Jerry Lewis, Oral History
Recorded: February 24, 2010
Interviewed by Craig Simpson
Transcribed by Craig Simpson and Erin Valentine
[Interviewer]: Good morning, the date is
Wednesday, February 24, 2010, and my name is Craig Simpson [accidentally kicks
table]. And that was a noise [laughs]. We are conducting an interview today for
[Jerry Lewis]: Jerry
M. Lewis, professor emeritus of sociology,
[Interviewer]: Jerry, you've been interviewed so many times it's hard for me to come up with some original questions, but I'm going to give it a go here at the start: Where were you born?
[Jerry Lewis]: [laughs]
[Interviewer]: And then where did you go to college for your --?
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, I went to -- I B.A.'d at
[Interviewer]: And that was in sociology?
[Jerry Lewis]: My B.A. was in sociology, my M.S. was in communications, and my PhD was in sociology.
[Interviewer]: What interested you in sociology?
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, it's sort of interesting. I was not a very good student in high school. I was having too much fun, and being active in sports and class leadership and all that stuff, much to the embarrassment of my parents, who were both good students in high school and college. But I redeemed myself, I guess. But I had, the best course I ever had in high school was a sociology course. For 1955, it was very progressive to teach sociology in high school. Now it's done quite a bit, but then it was progressive. Very good teacher, who I maintain some contact with.
Then I went to college. I was going to be a minister, and so I was going to
be a religion and philosophy major, but decided not to go into ministry and
eventually ended up trying to find a major my junior year, which a lot of
students do. And remembering my good experience with sociology I took some more
soc courses and decided to become a major. I went to college for my master's
degree because I wanted to go into college administration, and so I probably
should have a master's degree. But I got very interested in research, and so I
then decided to go on for a PhD. So I had decided between
[Interviewer]: When did you come to
[Jerry Lewis]: 1966.
[Interviewer]: What made you decide to come here?
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, that's an interesting story. In those days, much to the
chagrin of my graduate students now, I had five doctorates and received offers
for a couple of them, and had to decide between Western Michigan and
[Interviewer]: How would you describe the campus in those years right before 1970?
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, it was certainly suffering from growing pains in several ways. First way was the increase in students. Second way was the debate over curriculum and what we really were, which I think continues today. And third was physically: we were just building buildings right and left. The stadium was built, small-group housing was built. In fact, we had a newsletter which was not electronic, and the back page -- which I'm sure the archives have -- was devoted to buildings that were going on. So those were the main things: the growth of enrollment; the kind of struggle to find an identity; and the physical development.
[Interviewer]: And with all these, with this influx of more students coming in those years, did you see a change in the political consciousness of the --
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, it was still going on. One of the things -- a lot of
people think May 4th started on May 4th, but in fact there was political
activity as early as 1967-68. And I had been involved in the antiwar movement
[Interviewer]: Um -- oh, go ahead.
[Jerry Lewis]: I think, I can't remember the exact date, but the Kent
Committee to End the War in
[Interviewer]: When you say that they had trouble finding advisors, does that mean that there wasn't a lot of faculty involvement?
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, faculty didn't want to get involved with more risky groups because there were a lot of young people who were worried about tenure, worried about promotion, and things like that. Faculty members tend to be uncomfortable with political activism. They're more comfortable working in their own areas and doing research and this kind of thing. But getting involved in political activism, with some exceptions, is not a very comfortable thing for most faculty members. Not that they're not politically interested. In fact, I find faculty more politically informed. But the actual activism is an uncomfortable role. It was uncomfortable for me too. But I felt the war was so bad for American society that I had to be active in some way.
[Interviewer]: You talked about that May 4 didn't really begin on May 4, but it had built up over a few years. Talk about what you remember about some of the stuff that happened --
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, there was really two major things. Jim Best, my
colleague in political science, has written extensively on this, so I'm really
drawing on his research plus my own experience. In 1968, the first major
protest was in the spring of '68 against Hubert Humphrey about the war. If you
remember, Humphrey had been selected fairly late to become a presidential
candidate because Johnson announced in mid-March that he was not going to be a
candidate. So there was a lot of scrambling around to get a viable candidate,
and it was, Hubert Humphrey was chosen. He was the Senior Senator -- oh, no, he
was Vice President, he was Humphrey's [Johnson's] Vice-President at that time.
