(NewsNation) — On this day in history — May 4, 1970 — National Guard troops killed four students at Kent State University.
The sounds of gunfire piercing the warm spring day rang around the country, shut down college campuses from coast to coast and brought 4 million students into the streets.
For the summer of 1970, they protested America’s war in Vietnam and the continued drafting of young men to go fight, and many to die, far away from home.
The Guardsmen opened fire on day four of protests over an expansion of the Vietnam war. The state’s governor called the protesters unamerican just 24 hours before the shooting, and promised to drive them from the school and city.
William Knox Schroder died an hour after being shot. He was a member of the school’s ROTC battalion. He wasn’t part of the protests and died nearly 400 feet from the National Guardsmen.
The Guardsmen said they fired only after experiencing incoming sniper fire. But an FBI report later found that to be not true — the Guardsmen fired first.
They were the only ones shooting, and later threatened unarmed students with further violence if they wouldn’t leave.
The summer of 1970 became one of many low points in America during the Vietnam war.
For all the talk now of how divided we are now, we were divided then, as well.
NewsNation host Leland Vittert said his mother staffed an aid station during the Baltimore riots of 1968. And he ended up at a corner in the same neighborhood 47 years later, covering riots once again in 2015.
For all the division of 1970, there was hope then, too. At about the same time as Kent State, America brought the Apollo 13 astronauts home. They nearly died in outer space on their way to the moon in a crippled capsule.
And there is hope now. There’s a lot of talk about the problems in America on “On Balance with Leland Vittert.” But, Vittert said, “it’s important to remind ourselves every night that America remains exceptional in spite of the problems. But we are also exceptional for how we deal with them — as we did in the 1970s and as we are now.”