Soweto uprising

Behind the camera: Sam Nzima
Where: On the corner of Moema and Vilakazi Streets in Orlando West, Soweto, City of Johannesburg, South Africa; near Phefeni High School
Photo Summary: A wounded Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo while his sister, Antoinette, runs beside them
Picture Taken: June 16, 1976

Black students in parts of South Africa were required by law to be taught in a mix of Afrikaans, English and native languages. On June 16, 1976, thousands of Students fed up with having to learn, what they viewed as the language of their Apartheid oppressor, Afrikaans, spilled out onto the streets in protest. Police tried to block the protest and events spun out of control leading to the police opening fire on the unarmed students. One of the first to be shot was Hector Pieterson. As his sister screamed in horror another student Mbuyisa Makhubo picked him up and carried him to a nearby car. A moment which was captured when photographer Sam Nzima took this iconic shot. Pieterson was pronounced dead on arrival when he got to the hospital.

Soweto Uprising

According to the South African constitution, the two official languages of South Africa were English and Afrikaans, a form of Dutch used by white South Africans. In 1974 it was ordered that Black schools in Soweto would have to teach part of their subjects in Afrikaans because as described by the South African education minister

“A Black man may be trained to work on a farm or in a factory. He may work for an employer who is either English-speaking or Afrikaans-speaking and the man who has to give him instructions may be either English-speaking or Afrikaans-speaking. Why should we now start quarrelling about the medium of instruction among the Black people as well? … No, I have not consulted them and I am not going to consult them. I have consulted the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa …” — Punt Janson, the Deputy Minister of Bantu Education

This caused incredible friction in the school system as the students would have preferred to learn English and their native tongues rather than the language of their Apartheid oppressors. Protests started to spring up Soweto area, and students formed committees who secretly planned to stage a mass walk out on June 16, 1976. Secretly planned the walkout surprised teachers and police alike. While marching the mass of young students came upon a police barricade. While organizers tried to move the protest in a different direction, stones were thrown. In response the police let their dogs attack the students. The students responded by stoning the dogs and then the police opened fire with live ammunition. The full number killed in the resulting riots is thought to be in the hundreds while over a thousand more were wounded, one of which was Hector Pieterson. Pieterson is often quoted as being the first killed but almost at the same time another child was shot and killed, Hastings Ndlovu.

Pieterson family

The Pieterson family was originally the named the Pitso family but their father changed their name to Pieterson in hopes of passing as colored, which in Apartheid South Africa allowed for more job opportunities. Born Zolile Hector Pitso, Hector Pieterson, wasn’t even supposed to be in the protest that day. At 13 years old and an elementary student the student planners didn’t want the young students to be involved. Yet he snuck out of school and followed his older sister, 16-year-old Antoinette Pieterson, in the march. After the police started shooting it was chaos. Antoinette remembers what happened next:

“I came out of hiding and saw Hector, and I called him to me. He was looking around as I called his name, trying to see who was calling him. I waved at him, he saw me and came over. I asked him what he was doing there … There was a shot, and I ran back to my hiding place. When I looked out I couldn’t see Hector; I waited, I was afraid; where was he?

“Then I saw a group of boys struggling. This gentleman came from nowhere, lifted a body, and I saw the front part of the shoe, which I recognized as Hector’s. This man started to run with the body, I ran alongside.” — Antoinette Sithole

After the picture spread worldwide the Pieterson family were harassed by the apartheid authorities. They wouldn’t even let the Pieterson’s body out of the government possession.

Hector died on the 16th of June 1976 but he was buried on the 3rd of July because the police didn’t allow us to bury him. They would give funny and stupid reasons … Anyway my grandmother knew Afrikaans very well, so it was easy for her to talk to them … “So you’ve killed my grandson, now you’re giving us rules, it’s better to kill us all.” That is how the day came for us to bury Hector. — Antoinette Sithole

Antoinette was married off a year later, by her family, to offer her more protection but the marriage didn’t last. She remarried to Meshak Sithole and after Apartheid fell found a job at the Hector Pieterson museum giving tours around where her brother was famously killed.

Mbuyisa Makhubo

The boy who picked up Hector was 18-year old Mbuyisa Makhubo. Nzima captured on film Makhubo carrying the boy to Nazima’s car where Nazima and another journalist raced Hector to a clinic where he was pronounced dead. After the photo became famous Makhubo was harassed by Apartheid officials and he was forced to go into exile. First to Botswana, then spending time in Nigeria from which he wrote his mother a few letters. In one letter from Nigeria, he said he would go to Tanzania because he was very sick and the situation in Nigeria was deteriorating. The last letter his mother got was in 1978 after which he simply disappeared off the face of the earth.

Sam Nzima

Sam Nzima

Sam Nzima posing with his famous image

Journalist Sam Nzima started his photojournalism career travelling and taking pictures while he bused around South Africa. He sent his photo essay to the black newspaper, The World, who was impressed by his work and offered him a freelance position at their paper. In 1968 he was offered a full-time position and was working for The World in ’76. He arrived in Soweto early that morning in June 1976 to find students peacefully making signs that denounced the apartheid system. When the protests started to turn ugly and police opened fire Nzima took six pictures of Makhubo carrying Hector. Knowing he had important shots he hid the roll of film in his sock. He remembers that,

“So I quickly gave the film to our driver and told him to go straight to our office. By the afternoon the image had been transmitted worldwide.”

Later he was stopped by police and forced to open his camera and expose other photos he had taken of the protests. Later after multiple police threats and fearing for his life he fled to his hometown Lillydale, close to the Mozambican border. There he opened the Nzima Bottle Store even though he was offered multiple journalist jobs he turned them all down out of fear the Apartheid police would kill him. In 1998 after years of legal battles The Star newspaper, who had ended up with the copyright, gave him the rights to his image.

In 2011 he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga, an award for those that excel in the arts, by the South African government.

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Elizabeth Eckford at Little Rock

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Behind the camera: Will Counts
Where: Outside the Little Rock Central High School
Photo Summary: Elizabeth Eckford followed by an angry mob. Mary Ann is on the far left. Olen Spann is wearing the hat Sammie Dean, in the dark dress is turning to talk to her father. Hazel Bryan is the one shouting ‘Go home, n#$ger! Go back to Africa!’ Standing behind Hazel is Lonnie Ward, the man with the unbuttoned V-neck is unknown but man with the striped shirt partially blocked by Elizabeth is Richard Stinnett. To the right of the image the woman and man with the camera are unknown
Picture Taken: September 4, 1957

On September 4, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford put on her new dress, made by her, and made her way to Little Rock Central High School. The 4th was to be her first class and her and 8 other Black children were to be the first African-Americans in the school of 2000 white students. She was excited to start classes but as she approached the school she saw a huge crowd protesting her presence. As she approached the school National Guard men, again and again, refused to allow her past them and so she turned to leave but was immediately surrounded by an angry white mob who shouted obscenities as she disparately tried to navigate through the crowd. As she walked in terror photographer Will Counts snapped this iconic image of her.

Coming to school

Elizabeth Eckford

Colourized by Marina Amaral

Three years earlier the American Supreme Court handed down Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 decision to integrate the South’s school system. Days later the Little Rock school board said it would comply but by 1957 it was still stalling efforts to enroll black students in white schools. On September 3, 1957, federal judges ordered the State to begin desegregation and that night the director of the Arkansas chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., Daisy Bates called the nine black students the group had chosen to be “strong enough to survive the ordeal but placid enough not to make trouble” to come to her house the next day. Then from her house, they would go as a group to the school. Eckford, one of the nine, didn’t have a phone and so never got the notice to meet and Bates’ house.

However, events were moving against the nine as the Governor seeking to thwart any effort of desegregation had called in the National Guard and had them ring the school. Publicly he said that they were there to prevent any violence but they were really present to stop the Black children from entering school grounds.

