May 4, 1970, is a date that continues to live in infamy for Northeast Ohio residents and the world.
That day, the worldwide spotlight trained on Kent State University after a student demonstration against the Vietnam War ended in tragedy. Minutes after noon on that Monday, a short burst of gunfire by 28 Ohio National Guardsmen left four students dead, one paralyzed and eight others wounded.
“In terms of (impact) on the campus, there’s been plenty written about May 4,” says Janet Leach, director of the Kent State University’s Media Law Center for Ethics and Access. The former first female editor of the Akron Beacon Journal adds, “But in my teaching, it has been interesting to have current generations of students hear different perspectives on this not-so-distant past.
“I also see (May 4) as a great lesson for journalists, too. There’s always debate about the coverage: ‘Was it balanced? Was it biased?’ One of the five freedoms is the right to assemble and petition your government,” Leach says. “So exploring what that assembly – and then the putting down of that protest – was all about will always be valuable.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings. Naturally, the university and surrounding city serve as an epicenter for memorializing the earth-shattering event; remembrances will range from photo exhibitions, poetry and musical performances to panel discussions, a candlelight vigil and a keynote by veteran/musician Country Joe McDonald.
Here are some planned discussions that will take place for the anniversary and a postscript very much worth noting:
“…Next Stop Is Vietnam: The War on Record“
Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum offers a special edition of their “Rock and Roll Night School” programming on music and the Vietnam War. This panel discussion at Kent State – anchored by activist/songwriter McDonald, whose song “Vietnam” became a bona fide protest mantra – examines how war has been represented in popular music. Fortified with multimedia, the panel also features Dr. Hugo Keesing, a popular culture scholar at the University of Maryland. Keesing has curated a 13-disc CD box set examining the role that music has had in mirroring society’s take on war. The box set also shares the title of this panel. There’s no cost and it will be open to the public.
“May 4, 1970: The Reporters Who Were There“
The Press Club of Cleveland presents a panel discussion with media professionals who were present for the events of May 4 and “how it changed their lives and a campus forever.” Panelists include former Kent State photojournalism student John Filo, Pulitzer Prize winner for his iconic photo of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of dead student Jeffrey Miller; Chuck Ayers, nationally celebrated cartoonist, writer and former Kent State student; Michael D. Roberts, former editor for The Plain Dealer and co-author of “Thirteen Seconds: Confrontation at Kent State;” and professional in residence Jan Leach, current assistant professor of journalism at Kent State. There is no cost. The panel discussion will be open to the public.
“Extraordinary Appearances” and “40 Years of the May 4 Collection”
These two exhibits are presented by Kent State University’s Special Collections and Archives and employ artifacts, photography and personal accounts to map out the May 4 timeline – including the addition of the university’s 17 Main Campus acres to the National Register of Historic Places. But the exhibits at Kent State’s libraries are just the beginning: They represent a part of the university’s inclusive “40th May 4 Commemoration” anthology, which features an accompanying website to aid students, staff, faculty, researchers and residents in understanding the events of May 4 and their aftereffects. Check out both displays and learn about a plan afoot to open an official May 4 Visitors Center. There’s no cost for these exhibits, and they are open to the public.
Kent State Truth Tribunal
While not one of the officially sanctioned Kent State memorial events, this happening could be the most gutting. Spearheaded by Laurel Krause – sister to May 4 shooting victim Allison Krause – the Kent State Truth Tribunal will film oral histories in high-definition video for television broadcast, streaming online Web casts in real time, and a social media vault. (Think an edgier version of NPR’s popular “StoryCorps” project, and you’re about halfway there.) Viewers around the world will be able to watch the personal narratives at the Truth Tribunal website during its “Four Days in May” observation. Those wishing to participate in the front end of the project will gather at Franklin Square Deli Building, 110 S. Water St. in downtown Kent, on May 4. There’s no cost and it’s open to the public.
40th Annual Candlelight March and Vigil
Likely to be the most striking of the on-campus events, partakers of the commemorative 40th Annual Candlelight March and Vigil will gather on Kent State Commons at 10:30 p.m. A silent, candlelit campus perimeter walk will step off 30 minutes later. Following the demonstration, a 24-minute silent vigil for Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder – the four students fatally shot on May 4, 1970 – will be held. For those unable to attend in person, virtual participation will be available through Kent State University’s Second Life campus online. There’s no cost and it will be open to the public.
An Interesting Postscript
A fervent social media campaign asking Neil Young to perform a commemorative concert in Kent is underway. It was Young who wrote and performed the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song “Ohio” in protest of the shootings. Nearly 1,300 members have joined the (un)official “Bring Neil Young to Kent State for the 40th Anniversary of May 4” campaign on Facebook. So far, there’s been no word from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer or his management.
“As far as I know, Neil Young is not coming,” confirms Facebook page creator and Kent State student Chris Connelly. “May 4 is his current wife’s birthday, so it is unlikely he will come to Kent State.”