On May 4, 2016 at the 46th commemoration of the Kent State Massacre, Jennifer Schwartz stood for her cousin Allison Krause and offered this speech:
Another May 4th parent has died since last we gathered to commemorate this event. Another mother has left us before the truth is clear and justice is served. My aunt, Doris Krause, Allison’s mother, passed away peacefully under hospice care and in the arms of her sole surviving daughter Laurie on January 17th, just a few months ago. As she crossed over, she left behind decades of profound grief and struggle. Perhaps it is our world she now grieves. A world she taught her children to believe was just, civil, compassionate, and fair.
As I was growing up in Cleveland, my father, Doris’ nephew, used to council me, when I felt wronged by a friend or noted an injustice in the world, he used to say to me “Life isn’t fair.” And he knew. We all sat by feeling helpless as the Krause’s endured a very public grief, and extensive legal battles. Instead of receiving any formal acknowledgement of one of the gravest of misdeeds a government can inflict upon its citizens, they were subject to factually unfounded and prejudicial accusations thrust upon their daughter. In her eulogy for Aunt Doris, my cousin Laurie noted, “my mother lost a child. And that is perhaps the greatest burden of all. When we add to this how unnecessary Allison’s death was, the betrayal of it being carried out by a government meant to protect us, and the crushing pressure of the denial of accountability for now decades, I am truly astounded by the grace and fortitude with which Doris faced this legacy.”
Please join me in a moment of silence for Doris Levine Krause. May her memory be a blessing to us, may her struggle be released, may her quest for truth be carried forth.
I never met my cousin Allison. I was a little nine month old learning to walk and run when she was stopped in her tracks by an M1 bullet right over there in the parking lot. So I have always been looking for the truth myself, searching for accounts that would provide clarity and do Allison and May 4th justice. It concerns me that this history be told and recorded accurately. Among the articles I have found was a 1971 piece, published in the National Review, by William F. Buckley.
Mr. Buckley noted that they found pebbles in her pocket. They called it evidence of her aggression, evidence of her crime. They called it evidence she wielded “missiles” of rock she had concealed in her pocket. Deadly? Really? That’s a sham. The classic, tawdry response: to blame the victim. What really had them shaking in their boots was not some rocks in the pocket of a college freshman with flowers in her hair, but that she wielded words of truth. She confronted their ethics, their judgement, and refused to accept President Nixon’s escalation of the war in Southeast Asia. She was one of many hundreds of thousands across the nation who took to the streets that weekend in May to protest. I could not be more proud of her. My cousin, Allison Krause, was a 19 year old honor’s student. Bright, compassionate, hard-working. She was killed that day as she raised her voice in opposition to a government that had gone morally astray. “They always point out that my daughter had gravel in her pockets,” said my aunt Doris, “that this was the rationale for killing her… why” she asked, “didn’t they throw gravel at her?”
For 46 years we’ve been parted from my cousin Allison. A lifetime! My lifetime. For 46 years we’ve sought answers. For 46 years the government’s been adept at denying culpability, avoiding responsibility and suppressing truth. For 46 years we’ve been lied to and brushed aside. We now know there was an order to shoot; we’ve heard it. Don’t tell us you were afraid for your lives with your loaded M1 rifles and your helmets and your high ground advantage. Don’t tell us you felt endangered when Governor Rhodes himself, your commander in chief, came to town to cheer you on and gave you carte blanche to “eradicate the problem.” For 46 years we’ve called for truth. My uncle Arthur led the legal battle for 10 years following May 4th. While we agreed to a settlement, we were not satisfied that truth was honored nor that justice was done. In a 1981 interview with J. Gregory Payne, my infuriated Uncle Arthur declared “We don’t want the damn money… we want the truth! We want the facts about how the four died. We aren’t afraid of the truth. We aren’t the ones who have been saying “no comment” for the past 10 years.” He went on: “I think we are all responsible for the killings at Kent. You can’t get away from the hatred being spread by national leaders during that time. That political period was one which bred hate and with Nixon and Rhodes fanning the fires you can expect killings as a result.” With all the hate speech going on these days by political leaders, I shudder to think what’s ahead, and like my cousin, I will not allow the hate to go unchallenged.
Allison Beth Krause was the cherished first of two daughters born of Arthur and Doris Krause of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She smiles at me whenever I see her, there in a handful of black and white photos. The impish seven year old girl sits there in a white dress and patent leather shoes next to her little sister Laurie, in the front row of a family portrait taken at my aunt and uncle’s 1958 wedding. I long to reach into the photographs and take her hands and play with her, hug her, know her.
Back in those days in the early sixties, the Krause’s used to go on Sunday drives out in the country around Cleveland, often ending up at Kent, dining at the Robin Hood and enjoying the pastoral campus. Remarkably, at a very early age, Allison made her decision to attend college at Kent State University. She loved it here; she felt at home. She felt safe.