He was the Senior Senator from
Then there was a black student protest in the fall of '68. That's when we really formed up the Faculty Marshals at that time. They were protesting some of the things, particularly the failure to develop a Black Studies program.
[Interviewer]: This is the Black United Students?
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah, BUS. Yeah. They did a symbolic walk off campus. And we organized Faculty Marshals primarily from Sociology, English, and a few other places of faculty and graduate students to marshal them, basically because there had been rumors that there was going to be a counter-demonstration against them and they could be at risk. That turned out not to be true. But it was still the genesis of the Faculty Marshals.
Then in spring of '69 there was some hearings going on about some things the
SDS leadership had done, and there was what you'd call the "Music and
Speech incident," where it looked to us that there was an entrapment of
students by the
That was the precursor to protest. So there was clearly a cadre of people who knew how to do public protest developing in that era, from '68 through May 4th, 1970.
[Interviewer]: Were those two events -- BUS and SDS, and maybe any others -- were those also a precursor in terms of how the administration responded to things like that?
[Jerry Lewis]: Generally badly, yeah. The White administration was not very good at responding to protest. Bob White was a former school superintendent and a professor of education, was very formalistic, liked to work through committees, chains-of-commands and things like that, and certainly didn't have any flexibility. From my point of view, the flexibility was the faculty who tried to get involved. A small cadre of faculty tried to get involved to help students, be with students. Some of the black student walkout was due to some things that Robert Matson had said. Who was basically a good guy, but said some unfortunate things to the black students which stimulated the walkout.
My view was that the administration didn't handle student protest activities very well. And it was in part because, Bob White, it was just so offensive to him not to be orderly and systematic, and that of course permeated down through his administration. Although there were a few of the administrators, particularly a guy by the name of David Andler, who tried to work with faculty and tried to work with students.
[Interviewer]: Was the administration's response more knee-jerk reactionary, or was it just, "Let's pretend it didn't happen"?
[Jerry Lewis]: I'm not sure either of those imageries fits. Certainly it
wasn't knee-jerk or reactionary. But, it was just, my best image I can
communicate is just an uncomfortableness about dealing with non-official
student groups. They would prefer to work with the president of the student
body, who was generally elected by three people and a small dog, rather than
these emergent groups. I remember once, during the
[Interviewer]: And the BUS walkout, was that also due to the, I guess, the trigger -- the Oakland Police Department [being allowed to recruit on campus]?
[Jerry Lewis]: That was the initial thing they were protesting, because the
Oakland Police Department --
[Interviewer]: Did the black students eventually return to campus?
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah. I'm embarrassed to talk about this, but I called off my classes in support of the black student walkout, which was a stupid political move from my part for several reasons. One, I could have risked my job. In fact, one administrator, I learned later, was trying to sue me, for the -- but they couldn't figure out how to do it -- for my salary. Ironically, I ended up speaking more than I would have had I taught my classes. And of course I sent a note to all my students, or telephoned or something, that they would not be at risk in any way and we'd make up the work. What I should have done is used the classes to talk about the issues. Secondly, I got some anonymous notes from black students saying that I shouldn't have done it because it distracted from their cause, which made me feel terrible because I thought I was supporting them. But I was pretty naïve, politically, in those days.
[Interviewer]: We have a lot of students today when they come into the Archives, one of their kind of general topics is SDS back then, but they don't really know what it is. Could you talk a little about what the actual goals of Kent-SDS were?
[Jerry Lewis]: SDS was a group founded in 1962 in
What they were, they were small groups of students in a very loose federation of students nationally. They really didn't have any formal organization. And they would call rallies and things like that and protests. And then eventually they got in trouble; I can't remember why. It had something to do with some things they were accused of doing in '69, and, I'm not sure what the verb is, but they were disenfranchised as a student group.
[Interviewer]: And they were protesting liquid crystals?