The Mob

The next day Elizabeth Eckford boarded the bus that took her downtown to the Little Rock Central High School. Getting off at 12th and park she walked toward the school. Guards at the entrance denied her access and then the crowd of several hundred angry white protesters saw her and someone in the crowd shouted out at her to go home. She tried three more times to enter the school each time blocked by the rifles of the National Guard. In Daisy Bates’ book The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir she interviewed Eckford who recalls:

For a moment all I could hear was the shuffling of their feet. Then someone shouted, ‘Here she comes, get ready!’ I moved away from the crowd on the sidewalk and into the street. If the mob came at me I could then cross back over so the guards could protect me.
The crowd moved in closer and then began to follow me, calling me names. I still wasn’t afraid. Just a little bit nervous. Then my knees started to shake all of a sudden and I wondered whether I could make it to the center entrance a block away. It was the longest block I ever walked in my whole life.

By now over 250 angry protesters were shouting racial epitaphs and calling for her to be lynched to the nearest tree. Looking just to escape she walked towards the next bus stop down the block hoping the crowd would let her get on board. One of the most aggressive of the crowd was a student of Central High, Hazel Bryan. Hazel was there with her friends Mary Ann Burleson (girl on the far left with the purse) and Sammie Dean Parker (dark dress with head turned). Mary Ann and Sammie Dean were just enjoying the action but to Hazel, she felt that chasing Eckford away was her moral duty! Benjamin Fine another photographer there recording the scene remembers that she was “screaming, just hysterical!”

Finally, she reached the bus stop and sat down on the bench. Reporters formed an informal ring to protect her from the mob one Robert Schakne of CBS News tried to interview her but she refused to speak. Finally, after 35min sitting and taking the verbal abuse the bus came and she went right to her mother’s work where she collapsed into her arms.


The next day Eckford for the first time went to N.A.A.C.P. director Daisy Bates’ house and laid into the woman “Why did you forget me?” Bates would later recall the “cold hatred” directed at her from Eckford’s eyes. For two weeks the nine black students who were supposed to enter the school stayed at home waiting their fate. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s picture flashed around the world showing up in Papers everywhere from Moscow to the Vatican. Eckford got letters, calls and well wishes from people as far away as Japan.

Two weeks later another date was set on September 23. This time all the Black students assembled at Bates’ house and they moved as a group to the school. This time there were able to get in easily as the mob was distracted by some whites beating on a group of black reporters.

Even though the students had finally gained entry their battle wasn’t over. Every day the faced harassment, no more so that Eckford who as school records revealed was attacked almost every day before she just stopped reporting them. The Black nine though stuck it out but the white establishment fought back by shutting down the school rather than have more blacks join and for the 1958/59 school year it was closed. Eckford was forced to flee the city to St Louis to finish her high school.

Elizabeth Eckford

While at the segregated Horace Mann Junior High School Elizabeth was a rapid reader and got good grades. She was already something of a loner before she went through the incredibly emotionally draining events Little Rock. After the incident, she was withdrawn and lived her something of hermit life. After spending 5-years in the army she returned to Little Rock having two children and suffering severe depression. She avoided speeches and anniversaries about the incident and when she did speak she would have a bag ready in case she threw up or she would come down with panic attacks and forced to leave suddenly. Through a successful medication routine, she was able to get a handle on her depression which had a long history in her family.

Elizabeth suffered further tragedy when in 2003 her son Erin Eckford at the age 26 was shot down by police after refusing to drop his assault weapon. Erin had inherited his families mental sickness and Elizabeth feared that his death was “suicide by police”. The officers involved were later cleared in the shooting.

Elizabeth and Hazel

The picture joined the two girls together and they would find that their lives would be synced for the rest of their days. In 1963 Hazel had an epiphany and renounced her racist ways even calling Elizabeth Eckford on the phone and apologizing. Eckford accepted it and even became sort of protective of her. For decades they didn’t talk but as the racial crisis faded Hazel began to seek out Eckford in an effort to seek some sort of repentance. The two even took a picture together in front of the school in 1997, again by Will Counts. Again in the limelight, Hazel seemed to enjoy her newfound celebrity much to the chagrin of Eckford. In Sept 2007 Vanity Fair did an exhaustive, in-depth story about their on and off again relationship

Will Counts

Counts was born in America’s south and worked as a photographer-editor for The Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock and for The Associated Press in Chicago and Indianapolis. His 1957 iconic image of Elizabeth Eckford at Little Rock was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for photographs in 1957 and it was “named by The Associated Press as one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th century.”

He went back to College to earn an education degree before returning to get his master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University. He taught at Indiana University for 32 years, retiring in 1995. He also wrote a few books including The Magnificent 92 Indiana Courthouses, Revised Edition and A Life Is More Than a Moment, 50th Anniversary: The Desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High

On October 7, 2001, he died of cancer at the age of 70 in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Face to Face the Oka Crisis

Behind the camera: Shaney Komulainen
Where: First Nation blockade near the Club de golf d’Oka
Photo Summary: Patrick Cloutier face to face with Brad ‘Freddy Krueger’ Larocque
Picture Taken: September 1, 1990

After the Mohawk First Nations had fought off the local Quebec police force (which created another iconic image) the Oka Crisis developed into a standoff. The Canadian government sent in the Royal 22e Régiment or Van Doos to create a barb wire perimeter around the Mohawks in order to contain the situation. Entrances at this blockade were often tense as shown when a young Shaney Komulainen captured this iconic moment between baby faced Van Doo member Patrick Cloutier face to face with Brad “Freddy Krueger” Larocque.

Oka Crisis

Over three hundred years ago the New France government granted land to the Catholic Sulpician seminary in 1717. Part of the land, a Mohawk burial ground was reserved for the local Mohawk First Nation. The seminary held the land in trust for the Mohawks but would over the years take full ownership. A military confrontation in 1869 between Mohawks and missionaries over the land had to be put down by local militia. The land remained in dispute even when it was sold by the seminary to private concerns. In 1961, the city had obtained ownership of the land and built a private nine-hole golf course, the Club de golf d’Oka, on a portion of the land. When they wanted to expand the golf course the Mohawks erected barricades to stop construction. A court order ruled on the side of the city and ordered the blockade to be removed. The Mohawk’s refused and on July 11, 1990, a police fast action response team tried to drive off Mohawk activists using tear gas canisters and flash-bang grenades. In the confusion, someone opened fire and a 15-minute bullet exchange ensued forcing the police to fall back, abandoning six police cruisers and a bulldozer. During the firefight, 31-year-old SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay was shot in the face and died a short while later.

Taking the picture

Shaney Komulainen didn’t get into the Mohawk enclosure before it was closed off by the military. Arriving late she had to sneak into the encampment through military lines recounting:

I snuck through backyards and past police cars with my camera tucked under my jacket, looking like one of the locals. [Her eyes were drawn to the baby face of private Cloutier ] He just looked so young under that strong helmet and gear, … In the end, it summed up the whole crisis, because there was still this tense standoff, even ‘till the end.

The siege ended on September 26 and as the people in the Mohawk enclosure left their camp Komulainen was arrested, handcuffed, strip-searched and held by the Quebec police for five hours. The next January Komulainen was involved in a near-fatal car crash that left her with a broken arm and two broken legs. While she was recovering in the hospital she learned that the police were laying charges against her including, “possession of a weapon or an imitation of a weapon, threatening and interfering with the work of a peace agent, and participating in a riot,” later in the year she was found “Not Guilty”. To make matters worse her car accident prevented her from working and she returned to school studying journalism and social work. Years later she had recovered enough to return to photography.

The men

After the image was taken private Patrick Cloutier became famous across Canada and around the world. He rose through the ranks to become Master Corporal but in 1993 was demoted after admitting to cocaine use. After a drinking and driving incident, he was kicked out of the military and as a civilian seeking to cash in on his fame he started in the 1995 pornographic, Oka spoof, Quebec Sexy Girls. For a while, he lived in Florida before moving back to Quebec and lives in the village of Saint-Maxime-du-Mont-Louis.

