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Published: Monday, 3/5/2001

For former Kent State students, Rhodes a reminder of dark day

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

For the survivors of the Kent State shootings in May, 1970, the death of former Gov. James A. Rhodes yesterday rekindled haunting memories.

Since the shootings, Mr. Rhodes has been chastised for deciding to send National Guard troops to the campus during a Vietnam War protest. Four students were shot and killed.

“The blood of the Kent State martyrs remains upon the hands of James Rhodes forever,” said Alan Canfora, 52, one of nine students wounded in the shootings. “I believe he was haunted by his memories of his role at Kent State in 1970, and that's why he generally refused to discuss the incident,” Mr. Canfora said yesterday.

Lafeyette Tolliver, a Toledo attorney, was a photographer for the Kent State student newspaper and the yearbook. Along with other members of the Black Student Union, Mr. Tolliver had been warning white students that the National Guard troops were carrying loaded guns and were dangerous.

“Some of our members were from inner-city neighborhoods. They knew about these things. We spent the weekend warning students that the guardsmen had real bullets. The white kids thought nothing would happen,” he told The Blade last year.

Mr. Tolliver was walking toward the confrontation when he saw the troops form a firing line. As the shots rang out, he ran for his dorm.

He said yesterday that Mr. Rhodes' decision to send in the Guard was “an overreaction. I think it was political. I think it was playing to the media.” Mr. Rhodes, courting those who wanted the protests to stop and who wanted a return to law and order, “lacked the moral courage to do the right thing,” he said.

But Mr. Tolliver acknowledged that the deaths “weighed upon [Mr. Rhodes] greatly.” Can he be forgiven? “There's always forgiveness.”

For many, the Kent State shootings, which left nine wounded, will cast a shadow on Mr. Rhodes' accomplishments.

“I feel absolutely no sympathy for a man who felt no sympathy for the mothers and fathers of the Kent State victims,” Mr. Canfora said. “I think he should always be remembered as the man who provoked the Kent State massacre.”

Mr. Canfora said he believes Mr. Rhodes was courting conservative, Republican voters by sending the Guard to Kent.

Dean Kahler, paralyzed from the waist down in the Kent State shootings, said Mr. Rhodes “had a long and illustrious career in politics, marred by one event I vividly remember.”

“Basically I feel thankful to be alive,” said Mr. Kahler, 50, who teaches high school level American history and government at Tri-County Vocational School in Nelsonville in southeast Ohio.

His course includes study of the Kent State shootings.

“I have no hatred, animosity, or disgust,” Mr. Kahler said. “I only wish he would have been more forthcoming in giving information to those of us involved in the shootings at Kent State and also to the citizens of Ohio. That would have been nice.”



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