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah, there was some -- I can't remember when that happened, but there was some, which I never saw proof, that the Liquid Crystals [Institute] was making detection instruments that facilitated the Vietnam War. And also, they were protesting, there was a criminal investigation unit on campus, and they thought, alleged that was discriminatory against African-Americans, although I never saw that proved.
[Interviewer]: It's interesting you talk about the lack of the formal organization, because some people I've talked to -- for example, in the Kent community -- have this impression that they had then, the SDS and these radical groups had this elaborate communication network.
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, they didn't. My colleague Elliot Rudwick
wrote on this, sensibly, if anybody wants to research it. They clearly didn't
have an organizational network. In fact, in the fall of '68 -- '68 or '69, I'm
misremembering that, but Best writes about this -- they split into two groups.
The more violent group had what was called the "Days of Rage" in
After May 4th, we had all kinds of people who were well known SDSers coming to visit. I called it almost like "the
Stations of the Cross"; they had to come to
[Interviewer]: Mm-hm. A left-wing conspiracy.
[Jerry Lewis]: A left-wing conspiracy. Yeah.
[Interviewer]: It was interesting too because I interviewed Pete Jedick a couple of weeks ago, and we talked about the quote un-quote "outsiders" that a lot of people talk about here on campus. And he put it in a way I'd never really heard before, which is that there were always a lot of outsiders on campus because back then there wasn't a lot to do in Cleveland and Akron and so on the weekends -- he kind of said this was like Fort Lauderdale.
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah, and it was the 3.2 beer that attracted people to
[Interviewer]: [laughs] Right.
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, I remember one person saying to me there were a lot
[Interviewer]: So the University wasn't just recruiting locally or even regionally, they had people from the East Coast?
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, I don't know if they -- I don't know if they were
aggressive. I don't think so. I think it just turned out that way, for programmic reasons rather than proximity. I worked a little
bit later on with the Admissions Office, because I was an Admissions Officer
Now our graduate program was much more cosmopolitan than the undergraduate program, which was very localized. I remember one student asked me for a reference -- this was after May 4th, but it illustrates a point -- asked me for a reference, and I said sure.
I said, "Where are you looking for a job?"
She said, "Oh, all over."
I said, "Where?"
She said, "
I said, "Have you tried the English-speaking world?"
And that just didn't resonate. Looking for a job was staying in northeast
[Jerry Lewis]: I'm really thirsty.
[Interviewer]: Okay. Let's take a break.
[Interviewer]: We're back with Jerry Lewis, and we were just getting into May 4, 1970 itself. Talk about maybe that weekend leading up to it.
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, I think I need to talk a little bit about my background.
[Interviewer]: Sure. Go ahead.
[Jerry Lewis]: I had just turned in my dissertation in February of '70 and was going to get my degree in Spring of '70, and I was untenured. But I had worked with a lot of student groups. Since I had helped organize the faculty marshals for the black student walkout I was seen as a resource in that area. In fact, I got a small stipend to go down to OU [Ohio University] in the Fall of '69 with a graduate student -- no, it would have been the Spring of '69, yeah -- to study what we now call the "Spring Follies" on college campuses. So we got travel and some living expenses to study how the police handled the problems at OU in the Spring. Not the Halloween [celebration], but the Spring celebrations, which are heavily lubricated. [to graduate student assistant] Do you know OU?
[Graduate Student Assistant]: Yeah, a little bit.
[Jerry Lewis]: It's very easy to get to the bars from campus.
Well, we had a huge rainstorm and we never made it. We got down [I-]77 and
ran into a flood, and the police blocked us from crossing -- we were in my
Volkswagen -- which was probably a sensible thing. Anyway, that illustrates my
continuing interest in faculty marshals. In fact, I tried to get a grant later
on to study them systematically, because other universities had Faculty
Anyway, I was off-campus on Friday, May 1st. Of course, on Thursday night
Nixon had given his speech where he announced the invasion of
It was at that point, I’m embarrassed to say, I made the single -- I think, second biggest mistake of May 4th, the four days. That was:
I was asked, “Was the National Guard around?”
I said, “Yes, they’re off-campus.”
Somebody asked me, “Would they come in with loaded weapons?”
And I said, “No.”