The masked man is often confronting Cloutier is often misquoted as being legendary and camera-friendly Mohawk warrior Ronald Cross aka Lasagna but was Brad “Freddy Krueger” Larocque a student of Economics at the University of Saskatchewan. From the Ojibway First Nation, he had joined the Mohawks in solidarity. After the siege ended he moved back to Saskatchewan.

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Mohawk Warrior

Behind the camera: Tom Hanson
Where: First Nation blockade near the Club de golf d’Oka
Photo Summary: Richard Nicholas standing on top of an overturned Sûreté du Québec police vehicle that had been turned into a barricade
Picture Taken: July 11, 1990

In 1990 the Oka golf course wanted to expand their course onto land that the local Mohawk community of Kanesatake viewed as their historical, sacred burial ground. The Mohawks in an effort to stop development set up roadblocks. The major ordered the blockades down and in the ensuing violent confrontation one police officer, 31-year-old SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay, was killed and the blockades still left standing. One of the First Nation activists, Richard Nicholas, climbed on top the newest addition to the Mohawk blockades, overturned police vehicles seized after the government forces had retreated. Below the blockade were two photographers, John Kenney of the Montreal Gazette and Tom Hanson. Hanson snapped this shot while Kenney shot a similar cropped version.

Oka Crisis

Over three hundred years ago the New France government granted land to Catholic Sulpician seminary in 1717. Part of the land, a Mohawk burial ground was reserved for the local Mohawk First Nation. The seminary held the land in trust for the Mohawks but would over the years take full ownership. A military confrontation in 1869 between Mohawks and missionaries over the land had to be put down by local militia. The land remained in dispute even when it was sold by the seminary to private concerns. In 1961, the city had obtained ownership of the land and built a private nine-hole golf course, the Club de golf d’Oka, on a portion of the land. When they wanted to expand the golf course the Mohawks erected barricades to stop construction. A court order ruled on the side of the city and ordered the blockade to be removed. The Mohawk’s refused and on July 11, 1990, a police fast action response team tried to drive off Mohawk activists using tear gas canisters and flash-bang grenades. In the confusion, someone opened fire and a 15-minute bullet exchange ensued forcing the police to fall back, abandoning six police cruisers and a bulldozer. During the firefight, 31-year-old SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay was shot in the face and died a short while later.

Taking the picture

John Kinney one of two photographers close to the blockade, the other being Hanson, remembers what happened on that day:

We were the only two people there, It was the morning of the first day of the crisis. The Mohawks had set up their blockade with the SQ vehicles they’d taken over, and this guy hopped up there on top and looked down the hill and made his defiant gesture.
It was a quick thing. Neither of us spoke to him. Through the whole summer, I always wondered who he was, but I could never identify him … He wasn’t even focused on us; most of the media were way down at the bottom of the hill and that’s where he was looking, not at us at all.

Stand off

Mohawk by John Kenney

Similar angle by John Kenney

With the police overmatched the military was called in and for the next few months, the two forces were locked in a standoff. The media attention among the Mohawks created some First Nation celebrities including a Mohawk warrior known as, Lasagna. The Oka Crisis lasted seventy-eight days before the warriors threw their guns in the fire, ceremonially burned tobacco and then walked out of the pines and tried to break out of the blockade. The federal government spent $5.3 million to purchase the section of the pines where the golf course expansion was to take place, to prevent any further development. Some of the lands were handed over to the Mohawks but the Kanesatake tribal government is still negotiating with the federal government for a larger Treaty to be signed to resolve all outstanding issues. Kanesatake First Nation leaders claim that the federal government walked away from the treaty table in 2006.

Joined again in death

In a strange twist of fate, the photographer and the Mohawk Warrior were brought together one more time in death. While playing hockey Tom Hanson collapsed and died of a heart attack on March 10, 2009. Later in the day Richard Nicholas, the man Hanson photographed, died in a three-vehicle accident near Oka on the same Highway 344 where his picture was taken. They were both 41-years-old.

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Flower Power

Buy on amazonflower power by Bernie Boston
Behind the camera: Bernie Boston
Where: One of the last big protest marches on the Pentagon
Photo Summary: 18 years old George Harris placing flowers into the rifle barrels of National Guardsman
Picture Taken: October 21, 1967

In late 1967 Bernie Boston was a reporter for the Washington Star a now-defunct newspaper. After he took this famous picture Star publishers didn’t see the value of the image and buried it the A section of their paper. Not deterred Bernie Boston sent the image out to various photo competitions which resulted in a number of awards, prizes, and international recognition.

Taking the photo

The end of the 60s saw a number of anti-Vietnam war protests. Covering one of the last big protests Bernie sat with his camera on a wall at the Mall Entrance to the Pentagon. While the protest neared the gates Bernie watched as a National Guardsman lieutenant marched a group of armed men into the sea of demonstrators. The squad formed a semi-circle, their guns pointed at the demonstrators.

In a 2006 interview, Bernie remembers thinking things could have got ugly when all of a sudden, “this young man appeared with flowers and proceeded . . . [to] put them down the rifle barrel,” Boston told National Public Radio. “And I was on the wall so I could see all this, and I just started shooting.”

While he knew he had a good picture the Star editors didn’t feel the same way and gave the picture minimal coverage. “The editor didn’t see the importance of the picture,” Boston said later. “We buried it … I entered it in contests, and it started winning everything and being recognized.”

Bernie Boston

A Washington, D.C. native Bernie Boston was born May 18, 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. He grew up in McLean, Virginia and found his calling early when he became a photographer for his high school newspaper and yearbook. Fast forward to university when he graduated with a degree in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He followed his education by in 1955 joining the army for three years. After his military service, he worked at Dayton Daily News in Ohio in 1963 and three years later joined the staff of the Washington Star, where he remained until the paper folded in 1981. When the Star went under he found work as a staff photographer in its Washington D.C. bureau. In 1994 Boston and his wife moved to Basye, Virginia where he published and she edited the Bryce Mountain Courier.

Not a photographer that is defined by the Flower Power image Bernie would over his career shoot a number of famous people of the era including every president from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. In 1987 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, in the spot news category, for his photograph of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, at an unveiling of a bronze bust of her assassinated husband.

Bernie Boston died at his home in Basye on Tuesday, January 22, 2008. His wife released a statement that he died from complications of amyloidosis, a rare disease in which abnormal proteins build up in organs and tissues. He was 74 years old. Boston is survived by his wife, an aunt and two nieces.

George Harris

The young protester who captured the nature of the 60s protest movement turned out to be an 18 years old actor, George Edgerly Harris III, from New York on his way to California. He would later reveal that he was gay and took the stage name, Hibiscus. He co-founded a far-out, psychedelic, gay-themed cross-dressing troupe called The Cockettes. His life would be captured in the 2002 film of the same name made by David Weissman. Hibiscus died an early victim of the AIDS epidemic that struck the West coast gay community.

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Tiananmen Square – Man vs Tank

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Behind the camera: Many photographers took the same shot from different angles. The most reproduced pictures is the one shown here by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press. Other photographers who captured the scene are Charlie Cole, Stuart Franklin, and a number of TV crews
Where: The street name is Cháng Ān Dà Jiē (长安大街), or ‘Great Avenue of Chang’an’ just a minute away from Tiananmen, which leads into the Forbidden City, Beijing
Photo Summary: An unknown man blocks an advancing column of Chinese Type 59 tanks
Picture Taken: June 5, 1989

Popularly known as the Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel, this anonymous man became famous when he pictures of him standing down a column of tanks with just his shopping bag. In April 1998, the United States magazine TIME included the “Unknown Rebel” in its 100 most influential people of the 20th century. It is easily one of the most famous pictures in the world.

