Campus shootings remembered through May 4 Visitors Center
On May 4, 1970, Kent State was thrust into the international spotlight after a sad end to a student demonstration against the Vietnam War. Shortly after noon that Monday, 13 seconds of gun fire by a group of 28 Ohio National Guardsmen left four students dead, one permanently paralyzed and eight others wounded.
On April 30, 1970, President Nixon announced on national television that American and South Vietnamese troops were heading into Cambodia. “We take these actions,” Nixon said, “not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam and winning the just peace we all desire.”
These were familiar words to a war-weary, restless public. Some felt that this result was essential for achieving this “just peace” and supporting America’s authority in the world. Yet others, predominantly students, thought that this act represented an escalation of the war and a return to ex-President Johnson’s earlier hopes for a military victory.
At Kent State, the reaction to Nixon’s announcement was similar to that of other campuses across the nation.
According to the May 4 Task Force website, “In 1975, the Kent State University administration stopped its sponsorship and support of the annual commemoration programs held on May 4, saying they were no longer needed. That same year, the May 4 Task Force was founded by Kent State students. The purpose of the M4TF has been to raise the level of awareness of students, faculty, and the general public about the May 1970 shootings and the history of subsequent related events.”
“May 4th is still referenced in countless movies, speeches and songs to this day, and many people remember where they were when they heard the news — much like Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK,” said Jessica Denton, president of the May 4 Task Force.
Each year since 1971, Kent State students, faculty and community members have gathered at 10:30 p.m. on May 3 to take part in a candlelight procession around the perimeter of campus. Following the walk, a vigil begins with people positioned in the spots where the four students were killed.
“If we don’t recognize history, even when it’s a dark chapter, we’re doomed to repeat it,” Denton said. “We take the time each year to memorialize and honor those killed and injured here at Kent State as well as those killed at Jackson State in Mississippi two weeks later.”
Commemoration ceremonies are held annually at Kent State on May 4. Classes are canceled each year between 12 p.m. until 2 p.m., giving all students an opportunity to attend the commemoration.
The May 4 Visitors Center, located on the Kent Campus in Taylor Hall, hosts virtual visitors center and an online educational exhibit. The Visitors Center also has a multi-media self-guided tour of the 18-acre historic site featuring permanent location markers, educational programs for student and public groups, special lectures and activities.
According to the Visitors Center’s website, “The May 4 Visitors Center also shows ‘The May 4 Walking Tour Documentary,’ giving viewers a chance to trace the steps of history through this documentary in the style of Ken Burns -- based on 500 archived photographs never before brought together and narrated by notable civil rights leader Julian Bond. The chapters of the documentary are keyed to the seven Walking Tour trail markers.”