It started simply enough for the times. April of 1970. Ohio State had been a Midwestern hot bed of protest for a few years by then. It was overlooked because of huge protests and clashes at Berkley, Columbia, Harvard and more well-known schools in major media markets. They got the press. OSU was seen nationally as a bucolic football powerhouse, not a nest of commie hippie pinkos.

There had been protests for years at Ohio State. However in 1970, Governor Jim Rhodes was facing term limits and running for Senate. To score political points he ramped up responses to peaceful protests. Police response became more vicious.

The Columbus Police Department had a rapid response team for protests. It was known as “D” Platoon. They were notoriously vicious in their use of violence as a first response to dissent.

Dissent at Ohio State was more visible than at any time during the Sixties. Some of this was due to Ohio State’s indifference to student demands. A lot was due to Nixon being in the White House. His aggressive management of the Vietnam war angered most of us. After Bobby’s killing more of us gave up on peaceful resolutions. Our anger. pain and despair manifested in more protests that weren’t as peaceful as they once were.

The national Anti-War Movement turned their attention to Middle America. The SDS was touring Big 10 schools organizing in opposition to the war. After the election of Nixon they realized the Anti-War Movement was seen by most adult Americans as a coastal phenomenon. A show of strength in the heartland was needed.

During that time I was on campus a lot as a high school senior against the status quo. One night I was in an apartment off campus listening to a woman talk about the Movement and the need for solidarity against the war, draft and racism. I left after an hour or so. It wasn’t till years later I realized she was likely Bernadette Dohrn.

On April, 15 1970, 2000 protesters marched down High Street (Columbus’ main N/S thoroughfare) to the Ohio Statehouse, flanked by a large police presence. A show of force to keep the hippies in line. On April, 29 the Ad Hoc Committee For Student Rights called a strike to demand the addition of Black Studies and Women’s issues to the University’s courses. The goal was to establish them as full-fledged departments eventually.

OSU_RIOT1

Police in riot gear line up on High Street – photo from Highway Patrol archives

In the center of the OSU campus is a large grassy area known as the Oval. That was ground zero for the strike.. Students picketed the University admin building. The Ohio State Highway Patrol (They have jurisdiction over State property) responded by closing the roads near campus. They then moved into the crowd with tear gas and loaded weapons. And in the 60’s the OSP was not shy about clubbing protesters.

Predictably, tensions exploded into violence.

As the students moved towards High Street, word spread and the crowd swelled. (This HS Senior joined in). The Staties called in reinforcements.

At 15th Avenue and High Street, the traditional entrance to the OSU Campus, stood two brick columns that supported open, iron gates. They were a gift from some early Twentieth Century class. The gates were swung closed by the protesters, symbolically closing the School. Those gates have since been replaced with two concrete columns, sans gates, to prevent that from ever happening again.

Bricks from the pathways that crisscrossed the Oval were handy projectiles. Along High Street, Molotov cocktails exploded in brilliant orange fireballs as storefronts went up in flames. Windows were smashed as the students surged. The response of local law enforcement (CPD’s “D” Platoon had been called in) was gas, clubs and opening fire on the crowd with live ammo. The clash raged for hours as the spring sky darkened with gas, smoke and dusk.

At 10 PM Governor Rhodes, making a show of force to crush dissent in Ohio, called out the Ohio National Guard. (No Ohio Governor has ever deployed the Guard more than Rhodes)

The sight of troops, armored personnel carriers and tanks rolling down the streets of a major American university in a state capitol has a chilling effect on dissent. It always conjures visions of the Blitzkrieg or Soviet responses to dissent.

In the aftermath it was determined seven people had been shot, thankfully with no fatalities.

During that violent day, Football coaching legend Woody Hayes spoke to the students attempting to quell the violence. During the unrest, Woody was the only member of the Ohio State administration to actually speak to the students, to seek peace. Woody always seemed to genuinely care about the students at OSU.

The next day violence erupted again as news broke of the secret war waged by Nixon in Cambodia. An estimated 4000 students hit the streets. College campuses across the nation exploded into violence. Ohio State was as violent as any. Kent State and Ohio University also erupted showing the War had lost support in the Ohio hinterland.

As the smoke cleared, 400 had been arrested and more than 100 were injured. Again, with the brutality of the city and state’s response, it was pure luck there were no fatalities.

There were smaller protests and violence as the police and national guard kept a lid on the campus area during the next few days. There were armed checkpoints manned by armed troops. APC’s and tanks rumbled along High Street recalling the Soviet mobilization to crush the’68’ Prague Spring. Following the news of the Kent State shooting, security became oppressive. The campus was cordoned off from the rest of Columbus.

This continued through the 6th of May when Ohio State cancelled classes. OSU reopened on May, 19th under tight security. A busload of students from my high school arrived on campus to take some state achievement exams. I could still smell the cloying stench of tear gas lingering in the air. Or so it seemed. (I came in second in the state in history, by the way. Behind my nemesis Gail.) It was chilling to be passed through those military checkpoints.

Early on, coverage was quashed by Rhodes, the University and City of Columbus. Columbus and OSU did not want the publicity nationally. Rhodes was running for Senate and wanted to look strong on protests.The media played down the riots(The Columbus has always been pliable) and then Kent State pushed it off the radar.

The riot here at OSU is largely forgotten, now. The disturbance at OSU was larger and more violent than Kent State. It was a miracle no one died.

The walkways on the Oval were paved with asphalt to deny any future use of the bricks as ammo. However the disturbances at OSU tend to center around Football nowadays.

Jim Rhodes lost his bid in the primary for Senate. In 1974 he ran for, and won reelection as Governor of Ohio. Twice.

No one was involved at the OSU riot was prosecuted here for excessive use of force.

