represent McDowell Hall for KIC. So I volunteered there and got involved, became security director of KIC. And from that, we were talking about May 4th activities. And a bunch of us got together and we formed the May Fourth Task Force, which was an offshoot of student government until they got thrown out of student government for holding rallies that were not approved by campus. So it became an offshoot organization instead of a part of student government, which is how it started.

[Betsy Zajko]: Interesting. Tell me about the beginnings of it.

[Barry Seybert]: It was just a ... the very beginnings of May Fourth Task Force were those of us who were involved in student government. And then Dean Kahler and Robbie Stamps and Alan Canfora, they were still around campus. When we got kicked out of student government, they ended up joining us. A few other people who lived around Kent who were also wounded at Kent or just very involved having been here in 1970 ended up getting involved with us. And we started having rallies around campus ... well, we actually did plan all the May 4th activities in 1974. We were still a member of student government at that time. I think it was '75 or '76 that we got kicked out of student government. That was also because of the fact that Dean and Robbie and Alan wanted to get very heavily involved with us, as did some other people.

[Betsy Zajko]: And that was frowned upon?

[Barry Seybert]: Well, what really kicked us out of student government and got frowned upon was the Gym Annex. The University Trustees had met with us talking about building the Gym Annex. And one of the sites that was chosen was its present site. And we were against it. Another site that they were talking about was the parking lot across from Taylor Hall. And that was the site that we wanted it on, as did most of the students on campus at the time. And in a secret meeting, the Board of Trustees decided they wanted it attached to the Memorial Gym, and they were going to take away Blanket Hill. And it was a total secret meeting and we found out about it. We started forming protest rallies. So we got kicked out of student government. We did all these illegal rallies which brought around national attention. And from that started Tent City. Actually May 4th of ... I'm trying to remember if it was '76 or '77, which is just before Tent City was formed, Reverend Jackson was here talking about, he was one of the speakers at May 4th. And with his influence, we took over the Administration Building and chained ourselves inside of it for three days, which got us thrown out of student government. And from inside of that meeting, those of us who were inside the Administration Building, we decided when we got out we were going to take over Blanket Hill and start Tent City.

[Betsy Zajko]: What's Blanket Hill?

[Barry Seybert]: Blanket Hill is the, what was the hill in front of Taylor Hall, between Taylor Hall going down to Memorial Gym. Which now most of the hill has been removed because the Annex cuts into it. It was a beautiful, beautiful hill. It was called Blanket Hill because a lot of couples would lay blankets out on it and just lay there and make out or have picnic lunches. It was beautiful. There were major massive old oak trees on that hill. It was absolutely gorgeous.

[Betsy Zajko]: And Tent City went up on Blanket Hill?

[Barry Seybert]: Tent City went up on Blanket Hill. And we stopped the Gym construction for over a year.

[Betsy Zajko]: What do you remember about Tent City?

[Barry Seybert]: Tent City was a lot of fun. I lived out there from its beginning to its end. I was the second tent up on Tent City. I had an apartment. I'd go there to change clothes, take a shower. But basically lived in the tent, as did everybody else. We grew nationwide attention. We had people in camp there who were not students from the surrounding area. When we had our rallies, we drew from all over Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota. A couple of times, people came in from universities in California to show support, in Florida. It was a flashback to the hippies of the '60's almost as far as everybody in camping out and the way everybody dressed. And it was a good time but it was for a good cause. We had a lot of rallies with a lot of nationwide attention. Dan Rather from 60 Minutes actually spent a week and camped with us. They were doing a story on Tent City. I'm trying to remember who some of the other ... there were quite a few news crews out there, of course, the local Cleveland and Akron crews. But we had national crews. As I said, 60 Minutes spent a week with us. And there were constant rallies, probably monthly. The University tried to remove us a couple of times. One of the funny events was when they called in the campus police to ... actually the campus police arrested us a few times. But once they actually called in - it wasn't the National Guard - but it was the, I think it was the State Police, the Highway Patrol, or something like that. And we had all the news crews there, because they actually thought we were going to have another Kent State massacre on our hands. And so the day before the arrest, we sat down with the officers and discussed how the arrest procedure was going to take place and did a practice arrest. Everybody linking arms and the police breaking that apart and carrying us off as a practice arrest so that it would be peaceful. They didn't want another incident happening on campus. President Olds, who was the president of the University at the time -- he's now I think in Oregon or Alaska, I know somebody who's still in touch with him ...

[Betsy Zajko]: So, how did you come to terms with saying, "O.K., you may arrest us" and then rehearsing it? You said, "All right, fine, arrest us"?

