Author Robert Giles Discusses Kent State Shootings with Free Speech Center

Story by Selah Blair / Contributing Writer

Author and journalist Robert Giles joined Free Speech Director Ken Paulson to discuss the Kent State Shootings. Giles was the managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal at State at the time of the shootings.

College protests broke out in May 1970 after President Richard Nixon announced that U.S. troops would be deployed to Cambodia. The majority of protests were peaceful. Giles said of Kent State, “It was the last place in the world that you would have expected to see violence.”

The Kent city mayor sent for the Ohio National Guard after students protested and later set fire to a university building. Protests continued and tensions built until May 4, 1970 when guardsmen shot at a crowd of students, which resulted in the death of four students.

The question still stands of why the guardsmen fired. Giles said, “The evidence is clear that the students were not threatening the lives of the guardsmen.”

There were conflicting initial reports about what occurred that day. Widespread reports stated that four were killed, including two guardsmen and two students. Giles said that a reporter on his team claimed that he witnessed four students killed first-hand. The Beacon printed his report.

Giles said, “It was a gut decision, but I believed the fact that he was able to observe the action.”

Paulson said that the Kent State Shootings and the Beacon’s coverage of the event represented the First Amendment rights of press, assembly and speech. Despite public outcry against the newspaper, Giles said that his courage in covering the event was inspired by a quote by his previous mentor:

“Get the truth and print it.”

The Beacon Journal received a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the event. Giles’s book When Truth Mattered: The Kent State Shootings 50 Years Later details his experience covering the shootings as an editor.

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