Which was foolish, I should have checked it out, and I’m very embarrassed by that. But I just assumed like most people, they wouldn’t have loaded weapons, because I had been in the army on guard duty, and I didn’t have a loaded weapon. They didn’t trust us with a loaded weapon on guard duty, and this was active duty in the army.
So basically, what we did was, was we passed out the flyer. Students marched all over campus recruiting other students. And a lot of people headed for the ROTC building, which is on the edge of the Commons. And so people attacked it. I believe they were students, although I can’t prove that. Two young men picked up a trash barrel and ran it against the side of the building. Of course nothing happened, and they were booed and laughed at, which sort of puts a kibosh on anybody arguing that this was an organized attack on the ROTC building. Then somebody else ran up and threw rocks through the windows. Then somebody else ran up and tried to light the curtains on fire -- of the broken windows -- which did happen. Then everything calmed down. I remember saying to people, “Get out of here. Go home,” when all of a sudden the building flamed up again. I think what happened was that something -- one of the curtains or something, or even a flare, there were a couple flares thrown, landed in a wastebasket, or some kind of combustible source and it started.
Well, the burning of the building -- and there’s a powerful picture I think in Davies’ book -- brought in the National Guard. They were riding on the fire trucks. I remember yelling to students, “I’m Dr. Lewis.” -- I wasn’t quite yet Dr. Lewis, but I appointed myself Dr. Lewis -- “The National Guard’s here. You must leave.” And a significant portion did leave. Not only because of me, but a lot of other people as well. So I went home. Well, I actually didn’t go home. I walked across the Commons and somebody had set fire to a little shed over by Prentice Hall, which was the archery storage shed. It was flaming up, and it was burning a tree, a rather large tree. And students formed a bucket brigade from Prentice Hall to fight the fire. And I stayed there as a faculty member, and so did somebody else, I can’t remember who, and sort of stood around to help in case the National Guard bothered the “firefighters” -- firefighters in quotes -- and they didn’t. Most of the students went down to the Front Campus. There was conflict there, not too much, and that pretty well ended.
The next morning was Sunday morning, and my wife and I were listening to the
radio, and of course we heard the famous press conference where Governor Rhodes
said, "This is the worst kind of people we have in
[Interviewer]: [laughs] So those groups are mutually exclusive?
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah. So I talked to my wife, and we weren’t sure. I said, “Let’s
go on campus.” This is where I made, at that point the single biggest mistake
of my life, or my May 4th career. I took my children up to see the ROTC
building, and I now know in retrospect that I exposed them to Guardsmen with
loaded weapons. I feel terrible about that, and still do -- obviously I’m
talking about it 40 years later and it still bothers me. So I spent the
afternoon really talking to people and deciding what to do. Then Carl Moore of
the Speech Department called me and said, “We’re putting together a rumor-control
center. Would you work at it?” So I came on campus. I had to go through
the -- by that time, of course, the National Guard were all over, there were
900 or so Guardsmen around. They were on all the corners, guarding, working
I worked at a rumor-control center, and mainly we answered calls from
townspeople, and we had no information whatsoever, because the senior
administration wasn’t talking to us at all. Of course Bob White was off campus
Late that, on Saturday evening -- Sunday evening, students came to the rumor-control center. It was over in one of the dorms, where the Honors College was at that time -- well, same area now, where the Honors College is -- and asked if I would walk a couple of women, if I would walk them back to their dorms. So I agreed to do it, or they asked for somebody to do it, and I volunteered. I was walking them back, and the Guardsman came around the corner, and said, “Oh, Dr. Lewis!”, and gave me the rifle salute, which is what you do for an officer, an enlisted – I mean, you don’t go like this [indistinct speech with movement]. I obviously wasn’t an officer. And I walked the women back. But on the way back, we were walking along, and a helicopter came up, and we -- it almost looked like Apocalypse Now -- and hovered over us, and shined the light on top of us, and that really was scary. That, and then I went home, about midnight Sunday night.
