Special Collections and Archives
Diane Williams, Oral History
Diane L. Williams, Oral History
Interviewed by Deborah Woodson, April 29, 1990
Transcribed by Lisa Whalen and Kate Medicus
My name is Diane Williams, this is April twenty- ninth, 1990. This is recollections of May 4th, and the weekend leading up to May 4th. Friday night I had been downtown, and the -- the kids had, you know -- it was warm, it was nice, there were just hundreds of kids out on the sidewalks & stuff, down on South Wat -- or, North Water Street, around JB's & that. And we had started pitching pennies against the curb. And more and more people came out and were pitching pennies, and getting rambunctious. You know, spring fever. And next thing I know, they're like taking over the street. One lane at a time, to the point where they were like blocking the traffic going in and out.
(interviewer) The students?
The students, and, you know how downtown Kent is on the weekends. People come from Cuyahoga Falls, and from Akron; they come from all over to come to the bars in Kent because of the -- the close proximity of all the bars. And there were a lot more bars down there then, than there are now. You know, the Pirates Cove had burned down, and the place that was Big Daddy's, you remember that? Then they -- somebody got a hold of a tire, and they had set it on fire in the middle of the street, you know and I mean it really started getting out of hand, so I left at that point. And went up to the Townhouse, on Main Street. Well, we hear all this commotion, and here the National Guard had come in and started like, herding the people up towards the campus, They'd come in in bus loads. And they had pellet guns. They were maybe, half to three quarters of an inch around, and a good inch, maybe inch and a quarter long. I mean, they left welts. They served the purpose, you know, without killing anyone, without really doing tremendous amounts of damage. OK, well, I just ducked back into the Townhouse and sort of sat there and watched all this, you know, the herding them like sheep, back up to the campus. That was the end of that.
Well, Saturday I went to the Chippewa Lake Apreciation Day, so I was out of town for the whole day. We got back in town about one thirty in the morning, and the National Guard had blocked off the entire city. And I was only seventeen, and I had a curfew, and I was supposed to have been home already, you know. And I'm thinking, "Well, I've got to get home." They wouldn't let the car in, so I got out of the car thinking, "Well, I'll just walk home from here." Because they cut me off at the Summit Street bridge. I wasn't allowed to come any closer to town than that. And this guard comes up, and I mean, he sticks his bayonet right in my face and says, "Get back in the car. You're not entering the city." And I pulled out my drivers license, I said, "Look," you know, "this is where I live, it's just a few blocks from here. All I'm gonna do is walk home. My parents are expecting me." They wouldn't let me. I mean, I had to go back to Cuyahoga Falls, call them at two o'clock in the morning, explain, "I can't get back into town," which they were a little upset about.
And then Sunday, the guard was up on campus, and I had gone up and walked around with a girlfriend. She was like, taking daisies and sticking them in the barrels of the guards' rifles. Just trying to say, "Look, you don't need these here. This is -- we're gonna have a peaceful demonstration on Monday." It was announced, and yes, there were people that came in from out of state, specifically for this demonstration. They had speeches scheduled, certain people were going to lecture. I mean, these demonstrations had taken place before on a smaller scale, but this was going to be a big one, because this was right after we'd found out that the -- the war had spilled over the borders into Cambodia. And everybody was really upset about it. So on Monday, when we're sitting there, waiting for the various lecturers to speak, you know, people were throwing frisbees and -- and just kind of being normal college students. They weren't just sitting; but we were ordered to disperse. And we were supposed to leave. And I'm pretty sure it was Dr. Franks, comes running through the crowd, saying, "Look, they've got live guns, these are real bullets this time." Well, nobody believed him, because they had used the pellet guns before, and we just kind of thought that's what they would have. Well, they started with the tear gas first, and they'd throw the tear gas at the students, and the students would just pick it up and say, "OK, we've had enough of this," and they'd throw it back at the guardsmen. And then, yeah, you know, rocks and bottles started going, but, to my knowledge, I never heard a sniper. I never heard any gunfire whatsoever, until the National Guard actually opened fire. And when -- when I first heard the gunshots, it's like, I real quick, ran and hid behind this -- this car, it was a yellow Volkswagen. And a bullet went right through the car. I mean, it went through -- from one side of the car, right straight through the other. When I saw this -- all of a sudden, this hole was like, instantly there in the side of this car, I decided it was time to leave, to get out. And I saw other, like -- groups of students, where somebody had obviously been hit, but I didn't stick around to go find out. I mean, I just -- I left.
