Mixed Media

Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties

Thomas M. Grace (PhD ’03, MA ’90, MSW ’75)

By Michael Flatt

When writing about history, best practices usually dictate doing so from an outsider’s position. Thomas M. Grace bucks that trend in his new book about the deadly Kent State University shootings on May 4, 1970. As an undergraduate history major, Grace was one of nine students wounded when National Guard troops opened fire during a campus protest, killing four. Although Grace summarizes his memories of the event, he avoids insisting upon the value of his experience, instead providing exhaustive research of a pivotal moment for the country. 

His premise: Though the shootings are well-known, historians have long missed the larger context in which it occurred. He writes, “Until cast into the national limelight, the small Ohio city was in a forgettable Midwestern place, its university relegated to an unremarkable spot in academia and its students consigned to a veiled position in American class structure.” In fact, Grace points out, Kent State established a record of activism dating back to 1958, and its students continued to organize into the next decade over such issues as labor, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Grace’s work rewards interested readers with a more nuanced understanding of an event—and an institution—that has long been oversimplified. (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016)