On Monday, May 4th, I got a phone call saying there was going to be a rally, and I was asked to participate in the rally. I can’t remember what my answer was, but I’m pretty sure I said, “I probably won’t, but I’ll be a Faculty Marshal.” But then I remembered I had a class at twelve o’clock. I was doing an individual investigation with a student. So, I was in my office in Lowry Hall, and the student came for the individual investigation conference, and she said, “Let’s go to the rally.” So I said, “Okay,” and I put my marshaling badge on. Although we all thought we had been put out of the resistance, because the National Guard came on campus, so we weren’t official. Although we never really were official anyway, we were just an ad hoc group.
So I headed out and we couldn’t -- it was all blocked off, so we had to go
all the way around Engleman pass the tennis courts. We cut through the rally.
Several students yelled at me, “Join us Dr. Lewis.” I said, “No, I’m a Faculty
Marshal.” I went up right on the corner of Taylor Hall, was standing there, and
my friend, Norm[an] Duffy -- life-long friend, in fact I’m seeing him today for
lunch -- he joined us, and he was had been a Faculty Marshal too. So we stood
there, and the Jeep drove out, and drove back and forth, and said, “This rally
is legal -- illegal -- go to your homes. You should not be here.” It was very
confusing, because there were three Guardsmen and one
So the Jeep drove back to the lines, and I said to Duffy, “Let’s go down and talk to the students.” Not sure what I was going to say, but I thought we should talk to them. Faculty Marshals were sort of an interesting -- we weren’t completely trusted, but when it got really push comes to shove, we were very trusted, as evidenced by what happened later. We were in a very ambivalent -- I know I’m a sociologist -- but we were in a very ambivalent role, because we were in a sense the establishment, but we were also with the students. Anyway, I said, “Let’s go talk to the students,” and just then somebody yelled, “Here they come.” And the [National] Guard started coming across the commons. I didn’t say anything. I said, “Duff, let’s leave.” So we headed up past Taylor Hall with most of the students, and the Pagoda’s on the right, the practice football field is in the center, and the parking lot’s on the left. A lot of the Marshals were yelling, “Don’t go into the practice football field,” because it was blocked off by a fence.
And I remember walking pretty fast, and I lost contact with Duffy. I headed past the Don Drumm statue, and I looked over way, quite a distance now -- Centennial Hall’s in the way -- I saw a student laying on the ground, and I thought maybe I should give him first aid, or something was wrong. Well, as it turns out, it was a blind student who’d had been tear gassed. So I gave him a little first aid, told his friend what to do, and then walked back to the edge of the parking lot -- Prentice Hall parking lot, or Taylor Hall parking lot, I guess it’s now called Prentice Hall, where the markers are now -- and stood at the edge. Just as I got to the edge of the parking lot, the Guard started walking really rapidly up the hill. I didn’t see a major event, because I was giving the first aid. That’s when the Guard knelt, and pointed their rifles -- that famous picture, pointed at Alan Canfora. I don’t know what I would have done if I had seen that. I think probably I might have left the field, because I would have realized that the Guard was out of control. But I did not see that.
As I followed the Guard, I remembered thinking, Well, nobody got stuck -- meaning bayoneted -- because we had heard rumors somebody had been bayoneted the night before. And just as the Guard got to the Pagoda, the right rear echelon of the Guard turned together and fired. Now, I saw the smoke come out of the weapons, because light travels faster than sound, and having been in the Army, I knew those were real firings. And so I -- and I never know why I did this, I’ve always puzzled, but for some reason I went to my right, who knows why, which took me out of the line of fire. If I had gone to my left, because I was standing right behind, of course, Sandy Scheuer. So if I had gone to my left, I would have been in the line of fire. But I took myself out of the line of fire, hid behind a bush, and was on the ground long enough that the firing continued. So the firing stopped, and there was this really hushed -- Alan Canfora talks about this a lot -- and I heard the hush as well.
So I stood up, and I remember saying to myself, “What should I do?” And I describe this in other places as having a lifeguard mentality, which I was. I realized my first responsibility was to the students, but I didn’t know what to do. And a student who knew me rushed up, and said, “Dr. Lewis, those were blanks, weren’t they?” Now I realized that the students all thought that they were firing blanks. So I pointed -- I didn’t know it was Sandy Scheuer’s body, but I pointed at the body [unintellgible], and said, “No, those were real bullets.”
