‘Hard Hat Riot’ After Kent State Killings

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Construction workers among a crowd at a counter demonstration against a student rally, being held in the wake of the Kent State shootings. ( Leo Vals / Stringer)

The ‘Hard Hat Riot’ of 1970 Pitted Construction Workers Against Anti-War Protesters

by Angela Seratorre/Smithsonianmag.com

In the days after May 4, 1970, the date the Ohio National Guard killed four unarmed Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War, anti-war activists were galvanized. In demonstrations held across the country, the protestors mourned the deaths of their compatriots but also felt emboldened to continue the fight to end a war that had no end in sight. They sought to show the rest of the world (and themselves) that they weren’t alone—that millions of people agreed the war must end, and that the administration of President Richard Nixon be held accountable.

The next day, college students in New York City gathered with nearly 1,000 demonstrators to protest at the United Nations. In the wake of the massacre rapidly becoming a national flashpoint, Mayor John Lindsay, who had spoken against the war at the 1968 Republican National Convention, ordered the flag at City Hall flown at half-mast in the Kent State students’ memory. The backlash began soon after.

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