“You’re Kidding, Right?”

I just looked at the calendar and saw that it is May 4. That’s the day that my old chief photographer John J. Lopinot always sends me a message that says, “Never Forget,” referring to the killing of four students at Kent State on that date in 1970.

I almost forgot.

I’ve always been amused at this photograph of a student offering sandwiches and drinks to a highway patrolman who was called in when students conducted a sit-in at Ohio University’s administration building over an increase in student fees. His good-natured expression seems to be saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me if you think I’d eat something you made.” His fellow officers seemed to be less good-natured. This picture was taken in January 1970. (Click on the photo to make it larger.)

A look back

Here are some of the earlier stories I’ve done about the era.

LBJ: “I will not seek; I will not accept”

Ohio University students watch LBJ annouce he won't run for POTUS 03-31-1968Walter Borton, an old Ohio University friend jogged my memory today with a comment on Facebook:

“Forty eight years ago today – I was in the front row of a student government meeting upstairs in Baker Center at Ohio University – I think Rita Corriel was presiding and suddenly from the back of the room, if memory serves, Tom Price, holding a small portable radio to his ear, interrupted excitedly to announce that Lyndon Johnson had just withdrawn from the Presidential race. I’m not sure what happened next but I suspect we recessed to the Union bar & grill to drink.”

OU Post reporter Carol Towarnicky chimed in: “From a different angle: While you were all at the Student Government meeting — what was the issue that had everyone there? — I was in The Post office with, I think, one other person and we were listening to LBJ’s speech. When he said, “I shall not seek, nor will I accept” I screamed. Then I didn’t know what to do because there was no way to reach people, but it turns out everyone knew anyway. What an exciting time putting out the paper that night.”

Post editor Bill Sievert remembers it this way: “Those of us Posties who were present (and most of the people in the room) cheered Tom Price’s announcement. Then we finished covering the meeting and went back and joined Carol Towarnicky in putting out the paper. It was hard work but somebody had to do it. (We drank much, much later in the night.) Tagging Ken Steinhoff; he’ll remember if he took the picture. He has a photographic memory.”

How I remember it

Ohio University students watch LBJ annouce he won't run for POTUS 03-31-1968

My perspective: Nobody knew what Johnson was going to speak about on that March 31 evening. The speech started off sounding like he was positioning himself to steal thunder from challengers Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy by announcing measures they had been advocating, demonstrating that his was the power to act, while his critics had only the power to propose, wrote The New York Times.

I’m not sure where this group was watching the speech on a TV. It could have been in the Scott Quadrangle dorm lounge where I lived, or it might have been in the Baker Center Student Union, where The Post had its offices in the basement. I shot a few half-hearted frames early in the speech, even resorting to my fisheye lens, signalling that I wasn’t expecting much to happen. When I blew up one frame, I’m pretty sure I saw my future Athens Messenger colleague Bob Rogers lolling in the doorway, equally as disinterested in what was happening as I was.

When LBJ said, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President,” there was an audible gasp in the room. If I captured any emotion, it’s on film that I haven’t found yet. Right after he spoke those words, I looked over at a calendar, thinking, “Surely the President of the United States won’t follow that up by saying ‘April Fool!”

It was March 31, not April First, and, no, he wasn’t kidding.