[Barry Seybert]: Yeah! Yeah! They were arresting us for criminal trespassing. As I said, most of us were university students. Ron Kovick, who was star of ... who's the movie Born on the Fourth of July about, actually wrote the book Born on the Fourth of July, he ended up living on Tent City and became kind of one of the leaders by force of Tent City. Whether that was good or bad, I don't know. It did bring national exposure having him there. But it kind of made it controlled by a non-student, which created some problems. The majority of us were students. I'd say 95% of us were students who lived there full-time.

[Betsy Zajko]: So, you've seen some things end like Tent City and some things stay. Your May Fourth Task Force, look what it is now.

[Barry Seybert]: Oh, I know. I'm very proud of May Fourth Task Force. 'Cause it started out with half a dozen of us. As I said, it was just a little organized committee of Kent Interhall Council in its humble beginnings. And now, I don't know how big it is. What I'm very happy about is that all the wounded students are still in - I don't know how close they are to each other - but they still seem to come back year after year. They haven't let it be forgotten. The current students hopefully haven't let it be forgotten. And Mr. Krause and I'm sure Mr. Canfora are still involved. And all the parents are still involved. And I mean I know it's probably a very painful time for them. But at least that their children's deaths hopefully have been immortalized and that they're still very involved with it. And keep the memory going and hopefully that gives them some strength that their children are martyrs, I guess -- martyrs, heroes, depends you know, how they're looked upon. But that they didn't ... true, they died, their lives were cut down short of their time. But maybe they didn't die in vain -- the fact that they did help end the war and brought about a change within the government. You know, it's a time, it's a very sad occasion, but hope that at least their names are going on. And hopefully they did bring about something to change the country.

[Betsy Zajko]: Well, death and drama is transformation, really.

[Barry Seybert]: Yeah.

[Betsy Zajko]: Hopefully. What do you remember of the day itself? You know, you said you were in school and ...

[Barry Seybert]: I was in ninth grade on May 4th. I was just in total shock that the Ohio National Guard would shoot students who were just a few years older than I was. And then it was ...

[Betsy Zajko]: Do you remember where you sitting when you found out?

[Barry Seybert]: I was in the junior high library. It was during study hall.

[Betsy Zajko]: And an announcement was made?

[Barry Seybert]: No, an announcement wasn't made. A friend of mine had ... I don't know how he heard it. He had heard it on the radio or something and he came ... he was one of my best friends at the time, Ron Cuby, who's now an attorney in Alan Kunstler's office, although I've lost touch with him over the years. But he was, of all my friends, he was very radical. His father was a member of the Jewish Defense League. And he was the radical friend, you know, for being in ninth grade. Now, as I say, he's an attorney with Alan Kunstler, so he's stayed that path. Because Alan Kunstler is considered, you know, the radical attorney. As a matter fact, Alan Kunstler spoke several times here at Kent over the years. We had him speak when I was on May Fourth Task Force. But I noticed that he's been back since.

[Betsy Zajko]: So you were in the library. Your friend came in and told you.

[Barry Seybert]: Yeah and then an announcement was made. I was shocked and a lot of people seemed very shocked that day. It was very much like the experience when JFK was shot. And then later on to find out that somebody I actually knew was Allison.

[Betsy Zajko]: Who told you? Do you remember when you found out?

[Barry Seybert]: Oh, I heard that on ... I didn't hear ... I heard that over, through the press, through a television when they listed the names.

[Betsy Zajko]: Where were you?

[Barry Seybert]: I was home. I was home watching TV with my parents at that point. I mean I was fourteen years old in 1970, May 4, '70. I was fourteen. So I was home that night watching the evening news. And then they listed the names. I don't remember if it was that night or the next day because of after next of kin. But I was totally shocked by the name because I knew her.

[Betsy Zajko]: So you weren't alone when you saw the name and found out?

[Berry Seybert]: No, no. I was with my parents.

[Betsy Zajko]: Do you remember what you did?

[Barry Seybert]: No.

[Betsy Zajko]: You don't remember if you told them?

[Barry Seybert]: I probably told them.

[Betsy Zajko]: Yeah. God, that must be so ... How long do you think it was before the impact, before you realized what the impact this story has had on your life story?

[Barry Seybert]: Well, the impact had a lot to do ... I think that day really made a lot of changes in my life. It brought me to Kent as a student. It brought me to come here to school. It got me involved in student government. One reason why I volunteered for the different positions in student government was because I wanted to be involved in May 4th activities. It has changed my entire life. Not that I'm a major radical, if there is such a thing. But it has changed my outlook on many, many different things about the government, about the country, and just my philosophy and way of thinking. I mean I can be a rabble-rouser. I got that from my experience here at Kent, probably.

[Betsy Zajko]: And you went into storytelling, in a way.

[Barry Seybert]: Yeah. And I went into it with being in the film industry and ...[tape ends]