The fact that the -- the entire town was under martial law, you weren't even allowed out on your porch after five o'clock. And the time had changed already, so it stayed light later. You've got these helicopters buzzing all over town and National Guards. I mean, all this military -- vehicles and stuff, running up and down the streets. And it -- it just seemed so unreal to me. I mean, I had grown up here in Kent, it was a -- this is such a nice little cultural cauldron of different nationalities and different ideas. But everybody up to that point had lived very harmoniously. You know, we didn't have racial problems in high schools. It just -- it just seemed that something like that would never, ever happen here. And then for it to be so major, so devastating. And when I sit and I think about it, I get -- I don't know what you'd call it. It's sad -- it's a sadness, the feeling that I get.
But when I walked downstairs and saw the bodies sitting there, the art exhibit on the second floor, it just seemed so real. It seemed like the bodies should just kind of get up and go away. But that can't happen. I don't know what else to say. You kind of get a picture in your head and it won't -- it doesn't go anywhere, it's just there. [Pauses, hesitates] I mean, it covers a lot of ground. Aaron's ten, I don't know that I would really want to get him -- I don't know that I want to bring him up here.
(Interviewer) That's your son.
Right. I don't know if -- if I would want to bring him up and show him this yet. I mean, he's pretty worldly in his -- in his way of looking at the world, and he's been pretty politically involved. I got him real involved in the -- in the '88 campaign. But this is something that I don't think -- even though there was a letter there, downstairs, from a nine year old, I don't think he's ready to really deal with the dichotomy. It's -- it's the American way, we're supposed to be able to voice our opinions, and have group demonstrations, you know. And this was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration. If the guardsmen hadn't been there, I don't think there would have been any violence. That -- that wasn't the point, it was to bring people together to protest the violence that's going on on the other side of the world. And the involvement of American kids over there, put in a position where they have to follow orders. And they don't even understand why. I don't think Aaron at ten years old is old enough to understand why yet either. It's a pretty heavy duty concept even. I mean, I want him to respect the laws, and respect authority, but know that, if there is something that he doesn't agree with, that he's allowed to speak out against that. And speak his opinion, and possibly affect change in a peaceful way. And hope that this doesn't ever happen again. Anything specific come to mind?
(Interviewer) Not to me, no. I think that's about it.
Okay, that's about it.
One thing I didn't mention was the fact that I was a student at Kent State University High School at the time. So I was on campus quite often, and, this pretty much had started out like every other day. To go up and listen to the lectures, to be a part of the peaceful demonstration. My thoughts on the memorial, I think it's something that should have been done years ago. President Schwartz's letter in the paper, I think was very eloquent and was a good idea. He took a lot of flack for it, even right down to where the money came from to run the ads in the nine different newspapers. But I think it was an excellent letter. I think he made some excellent points, and no, I don't think we're supposed to forget this. We're supposed to learn, so it doesn't happen again. I'm real disappointed about the -- the argument that's gone back and forth on the whole memorial issue. The fact that there are people that don't want it at all -- that we should just forget that part of -- of the University's history, and the bad name that it brought to the University that lasted for so long. But, now that it's been twenty years, and the memorial is finally in, to be still arguing over how much money should have been spent on it, in my opinion, is ridiculous. I understand Alan Canfora was one of those wounded, I understand that he is very emotionally involved. I also understand that with the feelings of the University at the time, that there was a major argument going on between the two of them, you know. But after twenty years you would think that he would be able to -- to set this aside. And here is the memorial, it's going in, people are going to remember. I thought it was ludicrous that they even considered putting the donors' names on the memorial. And I knew a lot -- I know a lot of townspeople that couldn't understand why they had a problem with putting the victims' names on the memorial. I mean, that is why it's there. That's why it's going in. Even now, they're talking about putting it off to the side, so that it's not actually on the memorial. I think that's crazy. I think it should be right there. I mean that is the reason for the memorial. It's because of the four dead and the nine wounded.
I really like the original drawing that they had in the paper, in fact, I've been trying to come up with a copy of that. The original design with the four large, marble pieces standing up, and then the nine other smaller ones out around it. The way it was drawn up, it looked beautiful, it was the neatest concept. Because if you had taken all these pieces, and were able to push them all in together, it would have formed a box. But the way it was, it was like a box that had exploded, it was like, the perfect piece of art to depict the explosive attitude about the whole situation. It was perfect. It was excellent. Why they didn't even go with just a smaller, scaled down version, that I don't understand. But yeah, I'm glad the memorial is going in. I think it's important. I think it's important for -- for generation after generation to remember. I mean, there are kids on the campus right now who don't even understand the Vietnam War. They don't understand why there were demonstrations. They don't understand the heated situation of the seventies. They don't understand the reason why there were people that were against the war, or those that were for the war. And, it's an important part of history. Not just here for Kent, but for the nation, for the world.