Video Breakdown

As shots can be heard in the background, the clip opens with a column of Chinese Type 59 tank rolling down Cháng Ān Dà Jiē (长安大街), or “Great Avenue of Chang’an” Blvd. A man, the Tank Man, wearing what appears to be a long-sleeved white dress shirt and dark pants is standing in the middle of the road. While holding his jacket in one hand and shopping bags in another, he blocks the path of the tanks. The lead tank tries to drive around him but the Tank Man blocks the tank’s path. Eventually, he jumps up on the tank and at first tries to talk with the driver and then tries to talk through the main hatch on top of the turret. He then jumps off the tank and is bundled away by people standing on the street.


PSB agents crashed through our hotel room door – Charlie Cole

Tiananmen square Jeff Widener

In 2012 did a series of photos of photographers and their iconic pictures, this is Jeff Widener with his famous image

The protests were sparked by the death of former Secretary-General Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, a figure that many thought as unjustly persecuted by the Chinese government. The protests grew as different groups with a wide range of issues, some opposing views, came to Tiananmen Square. The protests were extensively covered by Western journalists who were allowed into Beijing to cover the Mikhail Gorbachev visit in May. The Chinese government was split on how to deal with the protesters but eventually, the hardliners seized control of the situation and on May 20, the government declared martial law and, on the night of June 3 and the early morning of June 4, army tanks and infantry from the 27th and 28th Armies of the People’s Liberation Army were sent to take control of the city. Local army units, the 38th Army, weren’t used as the military feared they were too sympathetic to the protesters. In fact, the commander of the 38th Army Xu Qinxian refused to carry out the martial law order and was relieved of his command.

In addition to the almost 300,000 military personnel (Twice as large as the American force that overthrew the Saddam regime in Iraq) that were deployed were also members of the Public Security Bureau (PSB). The PSB is China’s branch of government that handles policing, security and social order. By early morning on June 4, the protesters had been cleared from Tiananmen Square and over the next few days, the army and the PSB brutally suppressed the students and any media caught covering the crackdown.

One of the photographers, Charlie Cole, had spent the night running from police and the military. During the crackdown, he had witnessed an armored personal carrier (APC) that had run over some protesters. The outraged protesters then attacked the vehicle pulling out its drivers, killing them, and burnt the APC. While he was trying to get back to his hotel, he was attacked by PSB men, “One of the PSB ran up to me with an electric cattle prod and hit me in the side with it. Others punched and kicked at me. They ripped my photo vest off me and took all the film I had shot that evening.” He was eventually let go and more importantly they let him keep his cameras. While in his hotel he started shooting from the balcony of a photographer friend’s room, Stuart Franklin. Stuart had a room with a balcony on the 8th floor and while Charlie was shooting on the afternoon of June 5th he saw the Tank Man stand down the column of tanks. In a BBC interview he remembers:

It was an incredible thing to do, especially in light of what had just happened with the APC machine-gunners. I couldn’t really believe it, I kept shooting in anticipation of what I felt was his certain doom.
To my amazement, the lead tank stopped, then tried to move around him but the young man cut it off again. Finally the PSB grabbed him and ran away with him. Stuart and I looked at each other in somewhat disbelief at what we had just seen and photographed.
Later, Stuart left to go to Beijing University and I stayed behind to see what else might happen. Shortly after he left, PSB agents crashed through our hotel room door. Four agents swept in and assaulted me while a few others grabbed my cameras.

Terril Jones' street view of the Tank Man, taken by Terril Jones

They ripped the film from my cameras and confiscated my passport. They then forced me to write a statement that I was photographing during martial law, which unbeknown to me carried a hefty prison sentence. They then put a guard at the door.
I had hidden the roll with the tank pictures in its plastic film can in the holding tank of the toilet. [Cole had hidden the rolls because he saw that PSB officials on the rooftops had noticed them taking pictures of the incident] When they left, I retrieved it and later made my way to AP to develop and transmit it to Newsweek in New York.
Numerous inquiries have been made by various agencies and magazines trying to uncover the young man’s identity and find out what happened to him. I’ve seen a number of accounts that name him as Wang Wei Lin, but that isn’t a certainty.
Personally I think the government most likely executed him. It would have been in the government’s interest to produce him to silence the outcry from most of the world. But, they never could. People were executed at that time for far less than what he did.
I think his action captured people’s hearts everywhere, and when the moment came his character defined the moment rather than the moment defining him. He made the image, I just took the picture. I felt honored to be there.

Charlie Cole would later die of sepsis on September 5, 2019, aged 64. He had been living in Bali, Indonesia.

In 2013 Stuart Franklin did an interview with VICE where he talked about taking his famous image:

It was all very uncertain [Stuart would get the photos out of China]. The police and security people were going from room to room in my hotel, searching for journalists and confiscating films. That atmosphere was very worrying. I remember packing my film into a box of tea that was supplied in the hotel room and asking someone who was going back to Paris to take it for me. I was left in China without my film. I wasn’t worried about it once the film was out, and I didn’t mind if I lost a couple of cameras. It wasn’t easy—we were shot at, at times—but I was lucky.

When I got back from China, I went into Michael Rand’s office at the Sunday Times Magazine. He was laying out one of my photos on the cover of the magazine, but it was another of the photos from my trip —a topless guy with his arms raised. That became equally well known for a while. The “Tank Man” picture grew in importance over time, but it didn’t actually stand out far from the body of work immediately after the event.

Who is the Tank Man?

Little is publicly known of the man’s identity and or his fate. It would have been in China’s best interest that he be brought forward as proof that he wasn’t executed but the Chinese have not been able to. This could mean any number of things including, that in the confusion following the crackdown he was either killed on the streets or arrested and executed, or perhaps the PSB never identified who he was. So basically you have two schools of thought. One that he was arrested and the other that he managed to slip away.


But I think never never killed
-Chinese General Secretary Jiang Zemin

Tiananmen Square full picture Stuart Franklin

Tank Man wasn't just standing up to a few tanks, he was staring down dozens of tanks. Photo by Stuart Franklin

The arrested side believes that the people who hustled the Tankman away were PBS agents and even if they weren’t they don’t believe that the Tankman could have slipped past security.

  • Reporter Charles Cole thought quite strongly that he was executed. While shooting the pictures from the hotel he noticed many Chinese agents on the rooftops who appeared to be coordinating snatch teams on the ground. Plus he witnessed a lot of public executions put on Chinese TV for people that had done far fewer offenses.
  • Three weeks after the protest Alfred Lee of the British tabloid, Sunday Express, broke a story where he named the Tank Man, Wang Weilin (王维林), a 19-year-old student and son of a Beijing factory worker. In Alfred’s report, he wrote that Wang Weilin’s friends had seen him on with a shaved head and paraded on state television. Recalling his story, Alfred Lee remembers getting the new from his sources in China, “These contacts were very close to what was happening at Tiananmen Square at the time. I knew that once his name had come into the public domain, the Chinese authorities wouldn’t be able to do anything to him. They couldn’t execute him. It would have brought outrage from the world.” Five days after Alfred’s story the, London Evening Standard, reported their Beijing correspondent John Passmore had come across intelligence reports that Weilin had been executed. Alfred Lee’s story has never been fully excepted by journalists or government agencies. Reporters note that Alfred wasn’t working in China at the time and that other journalists who had excellent contacts, fully fluent in Chinese were never able to confirm the story. Even John Passmore denies that he reported Wang Weilin’s execution saying that it was a mistake by the Standard that his name was used.
  • Slipped Away

    The slipped away side, view the people that ran out to get him as being just ordinary people who then slipped away into the crowds.