The Nixon Administration’s take was the students at Kent and OSU deserved whatever happened. The party line here in Ohio was the same.

In 1974, charges were dismissed against the eight guardsmen accused of the shootings.

Evangelize!
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  • annekarima53

    Those were the days, my friend
    We thought they’d never end
    We’d sing and dance forever and a day
    We’d live the life we’d choose
    We’d fight and never lose
    For we were young and sure to have our way

  • Think.

    Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
    We’re finally on our own.
    This summer I hear the drumming,
    Four dead in OHIO.
    ~Neil Young, 1970
    It’s really hard to believe that no students were massacred at OSU, as they were at Kent State. Always remember Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeffrey Miller, and Sandra Scheuer.

  • Susan Riley

    I graduated HS in 1968, right here in Columbus, Ohio. By 1970, I was married to someone who was in Vietnam and at age 20, I was in full protest mode. I was on campus for much of the riot. I remember cops standing shoulder to shoulder along the sides of High St. with riot shields, helmets and clubs. Buses of more cops (perhaps memory fades and they were National Guard) drove down High St. shouting at us. It was frightening and glorious at the same time. (Haven’t thought about this in many years.)

  • TJsClone

    Excellent recap. I was a junior in HS when this all unfolded, with an older brother at OSU then who was lucky to avoid arrest.

  • http://ohio15th.blogspot.com StubbornLiberal

    Marches and protests were going on in front of various buildings across campus. In the spring of 1970, I was a freshman living in a south campus residence hall. Dorm rooms on the lower floors smelled of tear gas. I still remember seeing the Columbus Police marching in formation with riot gear on W. 11th avenue. It was a frightening time with curfews, restrictions, and the armed national guard around campus.

    After the students were killed at Kent, OSU closed, and we were ordered to leave campus within a few hours. When we returned to campus a few weeks later, everyone seemed very on edge and afraid. It was an incredibly horrifying experience and something I don’t want anyone to live through again.

  • J Robert Roemer

    I guess you had to be there. Innocent naive bystander me watched the rock, thrown by some asshole, carom off Haggerty Hall and hits a girl from my class in the forehead. Blood spurts onto the sidewalk in front of me. A burnout, Mick, from my fraternity is blocking the entrance as if he had a clue. He didn’t. Later that evening a cop shoots a tear gas canister at me for being out after curfew / martial law. (I was on the hill in front of the house) It sails way too close to my head. School gets canceled for the rest of the week and I haven’t opened a book. The hoard of crazed protesters leaves Columbus and burns down the Kent State ROTC building. Tension mounts and the rest is history.

    ps. they booed Woody on the Oval that day.

  • chloe

    that’s really sad because their parent probably died that day

  • Fran

    I was a student at Ohio State at the time. What you don’t mention is that at the very end of April, Nixon came to campus and stood on the steps of Page Hall, and spoke. He told us that are troops were not in Cambodia, and in unison and very loudly, we screamed Bullshit Bullshit! His visit to OSU did not make the news on WBNS or WLW…a few days later, I was in Denny Hall when the Ad Hoc committee for black studies took over the building. No one in or out. I was friends with some of the committee members and they were like “she’s cool, let her go” and I was out of there. What you also don’t mention, that although Woody Hayes went out there on High Street and urged rioters to go home, he never did that, when High Street was torn up and destroyed after a win over Michigan. One of the reasons I really didn’t like the guy. Destruction was okay in the name of football, but not in the name of political dissent. Hypocrit! One other point…before campus closed on the 6th, I was standing on the oval near Uni Hall by the administration building. I was standing with a friend who had served in Viet Nam and we were watching what was going on. The national Guard had surrounded the administration building. Students were on the oval side of the admin building and where we were standing by Uni. No one anything, just words. And all of a sudden bayonets were drawn and the guard started advancing towards us with bayonets at the ready and started hurling tear gas at us…for words that’s all, for words!!! Eyes burning, trouble breathing, we ran into Uni, stuck our faces into water fountains to get the stinging out of our eyes and throats. We ran out of the other side of Uni, and just kept running til we were off campus. That day campus was shut down. We returned to a police state.

  • TARDIS JOCKEY

    What I was trying to do is point out the indifference of OSU Administrators when the only person that actually talked to the students was the Football Coach.I could have been clearer. Alas, I don’t remember Nixon being in town. How’d I miss that? Thanks for sharing.

  • Janean Guy

    I was on campus during Spring Quarter in ’70, too, but I saw the situation in a different light. Instigators from the outside were coming onto campus stirring things up, and naive young students along with non-students who were doing nothing with their lives, instead of using their heads, got involved in these protests. Many were bystanders, innocent except for the fact that if they’d been sensible they’d have gone home and obeyed the curfews. I was a fulltime student who was also working a fulltime job, and I honestly did not appreciate the juvenile and disruptive behavior. I didn’t mind people protesting the war peacefully and while using their heads. But the demands for women’s and black studies, for the most part, were nonsense. (I actually signed up for a black studies course and found that it wasn’t designed for learning or reasonable discussion but as a forum for a bunch of whiners. And whenever I made a comment, I was looked at as a disrupter and was told once that I didn’t understand “the human condition” because I was white. Hmmm…….I thought that whites were human, too. I was so glad when classes were shut down because I hated that course, and I was allowed to take it as a pass/fail.) I remember being presented with a list of demands as I was trying to enter a building for class. I read it over and thought that other than a few items which should have been requested and not demanded, it was utter nonsense; and when I refused to sign and insisted on being allowed to go to class, I was called apathetic! And these days we see the same old left wingers behaving like fools and destroying our country. Back then I wasn’t cognitive of the fact that I was a conservative………….and I still am.

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