And I realized the students had to get out of there. So I began to running around to the back of the Prentice Hall parking lot saying, “Those are real bullets. You must leave. I’m Dr. Lewis. You must leave.” And I think people did leave.
Then an RA came to me, and said, “Dr. Lewis, go on the microphone in
Prentice Hall,” which I did. So I broadcasted to all of Prentice Hall that they
were real bullets. But I think people had begun to figure that out. Then I came
out from Prentice Hall, and my kids were at a babysitter, and my wife was in
I came back out after doing that -- it must have been ten minutes or so, maybe a little longer -- and I looked up, and saw a gurney coming down the hill. And I grabbed two female students -- this is pretty sexist -- but I grabbed two female students and pulled them to my chest, and said, “You don’t want to see this.” I think it was Allison Krause, but I don’t know for sure. Allison was quite tall, and I think it was her. Six months later, a student came up to me, and said, “Thank you for doing that.”
After that -- we were now about fifteen minutes after the shootings -- I started walking towards the Commons, because I thought people would be gathering there, which turned out to be true. Just as I got up close to the edge of the parking lot, towards Taylor Hall, a small group of soldiers came around the corner. I was really frightened then, I must admit. They pointed their weapons at Jeffrey Miller and tear gassed the body. Then they went back and disappeared. Then, I continued on after they left. By that time the Faculty Marshals were speaking -- the senior guys, particularly Glenn Frank and Harold Kitner. Michael and I were speaking to the students. And they were saying things like, “Here, we’ll say all night. We’ll bring in food. We’ll try to --“ and people were shouting, “Who’s shot, who’s shot, who’s shot?”
And the group was, if here’s the Victory Bell -- you can’t see this on the tape -- but the Victory Bell is in one point, to the left of the Victory Bell in that little alcove on the Commons students were gathering. And it was filling up from the right as you looked at the ROTC building and the Guard. So students couldn’t hear the bullhorn. So I was in front of the crowd, going back and forth, telling people what was going on, what the Marshals were saying. [pause] Can I use dirty words?
[Jerry Lewis]: So, this is amazing. A student handed me who knew me slightly, I think he had me for Intro -- handed me a written account of what had happened -- and this was a half-hour after the shootings -- which I still have, which you will eventually get. While I was going back and forth telling students what was going on, particularly [Glenn] Frank was negotiating with [General Robert] Canterbury. And, of course, that’s when he said, “You must leave, or we’ll come again.” And you could see them forming up, getting ready to come again.
So, Glenn Frank gave us a sixty-words speech, which everybody knows, was very emotional, convincing students to leave. And students got up, and started to leave. Just as we were heading towards the tennis courts, we were all going in one direction, this rather large student, who had an American flag upside down -- which was a protest symbol in those days -- was giving the finger to the Guard, and saying, “Motherfuckers! Killers!” He was a big guy too, and I said, “Shut up. There are women in the crowd.” Very sexist. But he did, he quit, and we eventually got off.
I had hooked up with Duffy by that time. I said, “We’ve got to get the
kids” -- my kids. He said, “Okay.” So we went -- he was in Chemistry -- we got
his car. We drove to the babysitter, got Damon, who was three at the time, and
Janelle, who was nine months. I held Janelle in my arms, and I made Damon lie
on the floor, and I put my feet on top of him. Duffy said, “Everybody put their
arms outside” -- one arm outside the car, so nobody -- he assumed this might
indicate we weren’t threatening. Then we drove down
Then I got a phone call. And I never knew how this happened, but the State Police learned I was an eyewitness, and so they called me in and they interviewed me. It was a very polite interview. I had to be escorted on campus, to the -- well, now, where the Psych[ology] Department is, where the Police Department was, and I did the interview. Then that evening, again I’m not sure how it happened, I started getting media calls. So I spent the next day talking to the media about my May 4th experience.
[Interviewer]: Did you -- were you interviewed by the FBI as well?
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah. That was somewhat later. A couple times I was interviewed.