  • Jan Wong journalist for the Canadian paper the Globe and Mail pointed to the footage of the Tank Man being pulled away from the tanks as proof the men weren’t security agents, “If you’ve ever seen security people manhandle a Chinese citizen, they’re really brutal. They twist your arm. They make you bend over. They punch you a few times. They kick you. So to me, I think he was helped to the side of the road. He wasn’t being arrested.” Jan Wong claims that the man is alive and well hiding in communist China.
  • One account has him making it to Taiwan, where he worked for the National Palace Museum but other media have never been able to track him down and the Museum denies that he works there.
  • China follows a policy of total silence when talking about the Tiananmen Square protest and the Tank Man’s fate. Officials have only spoken about it once, in a 1990 interview with Barbara Walters. Then-CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin was asked what became of the man:

    BARBARA WALTERS, ABC News: What happened to the young man?
    JIANG ZEMIN: I think this young man maybe not killed by the tank.
    BARBARA WALTERS: No, but did you arrest him? We heard he was arrested and executed.
    JIANG ZEMIN: [through interpreter] Well, I can’t confirm whether this young man you mentioned was arrested or not.
    BARBARA WALTERS: You do not know what happened to him?
    JIANG ZEMIN: But I think never never killed.
    BARBARA WALTERS: You think he was never killed.
    JIANG ZEMIN: I think never killed.
    BARBARA WALTERS: Never killed.


    No one knows for certain how many people died during the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Chinese Red Cross at first reported 2,600 killed but then under intense government pressure retracted the total. The official government body count is 241 dead, including 23 officers and soldiers, and 7,000 wounded. After the crackdown, China moved on with its economic reforms and since the protest is taboo to discuss, most young Chinese don’t even know it happened.

    Copyright info

    Copyright to this photo is managed by Magnum Tiananmen Square – Man vs Tank by W. Eugene Smith

    Tank Man by Jeff Widener was another photo managed by AP Images

    More Famous photos

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    I Have a Dream

    Buy on amazon
    Behind the camera: AP Images
    Where: Steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
    Photo Summary: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Picture Taken: August 28, 1963

    I have a dream!
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “I Have a Dream” is the name given to the August 28, 1963, historic public speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he spoke of his desire for a future where blacks and whites would coexist harmoniously as equals (I Have a Dream). The speech is seen as his crowning moment and one of the most Iconic moments of that time. The speech is often ranked as one of the greatest 20th-century speeches in America. Footage and pictures of the speech are still famous and the clip is used in movies and on TV to represent the civil rights movement in the ’60s.

    Taking the photo

    G.Marshall Wilson started the day with 6:00 AM walking through the crowds with four 35mm cameras. The cameras, film and other equipment weighed 38 lbs but that didn’t slow down Wilson. Around noon he had wandered over to the speaker’s platform in front of the Lincoln Memorial and climbed to the top of the elevated cameramen’s stand. Seeing the crowd spread out he had an idea for a photo. Walking back down he talked with King and his entourage and King always on the lookout for iconic photos jumped at the chance for a front page photo. Climbing to the top of the cameramen’s stand Wilson took a number of shots of King waving to the crowd. Space was limited so Wilson used a 24mm wide-angle lens on his 35mm camera.

    March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

    The federal government had for years tried half-heartedly to pass some kind of civil rights bill that would grant equality to all Americans. It wasn’t until President John F. Kennedy tried to pass his bill on June 11, 1963, that a real attempt to give Blacks civil rights was undertaken. The bill was quickly blocked by southern representatives in Congress.
    It was under this atmosphere that leaders from the civil rights movement planned a march to Washington to build political momentum behind the measure. Proposed by A. Philip Randolph and organized by him, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. the march saw a joining of multiple parties who often were in disagreement. At first, the Kennedy Whitehouse was against the march as it might turn violent and hurt the passage of the bill. The organizers agreed to tone down the rhetoric and keep the more militant organizations in check but refused to cancel the march. Once he saw that he couldn’t stop it Kennedy supported the march but because of the concessions organizers gave Kennedy many prominent Black leaders were against it. Malcolm X called it the “Farce on Washington” and the Nation of Islam punished any members who attended.

    Stay home. This will not be safe
    Southern congressmen

    Before the march there was an atmosphere and fear of potential violence, on one side Southern congressmen told their white female employees, “Stay home. This will not be safe.” and on the other, there was a fear that not enough people would show to show how much the public supported the goals of the march. These fears proved unfounded as almost a quarter of million people came to hear the speeches given that day, the largest demonstration in America at that point in time. Amongst the speakers were Martin Luther King Jr and many others who each got 15min to speak or perform. The speakers included SNCC leader John Lewis, civil rights figures such as Gordon Parks and Roy Wilkins, labor leaders such as Walter Reuther, clergy including Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle (the Archbishop of Washington, who made the invocation), Rabbi Uri Miller (President of the Synagogue Council of America) who gave the prayer, remarks by Rabbi Joachim Prinz (President of the American Jewish Congress), Archbishop Iakovos primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, author James Baldwin, film stars such as Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Marlon Brando, nightclub stars Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt, and singers such as Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan (who performed after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, as seen in the film No Direction Home)

    Prepared Speech

    Legend holds that King departed from his prepared text and began preaching on the fly, but he had delivered a similar speech incorporating some of the same sections in Detroit in June 1963, when he marched on Woodward Avenue with Walter Reuther and the Rev. C.L. Franklin. He had rehearsed other parts before the march.


  • Text and Audio of Speech Accessed Dec, 2006
  • AP IMAGES handles the copyright for the several images that day: AP “I Have a Dream” picture from behind and the AP “I Have a Dream” picture from the front

    Copyright of the Speech

    Because King distributed copies of the speech at its performance, there was controversy regarding the speech’s copyright status for some time. This led to a lawsuit, Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc., which established that the King estate does hold copyright over the speech and had the standing to sue; the parties then settled. Unlicensed use of the speech or a part of it can still be lawful in some circumstances under the doctrine of fair use.

    While the recording King gave that day is considered a national treasure it is still copyrighted, like a song would be. This is why you can’t find a full copy on YouTube or even a government site. This is due to the British music publishing EMI Publishing house (In 2011 Sony Corp bought out EMI) and the King estate own the rights to the recording. If movies, documentaries want to use the speech they have pay. If you want a copy for yourself you have to buy the Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream DVD.

    Other Famous pictures

    Related Posts:

  • And babies

    Behind the camera: Ronald L. Haeberle
    Where: Sơn Mỹ village, Sơn Tịnh district of South Vietnam
    Photo Summary: Victims of the My Lai massacre
    Picture Taken: March 16, 1968

    In the early 70s, a poster was created to protest the Vietnam War. It combined photos taken by U.S. Army combat photographer Ronald L. Haeberle and a quote from a Mike Wallace CBS News television interview. Due to the ambiguous copyright status of the photo, it has appeared in numerous media including newspapers, magazines, poster runs, etc.

    Creating the poster

    In 1970 a group of Vietnam War activists called the Art Worker’s Coalition (AWC) created the And babies poster. AWC members Irving Petlin, Jon Hedricks, and Fraser Dougherty took text from an ABC interview, “And babies? And babies” and overlaid it onto the Haeberle’s photo. Peter Brandt donated enough paper for fifty thousand copies of the poster. While printing the printer staff showed intense hostility towards the AWC as the blue-collar workers were patriotic to the core and viewed any attack on government policy as an attack on the country. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) initially agreed to distribute the poster as a political statement that it was outraged by the My Lai massacre. Another obstacle encountered was when it went to MoMA directors William S. Paley and Nelson Rockefeller vetoed distributing it under the policy that the MoMA could not commit, “to any position on any matter not directly related to a specific function of the museum.” While they refused to fund the distribution they relented to allow independent distribution but the MoMA name could be used as the source of the creation. The poster was quickly snapped up and was spread and reproduced all over the world.