In a eulogy for my cousin, Richard Jaworski, one of her high school teachers at John F. Kennedy High School in Wheaton, Maryland, described her like this:
Constantly she was surrounded by boys and girls who came not only to tell her their problems, but to laugh with her and bask in her quick wit and charm. Allison possessed a rare trait. She could move among many groups of students and always exhibit tolerance for the views of each group in which she participated. When baited by adults, some young people responded with anger and bitterness, if not violence. Allison expressed a passive, stoic quality, as if recognizing the injustice of name-calling, as if realizing the illness of the person filled with hate.”
As she found her political voice in high school, Allison joined other students who were opposed to the war in Vietnam, especially as friends got drafted. As a teenager, Allison participated in anti-war demonstrations. She knew that as an American she had a right to freedom of speech and a right to engage in peaceful assembly.
She entered Kent State University in the fall of 1969 where she quickly made friends, earned high marks in her studies, and met the love of her life, Barry Levine, another young student from New York who shared her values. Together they assembled with others on Friday May 1st on the commons to raise their voices against Nixon’s decision to escalate the war and send more troops into Cambodia. She spent that first weekend of May with friends, doing schoolwork, enjoying the first breath of spring and becoming increasingly concerned about the military presence on campus, now occupied by the National Guard.
On that beautiful, warm spring weekend Allison spent time outside, socializing with friends and talking with some guardsmen among the blooming lilacs. I have heard different accounts of this story, some say Allison placed a flower in the barrel of Guardsman Meyers’ rifle, others say the flower was already there. What is certain, is that guardsman’s smiling face is absolutely beaming in the photographs that have preserved that moment in time, with Allison, the flower, his rifle, and the irony and release of tension they all felt in that moment, as human beings who were on opposite sides of a conflict. And when Allison witnessed that guardsman’s superior come along and reprimand him there for having a silly flower in his gun barrel, Allison responded,
“WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH PEACE? FLOWERS ARE BETTER THAN BULLETS!”
The next day Allison and Barry joined the increasingly tense voices on the commons as the students squared off with the heavily armed National Guard. In Payne’s May Day: Kent State, I found Barry’s accounting of these final moments of Allison’s life, which provides such insight into her character:
As we stood on the hill watching and waiting for the soldiers to make their move, Allison ripped in half the moistened cloth she had brought for protection against tear gas. Another dispersal order was given, yet no advance was made, so Allison felt safe in running a few yards to give a friend part of her already compromised cloth. She tore hers again and gave him half. It was a small gesture, but one that so clearly demonstrated her consideration and willingness to share. Tear gas was already being fired as she scrambled back to where I was waiting. We stood for a few seconds, watching the soldiers move out behind a screen of gas, before deciding to retreat with a crowd of students. As we began to retreat over the hill, I could see Allison almost beginning to cry. A few steps further she turned to me with tears rolling down her cheeks and asked, ‘Why are they doing this to us? Why don’t they let us be?’ A peaceful assembly was being violently disrupted, breeding anger in most of those being dispersed. However Allison did not feel anger, but rather disappointment and sorrow. Disappointment because the students were not given a chance to gather peacefully, and sorrow because of the violence she felt would ensue. Unfortunately these passive emotions were soon transformed into aggression, for as we retreated, a gas canister landed at our feet, exploding in our faces. It was at this point that Allison’s sorrow changed to anger and her strained tolerance turned to resistance. After a few seconds of recovery, Allison turned in her tracks and froze. She stood in the path of the pursuing troops screaming at the top of her lungs. Having been pushed too far, she now lashed back and I was forced to pull her along, fearing that the distance between us and the oncoming troops was becoming critical. Twice, before we reached the crest of the hill, she turned to speak her mind to these men. Each time I had to pull her onward. Upon reaching the top of the hill, she again turned, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she screamed and yelled and stomped her feet as if all her yelling might stop these men. The hand drawn to her face holds a wet rag used to protect herself from the gas, and the other holds mine, with which I pulled her over the hill and into the parking lot, a safe distance from the troops. For several minutes we stood in the parking lot watching these men threaten us with their rifles. In response, we cursed them and threw rocks. When they left we followed, all the time screaming and yelling, and then they turned.”
None of the four dead or nine wounded were armed that day with anything truly threatening but their voices that challenged the state’s right to kill. State-sponsored violence against peaceful but vocal citizens was permissible in 1970. This precedent paved the way for continued ongoing police aggression across the country that is with us to this day.
While we commemorate this sad anniversary, let us understand that in the days that followed the Kent State killings, precious lives were lost at Jackson State as well. Yet Jackson State has not remained in the national memory in the same way that Kent State has. As Samaria Rice joins us here today, a courageous and outspoken mother standing up to the police who took the life of her son Tamir, we are reminded that while our Kent State students were murdered for their political beliefs, to this day American citizens continue to be targeted simply on the basis of their race. It was a feature of the killing at Jackson State that tragically and egregiously continues to this day. I would like to take this occasion to remember Jackson State, as well as to honor the life of young Tamir Rice. My cousin Allison would want us to do this.
My name is Jennifer Schwartz. I find pebbles in my pocket every time I visit Allison’s grave, carrying rocks with me to lay upon her headstone as a symbol of my remembering.