Kenneth Foscue, Personal Narrative
Submitted via email, September 3, 2000
I was a freshman at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. in May 1970. Like many students at ECU at the time, I came from a small eastern North Carolina town n an area not known for activism. During high school, I remember intellectually opposing the war, but never been active or participated in the anti-war movement. I attended a teach-in at the university in the fall of 1969, but had not become active in the anti-war movement. Like most, I was shocked when I heard of the killings at Kent State. A rally and demonstration was called soon after, and I was one of the four students who carried black crosses with the names of the dead students, I believe I carried the one with Schroeder's name. Some of the events of that day are fuzzy after thirty years, but I remember a confrontation at the University's main flagpole and an attempt to lower it to half-mast. We were stopped by the head of security when we later found out was an ex-agent of an U.S. intelligence agency- I think CIA. I remember some sort of weak compromise struck up. The main thing I remember about that day and that event was being in the crowd and feeling that I had passed over a sort of threshold- that nothing would ever be the same. I remember feeling that being against the war was no longer just an "light" intellectual and moral activity, but that one had to make serious commitment and be willing to put more "on the line," especially since these students had given their lives to the cause. As a colleague at work recently said to me, it was the first time we learned what real commitment meant. I can still remember that moment and that feeling. I count that moment as the beginning of my thirty years of activism in peace and social justice.
I can't say that right after that I become a full-time committed anti-war activist- it was generally more difficult at a backwoods school like ECU. I attended rallies in the area, and became more cognizant and active in the civil rights movement in eastern North Carolina-which had come to the forefront later that many places in the South. I began making more connections between the war in Vietnam and other economic and social issues. Eventually, I became interested in community organizing and worked for a year in VISTA (a local recruit in Greenville, N.C.). Later, I became interested in labor issues and the labor movement as a means of social change, and have worked to support that union movement as an activist, paid organizer and active member over the years. I have been active in the worker's health movement for many years as an activist is "COSH" groups in the South and in Connecticut where I now live, and was a staff person for the Brown Lung Association which fought to clean up textile mills and win just compensation for textile workers. This work eventually led me to my present job in environmental health for the state health department. I still trace all my experiences and commitment back to that time in May 1970 and those four young people.
Postscript: Over the years I have always commemorated May 4, though always on a personal level. This past May, the thirtieth anniversary, I really wanted to attend the Commemoration in Kent. Several years earlier, I was able to visit the memorial site, though it was late at night and very eerie. I made firm plans to go, but had to cancel out because of too many work and family commitments. I had tried to get the forementioned colleague at work to go with me, but she was unable also. The day of the Fourth, we both felt like we had to do something to commemorate Kent State. We rushed to a strike picket line which has been going on for sometime, but there was no one there. We thought of another strike picket in the area, but that was not going on either. We found ourselves, two aging white haired radicals, desperately looking for some sort of demonstration, rushing around Hartford. We actually considered stopping a cop to ask if he knew of one! A bittersweet memory, but the commitment was still there!