    Exposing the photo

    Only one week from finishing his tour of duty Ronald Haeberle was an Army photographer (31st Public Information Detachment) when on March 16, 1968, he accompanied Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division on an operation to the Sơn Mỹ village, Sơn Tịnh district of South Vietnam. On that day the Americans killed around three to five hundred villagers in what would become known as the My Lai Massacre. Haeberle later testified that he personally saw about 30 different American soldiers kill about 100 civilians. He recalled that he saw “Guys were about to shoot [the villagers]. I yelled, ‘hold it’, and shot my picture. As I walked away, I heard M16s open up. From the corner of my eye, I saw bodies falling, but I didn’t turn to look.” In another interview, he remembers that he ” didn’t make it to certain parts of the village where other things were going on, the rapes and the cutting of tongues and scalping and all that stuff. I didn’t see any of that.
    The massacre would go unnoticed by the public until Haeberle haunted by his role in the event started to publish his pictures and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh took up the story after collaborating Haeberle’s pictures with the interviews from those involved in the massacre. Hersh tried to get his story published but most refused to believe that the event actually happened. Then a small publication the, The Plain Dealer, the major daily newspaper of Cleveland, Ohio was approached by Haeberle. Mike Roberts, a Plain Dealer Washington bureau reporter remembers that “No one believed [Hersh’s story] Bill Ware, the [Plain Dealer’s] executive editor, called; he wasn’t sure if we should go with it. Almost simultaneously, this kid comes forward with these pictures — Haeberle’s photographs legitimized the story.” In the course of verifying Haeberle story an Army prosecutor named Aubrey Daniel called and in strong language suggested that the paper halt publication of the photos. Another reporter at the paper remembered “Daniel told us, ‘You have no right to run those photos because [Haeberle] was using an Army camera,… And we told him he’d had his own camera, too.”
    Eventually, 20 months after Charlie Company had mowed down hundreds of Vietnamese Hersh’s story was published and was picked up on the wire by over 30 publications. Around the same time, Haeberle got his gory photos published in LIFE magazine for $20,000. The media coverage combined with the efforts of soldier Ron Ridenhour exposed the massacre to the world. Ridenhour had found out about the event through other soldiers and when he returned to America started a letter campaign that was mostly ignored until Congressman Morris Udall (D) started to investigate. For his persistence in trying to get the story published Seymour Hersh received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.

    ABC Interview

    On December 14, 1969, Mike Wallace, with CBS News, did a television interview with one of the soldiers, Paul Meadlo, who participated in the massacre. The text for the poster was taken from this interview:

    Q:How many people did you round up?
    A:Well, there was about forty, fifty people that we gathered in the center of the village. And we placed them in there, and it was like a little island, right there in the center of the village, I7d say … And …
    Q:What kind of people – men, women, children?
    A:Men, women, children.
    A:Babies. And we huddled them up. We made them squat down and Lieutenant Calley came over and said, “You know what to do with them don’t you?” And I said yes. So I took it for granted that he just wanted us to watch them. And he left, and came back about ten or fifteen minutes later and said, “How come you ain’t killed them yet?” And I told him that I didn’t think you wanted us to kill them, that you just wanted us to guard them. He said, “No, I want them dead.” So-
    Q:He told this to all of you, or to you particularly?
    A:Well, I was facing him. So, but the other three, four, guys heard it and so he stepped back about ten, fifteen feet, and he started shooting them. And he told me to start shooting. So I started shooting, I poured about four clips into the group.
    Q:You fired four clips from your …
    Q:And that’s about how many clips – I mean, how many –
    A:I carried seventeen rounds to each clip.
    Q:So you fired something like sixty-seven shots?
    Q:And you killed how many? At that time?
    A:Well, I fired them automatic, so you can’t know hom any you killed ’cause they were going fast. So I might have killed ten or fifteen of them.
    A:Men, women and children?
    Q:Men, women and children.
    A:And babies?
    Q:and babies.

    Copy right status

    Ronald L. Haeberle took the photo while in the American military as a US army combat photographer. As such any work, he did as a government employee should fall into the public domain. However, Haeberle used multiple cameras; the first was his black and white Army issued camera and the second was his personal camera that used color film. Therefore the copyright is uncertain as he used his own camera to take the, “And babies”, poster photo. Further clouding the status of the photo is that text is overlapped over of the photo making it an altered original work of art, much like the more modern Fairey Obama Poster. Regardless of the poster status, just the photo was published by Time/Life and Haeberle granted reproduction rights to the AWC without charge on December 16, 1970.

    John Morris, the photo editor for The New York Times at the time remembers:

    In late morning, we received word that London papers, copying the photos from The Plain Dealer, were going ahead without payment, ignoring the copyright. The New York Post followed, in its early afternoon edition. Rosenthal decreed that it would now be ridiculous for The Times to pay. We would publish “as a matter of public interest.” The next day, November 22, [1969] The Times ran one My Lai picture on page three—downplayed to avoid sensationalism.


    Related Posts:

    Kent State Shooting

    Behind the camera: Student photographer John Filo
    Where: Kent University
    Photo Summary: Mary Ann Vecchio screaming as she crouched over the bleeding body of Jeffrey Miller
    Picture Taken: May 4, 1970

    Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’.
    We’re finally on our own.
    This summer I hear the drummin’.
    Four dead in Ohio.
    “Ohio” song by the folk band: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in protest of the Kent State massacre.

    On May 4, 1970 the obscure Kent University jumped to the world’s attention when 13 students where shot, 4 killed, by National Guard members. The National Guard had been brought on campus in response to earlier violent protests. Student photographer John Filo captured his famous picture of then 14-year-old runaway, Mary Vecchio, as she crouched over the bleeding body of Jeffrey Miller. The picture has become a photo that visually symbolized the protests of the Vietnam War era.

    Events leading to the May 4 shooting.

    Vietnam Protest

    Kent State Student

    From another angle

    Richard Nixon was elected to office in 1968 on the promise that he would remove American GIs from Vietnam. Since the ’68 election tensions had slowly been rising in America and especially on University campuses. Events such as the exposure of the secret bombing campaigns in Indochina, the My Lai massacre in November 1969 and then in December of the same year the first draft lottery in decades did nothing to calm campus life. On April 30th, 1970 President Nixon in a televised announcement told America that US forces had 5 days earlier invaded Cambodia to destroy Vietnamese bases there.

    Campuses across the country exploded in response to the acknowledgment of American forces opening a new front in Indochina. Students felt betrayed by Nixon. Instead of removing American forces from Indochina, with the Cambodian invasion, it appeared that Nixon was escalating the war. A growing war combined with the new draft system meant that there was a real risk of being forced to fight in a war that many saw as unjust and unnecessary.

    John Filo took another picture from a different angle

    John Filo took another picture from a different angle

    Protests were organized throughout the US including Kent State University. At Kent a huge demonstration on Fri, May 1st and again the following Mon, May 4th was planned. The May 1st rally was held on the University Commons area (an open grassy area for sports rallies). Speeches against the war and the Nixon administration were given, and a copy of the Constitution was buried to symbolize how the constitution was dead because Congress had never declared war. (Congress has to approve the country going to war) As the evening fell the protest moved onto the downtown streets of Kent where many incidents between protesters and police occurred. The town bars were ordered closed by the major, which made the crowds even more unhinged as drunken youths spilled on to the streets. Eventually, protest turned to riot and riot turned to violence with frustrated students smashing downtown store windows, vandalizing and looting stores.

    For every action there is a reaction

    Kent’s Mayor, Leroy Satrom declared a state of emergency in the town and appealed to the Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes for help. Governor Rhodes responded by sending in the National Guard to bring order to the town. The Guard was able to deploy almost right away because the Ohio National Guard were already on duty in Northeast Ohio.

