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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Vietnam-era protesters forge ahead, leave turbulent past in perspective

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Roseann Canfora, who teaches at Kent State University, took part in the protests that led to the
1970 shootings there.  Do I regret who I was then? Not in any way, shape, or form,  she says. Roseann Canfora, who teaches at Kent State University, took part in the protests that led to the 1970 shootings there. Do I regret who I was then? Not in any way, shape, or form, she says.
DAVID FOSTER Enlarge

Former student activist Roseann Canfora remembers ducking behind a car to avoid being shot May 4, 1970, when students who were protesting the Vietnam War on the campus of Kent State University were killed by members of the Ohio National Guard.

Ms. Canfora was a sophomore and a member of Students for a Democratic Society at the time of the Kent State shootings, which marked the climax of the anti-Vietnam War movement in this country.

She also remembers breaking windows and spray-painting anti-war slogans at police and military buildings on and near campus during the weekend leading up to the shooting, but looking back, she said she does not regret her actions.

I admit to throwing rocks through a draft board window, she said. I remember thinking, I m willing to go to jail if it draws attention to the fact I don t want my brothers going to war. I don t want my friends going to die for an unjust cause.

But more than 38 years later, Ms. Canfora, now 58, has led a respected teaching career, currently working as a journalism professor at Kent State while also teaching at Aurora High School in Aurora, Ohio.

Ms. Canfora is not a neighbor and does not know Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. That s probably a good thing for her. If she did, her name could be bandied about on national news shows and used by the campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain as an example of the radical company Mr. Obama keeps.

For months, GOP political ads have attacked Mr. Obama for knowing Chicagoan Bill Ayers, a 1970s anti-war radical who is now a college professor who lives in Mr. Obama s neighborhood. Sarah Palin, Mr. McCain s vice presidential running mate, again raised Mr. Ayers name at a campaign rally Wednesday at Bowling Green State University, questioning what she has said are Mr. Obama s ties to terrorists.

But Ms. Canfora and other former war protesters say their radical days years ago have not stopped them from being mainstream citizens today.

I went on to get three degrees at Kent State and a master s degree in journalism, she said. It makes me angry to hear the connections they try to make with Barack Obama and somebody years ago who from what I understand is a productive member of society.

She said her experiences during the anti-war movement helped shape who she is today.

Do I regret who I was then? Not in any way, shape, or form, she said. Looking back at all of those times where I faced losing my freedom, my reputation, that is a very important part of my resume of who I am today. I feel proud to have been part of a generation of activists that fought for an end to an unjust war. To negate that part of my life is to negate who I am today.

Ms. Canfora sad she vividly remembers the May 4 shootings at Kent State. She said bullets whizzed by that day, and after it was all over, four students were dead. Many more were wounded, including her brother, Allan Canfora, who eventually recovered.

An intense time

Bill Fall, who was president of student government in 1970 at the University of Toledo when the Kent State shootings occurred, was not a radical in any way.

The former Reserve Officer Training Corps member who believed in supporting the troops said the political atmosphere at the university was not as explosive as it was on other campuses, although several students were arrested in anti-war protests.

It was very intense, both in context of the Kent State shootings and frankly a whole series of highly intense actions ... The Black Student Union blockaded University Hall one day and occupied the president s office at one point. There was a lot of heavy-duty expressions going on.

Mr. Fall, now 60, is chief executive officer of the William Fall Group, a Toledo-based real estate appraisal company, and a University of Toledo board of trustees member.

He said his experiences in student leadership helped make him the man he is today. He also said many student activists from that period have gone on to live successful lives as well.

He said he resents personal political attacks from Obama and McCain supporters in this year s election.

I felt my role was one of being a mediator and staying the course and allowing for the stating of opinions, he said. It s made me much more open-minded, much more open to diversity than I would ve been without that event in the 1960s.

A difficult journey

Former Kent State student activist Ken Hammond, who is a professor of east Asian history at New Mexico State University, was a witness to the May 4, 1970, shootings.

He and Ms. Canfora were among 25 Kent State protesters indicted in October, 1970, on rioting charges related to the shooting.

But shortly after being shot at by National Guardsmen, Mr. Hammond said he fled the campus and eventually the state, fearing someone in the federal government would target him and other activists.

Unlike Ms. Canfora, Mr. Hammond did not immediately return to Ohio to face charges after his indictment. Fortunately for him, almost all charges against the 25 people later called the Kent 25 were dropped about a year later.