Interesting story. In fact, I’m speaking to the FBI, I’m going to tell this
story in a couple weeks. It was Mother’s Day, so it would have been what, May
8th or May 9th? We had made arrangements with our babysitter with our next door
neighbors, and I was taking Diane out to dinner on Mother’s Day. We were about
ready to leave, and I looked, and two guys pulled into our driveway, over on
And then I was interviewed by -- what happened is because I have a degr[ee] -- I understand mass
communication and was willing to talk to the media, I became sort of a
celebrity. Bill Gordon always attacks me about calling myself a celebrity, but
that’s his problem. But I was. I’m much better known than I am now, in terms
of May 4th, because I was good with the media, I knew how to do interviews. Most
professors don’t like to be interviewed by particularly television, and I
enjoyed the message-creating process of it. So, there was sort of a circular:
once you become sort of known, then the media come and then other people sort
of have to talk to you. I can’t remember who did the study, but somebody did
a study: there were twenty three groups investigating
[Interviewer]: Yeah. I'm sure we have. Um, talk about that summer, in terms of your classes. Did you do the correspondence courses?
[Jerry Lewis]: Well, it wasn't the Summer, it was in the Spring. We were on the quarter system, and it was right in the middle of the quarter. I was teaching two classes. One was a graduate seminar in mass communications, so I wrote to the students. We didn't have email or any of this kind of stuff. The University quickly -- and I'm not sure how they did it. Of course, everything went to pass/fail, one of the few times Universities act rapidly on any policy decision. Everything went to pass/fail. So I wrote to the graduate students, and I said, "Complete your paper," which they were already working on. And I said, "You all have A's for the course. Complete your paper." I'm still waiting for six papers to come in. Graduate students. Three papers came in, six didn't. Graduate students are no fools.
So then, to my undergrad[uates] -- I was teaching the "Crowd" course [Sociology 360, Collective Behavior], and so I said, “Write a paper discussing the mood of the campus prior to May 4th.” Just like your original questions. And the papers were terrific, because the students of course were all over campus, and responding to each related to President Nixon’s speech, which we don’t talk about enough. I know in my own writing, I don’t make -- I do now -- but I don’t make enough about the impact of President Nixon’s Cambodian Incursion speech. I learned that after reading Hippies, by Peter [Jedick]. The papers were terrific, so I content-analyzed them, and then published an article with a graduate student about them. In fact, you folks have the papers in your archives.
So that’s how we finished the semester. And then there were all kinds of
rumors going on, that we were going to close down, we were going to become part
What was so sad, and this is going to sound terrible -- and I apologize ahead of time – but we never had a chance to mourn as a community, because we were, and I’m going to use this, and it’s unfortunate words, but I think it communicates -- I felt envious of Virginia Tech, because they had a memorial service that evening, which was on national -- and I started crying. I said, “We never had that.” And that was one of the reasons I developed a vigil, with a couple of students, which remarkably has lasted. It gave us a chance to mourn as a community, which as a sociologist I know is very important.
[Interviewer]: This is the Candlelight Vigil you’re talking about?
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah. [Emile] Durkheim taught us that. So most of the time
I -- from the end of the quarter system to the start of Summer Quarter, I just
tried to put my thoughts on paper, and spent a lot of time talking to the media,
and spent a lot of time working with the [Akron]
Beacon Journal people. Did quite a bit of speaking. When to
So, summer came, and I said, I’ve got to start writing, because I’ve just
been telling this story from my point of view as a Faculty Marshal. Because
there were three hundred eyewitnesses to the shootings at least, but what I
was was a faculty member, and there were very few of
us who was trained in crowd behavior, and that’s one reason that my role became
prominent. So I had to start writing this up. So we have a theory in sociology
called Smelser’s theory of collective behavior,
S-m-e-l-s-e-r-s, Smelser’s theory of collective
behavior, Neil Smelser. So I started writing using
his model, and I was in my office in Lowry. And a knock on the door. Standing
there was a very prominent sociologist, who I knew by reputation, named A. Paul
Hare, H-a-r-e. We all have our role models, you know. So I shook hands with
him, and he said, “I understand you’re writing about May 4th.” And I said,
“Yes.” Actually he said,
So that’s what I did in the summer. Then, I can’t remember what I taught in the summer, but I think it may have been Theory. Then I did a lot of talking again. The media continued to be interested. Diane, my wife, said to me, “If you have a lonely journalist, invite him to dinner.” And I said, “Okay.” So one, it was fairly late July or early August, I was sitting in my office, there was a knock on the door. I go open it up, and James Michener’s standing there.