    They’re the worst type of people
    -Governor James Rhodes on the Vietnam protesters

    The Guard arrived on campus on the evening of Sat, May 2nd to find a huge crowd of about 1000 students surrounding a burning ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) building on campus. Firemen were hindered in their efforts to put out the blaze by angry students. The wooden ROTC building would eventually burn to the ground. National Guard members spent the rest of the night arresting students and dispersing protesters with tear gas. No one was ever caught in regards to the arson of the ROTC building and there is much controversy surrounding who started the fire because the ROTC building was already abandoned, boarded up and scheduled for demolition. On Sun May 3rd, students awoke to their campus looking like a war zone with armed National Guard members everywhere, helicopters buzzing overhead and tanks stationed on University grounds. Sunday was a warm and sunny day and bemused students talked with Guardsmen occupying the campus. Governor James Rhodes gave a charged emotional speech where he gave a less than flattering portrayal of the student demonstrators: “They’re worse than the brownshirts and the communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes … They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.”
    In the speech, the Governor also promised that he would get a court order banning future protests and gave the impression that something like martial law had been declared. Governor Rhodes actually had neither declared marital war or got a court injunction making campus demonstrations illegal but neither the National Guard or student organizers knew that. Sunday evening saw more protests and confrontations between protesters and guardsmen, exchanges between the two groups resulted in several students getting stabbed by Guardsmen bayonets.

    May 4, Kent State Shootings

    On Fri, May 1st, a protest was planned for noon on Mon May 4th and students attempted to follow through with the May 4 protest. However, the University attempted to stop the event and handed out thousands of leaflets that said the protest was cancelled. Despite the University efforts about 2,000 people gathered on the university’s Commons. Kent University breaks the crowd into:

    … about 500 core demonstrators were gathered around the Victory Bell at one end of the Commons, another 1000 people were “cheerleaders” supporting the active demonstrators, and an additional 1500 people were spectators standing around the perimeter of the Commons. Across the Commons at the burned-out ROTC building stood about 100 Ohio National

    Even though the protest was going on the campus was still open, people were going to class, having lunch and doing University things.

    Fix Bayonets

    General Canterbury the commander of the Guardsmen ordered that the demonstration be dispersed to prevent any more outbreaks of violence. The protesters were first told to break up through loudspeakers and when that didn’t work teargas was fired into the crowds. However, the wind that day quickly dispersed the gas making it unsuccessful in breaking up the rally. Canterbury then ordered the Guardsmen, with bayonets fixed, to march across the commons in an effort to break up the crowd. The crowd was forced up, Blanket Hill, and down the other side towards the parking lot and practice football field. The Guardsmen with little or no crowd control experience soon became separated, with most of the men following the students directly. The 77 men who followed the students soon became trapped when their march lead them to a football field surrounded on three sides with a fence. Students at this time had still not dispersed and started to yell and throw rocks at the Guardsmen. There is some debate about how threatened this rock throwing was with protesters claiming that because of the distance only a few rocks hit the Guardsmen:

    I did see one rock hit a Guardsman. And I say this because there were reports that came out of the press that fire hydrants had been thrown, Guardsmen had been bleeding and there was lots of lies afterwards, but I was right there, in the middle of it — nada — did not happen. But the one rock that I did see bounced off of a Guardsman’s helmet. And we’re talkin’ like a long way away. These guys were way down in the field. And that was that. So the Guard were in a crouching position with their guns out to shoot. Like you would think the Continental Army was.
    -Carol Mirman – Student present during the Kent State shootings

    Mary Ann Vecchio

    The girl in the photo, Mary Ann Vecchio, had a troubled life as a child and after run ins with the law decided to run away from Opa-locka, Florida to hitchhike around the country. On May 4, 1970 she found herself at Kent State. She was talking to Miller, who she had just met, when the shots rang out. When the shooting stopped, she saw to her horror that Miller was lying in a pool of blood. In a 2021 interview she recalls that she was in shock and was crying out, “Doesn’t anyone see what just happened here? “Why is no one helping him?” When the soldiers approached, their guns at the ready, she screamed “Why did you do this?”

    Afterwards, Mary Ann just remembers running. She was just a drifter and didn’t know anyone at the university; she’d only known Miller for 25 minutes. She was part of a group of young protesters that were rounded up by soldiers and transported to Columbus, Ohio about 140 miles away. From there she tried to hitchhike west.

    A fellow runaway recognized her and set up an interview with an Indianapolis Star reporter. Hoping to get a bus fare to California in exchange for an interview, Mary Ann disguised herself as a granny. Instead of bus fare, the reporter called the police who arrested her as a runaway and sent her back to her parents in Opa-locka.

    Many refused to believe that she was a runaway and accused her of being a communist plant. Claude R. Kirk, the governor of Florida said she was “part of a nationally organized conspiracy of professional agitators [that was] responsible for the students’ death.”

    Soon she was targeted with harassment and death threats “It’s too bad it wasn’t you that was shot.” “What you need is a good beating until you bleed red.” “I hope you enjoyed sleeping with all those Negroes and dope fiends.” “The deaths of the Kent State four lies on the conscience of yourself.”

    After many run-ins with the law, she finally moved to Los Vegas and made something of her life while keeping the fact that she was part of the iconic image a secret. For decades she watched and resented John Filo as he climbed the corporate ladder at CBS eventually becoming the head of photography.

    The two never met again after the photo, until 1995. Gregory Payne, a professor and author of Mayday, Kent State, set up a 25-year retrospective. Both Mary and John dreaded the meeting but once they saw each other collapsed in each other’s arms in tears becoming fast friends.

    Mary eventually returned to school and ended up becoming a respiratory therapist at the Miami VA hospital. She rarely told the vets she worked with every day that she was once the symbol of the 70s antiwar protests. As of April 2021 Mary Ann is retired and grows her own fruits on a plot of land on the edge of the Florida Everglades, she never had kids and after a nasty divorce never remarried.

    Other Eye Witnesses

    In 2013 on popular website Reddit a man claiming to be one of the men in the background posted his memories of the incident:

    The guy with the white bandana and behind him and the fence is a guy with blond hair and long sideburns……well that is me at age 19. … I attended Kent State for one semester and was not a resident on campus May 4. … May 4 was a beautiful warm sunny day. At Kent there was a cafeteria on a rise and students often took their lunches outside on the grass. … I was walking from my class when the shots were fired and then saw people running. I headed to my car. I walked from Taylor Hall and there was a lot of confusion. I never saw Jeffrey Miller nor the photographer nor the girl screaming because there was another student down in the grass (later learned it was Dean Kahler) just a few feet away. In fact you can see people in the foreground pointing toward him but you can’t see him. Also the guard troops were sweeping up the hill the other direction so I could get behind them and get to my car. Several of us stopped around Dean who was alive but could not move. We stayed near him milling about being totally useless until the medics got there. I then went to my car and drove home.

    Kent State is a large campus and had large open spaces (at least back then). Also at the time Kent was mainly a commuter college so you pretty much drove there, went to class, went home and minded your own business. It didn’t have a great reputation and the joke in Cleveland at the time was “if you can’t go to college, go to Kent.” The other thing about the photo is that it is essentially pointing away from the action and the guard. So those you see in the photo are stragglers on the fringe. Finally, this all happened around normal class change time so many people were unaware of what was going on. In fact, at the time I was walking in the photo I wasn’t even sure what had happened.


    The Guard stayed on the field for about 10 minutes and it was here that several Guardsmen could be seen huddling together as if planning something. The Guard then began marching back the way they came, off the practice football field and back up Blanket Hill.

    When they got to the top of the hill 28 of the 77 Guardsmen started firing their rifles and pistols. Investigations after the Kent State Shooting determined that altogether between 61 and 67 shots were fired in a 13 second period. John Filo a senior photojournalism student at Kent was present, with his Nikkormat camera using Tri X film, when they started shooting. Like many students that day John assumed the Guard was using blanks and quickly ran towards the Guard to get pictures while dodging fleeing students running the other way:

    When I put the camera back to my eye, I noticed a particular guardsman pointing at me. I said, “I’ll get a picture of this,” and his rifle went off. And almost simultaneously, as his rifle went off, a halo of dust came off a sculpture next to me, and the bullet lodged in a tree.
    I dropped my camera in the realization that it was live ammunition. I don’t know what gave me the combination of innocence and stupidity…but I never took cover. I was the only one standing at the hillside. … and turned slowly to my left, what caught my eye on the street was the body of Jeffrey Miller and the volume of blood that was flowing from his body was as if someone tipped over a bucket. I started to flee–run down the hill and stopped myself. “Where are you going?” I said to myself, “This is why you are here!”
    And I started to take pictures again. And the picture I made then was of Jeffrey Miller’s body lying in the street and people starting to come out of shelter, and then a picture where Mary Vecchio was just entering the frame. I knew I was running out of film. I could see the emotion welling up inside of her. She began to sob. And it culminated in her saying an exclamation. I can’t remember what she said exactly … something like, “Oh, my God!”