After the charges were dropped, Mr. Hammond did not return to Kent State to finish his degree, and his life became a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.

I got married to my first wife, Anna Marie, in December of 1978, he said. We were married about a year and a half ... I was in an automobile accident in 1980. I lost my right leg. My wife was killed. It was a real yucky event.

After the accident, Mr. Hammond won nearly $1 million in a lawsuit against the company that made his vehicle. Kent State later awarded him his degree, and his unique life experiences helped him gain admission to Harvard University, where he received a master s degree and later a doctorate focusing his studies on east Asia. I got a PhD in east Asian languages, he said. I started at Harvard in 1987 and I finished in 1994.

While enrolled at Harvard, he spent time traveling to Beijing, where he met and later married his second wife, Elvira.

In 1994, he was offered a teaching position at New Mexico State University, and he and his wife settled in Las Cruces, N.M., where they raised three children.

Some would say Mr. Hammond s views are as radical now as they have ever been.

I don t think most of us who went through that now want to say we were just young and foolish, he said. We certainly were young and foolish, but I don t think that changes what we did and what we should ve done.

Jeffrey Brown, head of the department of history at New Mexico State University. said that, despite his past, Mr. Hammond is a well-respected professor at the university and considered an expert on issues related to China.

A different view

Former Toledo Mayor Doug DeGood was no student activist when he attended the University of Toledo, but he did sign a student petition to end the war that was published in the university s student newspaper on Feb. 2, 1968.

I was inclined toward the traditional democratic process to ending the war as opposed to those kinds of external activities that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, he said. [Protesting] didn t strike me as pragmatically effective .

I thought it was substantially less effective than changing the representatives in Congress.

Mr. DeGood served three terms as mayor of Toledo from 1977 to 1983, back when mayoral terms lasted two years.

In 1998, he and his wife, Karen, moved to Atlanta, where he does administrative consulting work for local government.

I m just kind of semi-retired, he said.

Easing the pain

Former Kent State student activist Carol Mirman said the conservative culture in states such as Ohio prevents some people from understanding how people such as herself could go on to live successful lives.

Ms. Mirman, also a protester at the time of the shootings, is one of the most famous of the Kent 25. She was photographed in the Pulitzer Prize winning picture of Kent student Jeremy Miller s slain body, which she remembers seeing in front of her in a pool of blood after she ran from the gunfire.

I couldn t believe what I was seeing, she said. It was shock essentially. I touched him. I realized he couldn t live with all that blood running out of his head. I had a feeling I didn t want him to be alone.

Ms. Mirman was an art student at Kent State when the shooting occurred. After she was indicted, she did not return to the university for two years but eventually finished her degree and moved to San Francisco, California.

It was there that she used her artistic talents to draw protest posters for radical groups such as the Black Panthers, speaking out against not only the Vietnam War but also the oppression of women and minorities.

Twenty-five years later, she returned to Ohio to study art therapy and now, at 60, she s an art therapist for the Cleveland area s Hospice and Palliative Care Partners of Ohio, an agency of the Visiting Nurse Association.

Ms. Mirman, who never married or had children, said she uses art therapy to help elderly and terminally ill patients and their loved ones cope with impending death.

She said it is no coincidence she chose this as a profession.

Her experience years ago at Kent State inflicted extreme emotional trauma, and she said art helped her cope.

The ways that always worked for me as an artist was to use art. It really helped a lot, she said. It s really about pain reduction, pain on the emotional and spiritual level.

Ms. Mirman said she believes she has lived a successful life since her days at Kent State but doesn t consider her life to be mainstream by Ohio standards because she never married or raised children.

She, like most former activists, has no regrets about her views, many of which she still maintains today.

Why would I regret demonstrating for what I believe in, she said. I stand up. When I am so moved I will stand, period.

Ms. Canfora said she would not have chosen to blow up property the way Mr. Ayers did to express her views or end the war, but even today she does not necessarily disagree with his actions and does not think knowing him should be politically damaging.

Prior to attending college, she said she was apathetic about the war until many of her friends were drafted and forced to serve in a conflict with which they disagreed.

It was the letters I was getting from my friends in Vietnam, hearing my brothers talk about having to go and fight, she said. It was a turning point for me, seeing the images on television that Walter Cronkite was showing of what we were really doing over there.

Because somebody likes Bill Ayers reaches a greater level of frustration than those who throw rocks through a draft board window, that should never have branded an entire generation of conscientious anti-war activists who wanted to save their friends, she said.

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:calcorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6168.



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