I said, “Hello.”
He says, “I'd like to talk to you.”
And I said, “Okay.”
We talked a little bit, and it was going to be a long interview. So [I asked], “Would you like to come to dinner?”
He said, “Yeah.”
So I called my wife up. I said, “Guess who’s coming to dinner Sunday night?” And she’s a big fan of James Mitchner, read several of his books.
She said, “Who.”
I said, “James Michener.”
She said, “Call me back,” and hung up. [laughs]
I said, “I’m not kidding, I invited James --“
Diane’s a terrific cook, a very great, gracious hostess, so she went crazy
researching. She had a dinner that was beautiful: Roughing,
So the summer for the most part was spent working with journalists, and working on these three papers. I never have failed to get anything published about May 4th, which is for an academic, very rare. You always get something turned down. And I don’t know if it’s the quality of my writing, or the incident. I would like to think it’s the quality of my writing, but I really think it’s the incident. So that’s what I did in the summer.
Then classes started in the Fall. Of course the big event in the Fall, in
the late summer, was the
[Interviewer]: And the Scranton Report, I believe, came out around the same time as the Portage County Grand Jury, which went in the complete other direction.
[Jerry Lewis]: That’s right. It came out I think October 7th, and the Portage
Grand Jury came out. Then, after the Portage County Grand Jury came out, we --
about thirty faculty, which came to be known as the AdimaCap
-- all struggled against the state grand -- it was a state grand jury
actually -- and [against] the report, which was pretty courageous, I thought,
the faculty. We were at a lot of risk, given
Then, basically what I did after that, in ’70, ’71, was write some more things. And I’m not sure when this happened, but in early January I began to think about May 4th, 1971, and work on that. The University was not handling it very well -- the administration. So, I got to talking to one of my students, Michelle Klein, and I said, “Let’s have a vigil.” So, all of a sudden I became organizer of the vigil. We did some planning, and started working with administration. At one point one of the senior administrators said, “Well, we’ll let you have eight people on the hill. One doing the vigil, and one support person.” And I said, “Okay, but what are you going to do about the other two thousand people who are gonna be there?” They got up and left the room, and then they came back in and said, “Okay, you can have as many as you want. Just so as it’s not violent.” Okay. And again this whole blaming-the-victim. So it wasn’t two thousand people, but it was a significant portion.
Then, another student came to me that I didn’t know too well -- I think he might have had me for intro, a man named Jeff Auld, A-u-l-d -- and said, “Let’s have a walk around campus before the vigil.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because there are various sites.” Of course, there had been some events on Front Campus. In fact one of the Yippies, Jerry Rubin, had spoken on front campus on April 10th, 1970. And I may be putting words in his mouth, but I remember sort of a historical walk around campus. So it became the vigil walk and vigil, and essentially it’s the same today as it was in 1970. Of course, there is a lot of media attention and things like that.
And then, basically my role has since then been the teacher-scholar, and I’ve always seen myself as a resource person.
[Interviewer]: You talked about communicating the message of May 4, and obviously there have been competing messages over time. Do you think the message has improved over time, is better now?
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah. I think
[Interviewer]: The [Terry] Strubbe tape.
[Jerry Lewis]: The Strubbe tape, right. And if there
was an order to fire, did it come down from
[Interviewer]: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share?
[Jerry Lewis]: No. [to graduate student assistant] I compliment to your boss. He’s very well-prepared. I’ve been interviewed a lot, and this is really excellent interview. [pauses] I guess I do want to recognize the work of Mark Seeman. I don’t know if you’re interviewing him or not, but --
[Interviewer]: I haven’t interviewed him, but I know who he is.
[Jerry Lewis]: He did just an absolutely extraordinary job of leading our
team of Carol Barbato, Laura Davis, and myself, and putting together the application.
Now, I’m seeing him this morning on the way over. His leadership and our work
will impact on
[Interviewer]: Jerry, thank you very much.
[Jerry Lewis]: Yeah, sure.