    Investigations would later try to answer the question, why did the National Guard open fire? The Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard told reporters that a sniper had fired on the guards but this claim was proven untrue. The Guard themselves claim that they felt their lives threatened by the protesters yet none of the protesters were close to the Guard. Joseph Lewis the closest verified protester to the Guardsmen and was shot in the abdomen and left lower leg at a distance of about 60 feet. He was shot while standing still and giving a middle finger to the guard. Victims that day and the distance from the Guard line:


    (estimated distance from the National Guard line):

    • Allison Krause (343 feet/105 meters)
    • Jeffrey Glen Miller (265 feet/81 meters)
    • Sandra Lee Scheuer (390 feet/119 meters)
    • William Knox Schroeder (382 feet/116 meters)


    (estimated distance from the National Guard line)

    • Thomas Mark Grace (unverified; between 60 and 200 feet/18 and 61 meters)
    • Joseph Lewis (71 feet/22 meters)
    • John Cleary (110 feet/34 meters)
    • Alan Canfora (225 feet/69 meters)
    • Dean Kahler (300 feet/91 meters)
    • Douglas Wrentmore (329 feet/100 meters)
    • James Dennis Russell (375 feet/114 meters)
    • Robert Stamps (495 feet/151 meters)
    • Donald MacKenzie (750 feet/229 meters)’

    John Filo remembers if the Guardsmen cared about what happened after the shooting had stopped:

    No. That was evident in that the squad that came over to examine the body of Jeffrey Miller was armed — six or seven of them. No one even bent down to get a closer look. The sergeant who did not have a rifle rolled the body of Jeffrey Miller over with his boot. That incensed some people. The soldiers regrouped and backed away from the body and away from the crowd of people … It could have taken 5 minutes. It is hard to calculate time.

    Calls for Revenge

    The Guardsmen retreated from the top of the hill to rejoin the other National Guard members at the perimeter of the burnt ROTC building. By this time students had again begun milling around the commons and what had happened started to sink in. Before the shootings, there was some question on how much of a danger the students posed to Guardsmen but after the shooting, there was no question with many calling for an all-out assault on the National Guard. ‘It’s gone too far’
    With the students still not dispersed the Guard again approached and warned the faculty present that the students had to disperse immediately. It was then that the late, geology professor and faculty marshal, Professor Glenn Frank made an emotional plea to the students to break-up and leave the area. The speech was recorded by the news director at the student radio station, Bob Carpenter.

    I don’t care if you’ve never listened to anybody before in your life. I am begging you right now, if you don’t disperse right now, they’re going to move in. It will only be a slaughter. Please, listen to me. Jesus Christ, I don’t want to be part of this. Listen to me…
    –Professor Glenn Frank

    The faculty through their pleas were finally able to get the crowd to disperse, Alan Frank the son of Professor Glen was there in the crowd that day, “He absolutely saved my life and hundreds of others,” said Frank.



    University shuts down

    While the bodies were being removed from campus and the wounded taken away by ambulance, Kent State University President Robert White was planning to shut down the University. A court injunction from Common Pleas Judge Albert Caris made the closure indefinite. Classes didn’t start again until the summer of 1970. Faculty at Kent made heroic efforts to allow students to finish their semester via papers mailed to instructors and classes held off-campus.

    Nation wide protests

    when dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy
    -Nixon Whitehouse

    The news of Kent State spread quickly across the nation and this incident is widely regarded as the sole reason behind the only nationwide student strike in history. Hundreds of campuses shut down with over 4 million students protesting.

    The next Saturday had protesters assembling in Washington to protest both the Kent State shooting and the Cambodian invasion. As the numbers grew the White House grew afraid of another “Kent” on the Whitehouse grounds. They arranged to have two rings of D.C. transit buses parked bumper-to-bumper. Paranoid government officials saw the gathering through the eyes of cold war soldiers with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming that the buses were set up, because “this same group that was at Kent” was plotting to get a student killed in front of the Oval Office.
    Publicly President Nixon expressed regret at the student deaths, “This should remind us all once again that when dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy.” He invited Kent State students to the White House stated that the shootings should never have happened. Yet he had earlier called student protesters “bums” and in the Whitehouse tapes it was revealed that he had asked the Secret Service to beat up student protesters, and felt that the Kent State victims “had it coming”.
    Many in America shared this “had it coming” attitude and the incident further divided the country. Incidents erupted around the country. Anti-Vietnam supporters demanded that flags be flown at half-mast in respect of the slain at Kent and on the other side pro-government supporters demanding that flags be raised from half-mast.

    New Evidence


    FBI Informant

    In 2010, the forty year anniversary of the shooting, new evidence emerged from the post-Kent-Shooting investigation. In June of 1970 Attorney General John Mitchell told the public “there was no sniper”. A report submitted to Attorney General John Mitchell in June 1970 stated: “there was no sniper” who could have fired at the guardsmen before the killings. It was also revealed that six guardsmen told the FBI that their lives were not in danger and that “it was not a shooting situation.”

    However, over time declassified FBI documents show that at least two bullet fragments were found in a tree and ground around the guards. Also, and perhaps the reason the information was suppressed, the FBI had a mole in the student protest movement. Terry Norman, a part-time student at Kent, was working for the FBI and was armed with a gun that the FBI was able to determine had been fired on that day.

    Audio tape

    Activist Alan Canfora uncovered a copy of the “Strubbe Tape” in the Yale University archive. The Strubbe Tape was an audio recording by student Terry Strubbe who recorded the whole protest from his dorm window. In the 70s this tape was investigated but then destroyed by the FBI. The new uncovered copy was processed using modern technology in 2010 and it revealed that there were a number of pistol shots then someone giving orders to the guard members “Guard! . . . All right, prepare to fire!” the analysts reported hearing, followed by another voice yelling ‘Get down!’ The first voice then says, ‘Guard, fi–,’ “ the word fire being drowned out by gunshots. The U.S. Justice Department refused to reopen the case with this new evidence citing legal obstacles to further prosecutions and doubts about the new evidence.

    Edited version of Kent State

    The pole! The pole is missing.


    Kent State Shooting Full Filo Unedited

    The unedited version most seen


    Photo Edit

    An altered version of the picture has over the years been published instead of the real Filo Pulitzer Prize Winner. The altered version appeared as recently as May 1st, 1995 in the LIFE magazine article, “Caught in time” Pg 38.

    In Memory of

    Kent State University sponsored an official annual tribute until 1976 when the administration announced it would no longer support an official University commemoration. It was here that the May 4 Task Force was created. Made up of students, and community members the May 4 Task Force task is to organize a commemoration every year to those that died during the Kent State Shooting.

    It wasn’t until 1990 that a physical memorial for the events of May 4, 1970 was dedicated. The memorial was shrouded in controversy and in the end, only 7% of the design was constructed. A 1978 sculpture of the biblical Abraham set to sacrifice his son Isaac was also deemed too controversial and was not allowed on campus. (The statue eventually went to Princeton University)

    On Kent Campus a work of land art, Partially Buried Woodshed, by Robert Smithson commissioned in January 1970 had an inscription allowed it to be associated by some with the Kent State Shootings.

    Other Famous Pictures

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