Thomas Grace kicks off May 4 Educators Summit

Thomas Grace, author, Kent State alum, and one of nine wounded on May 4, 1970. Grace was the keynote speaker at the Educator’s Summit on July 31, 2019.

Maria McGinnis

Thomas Grace, one of the nine Kent State students wounded during the May 4, 1970 shootings, kicked off The Voices for Change: 2019 Educator’s Summit in the KIVA on Wednesday evening. 

The summit runs from July 31 to August 2 and is the first event in a year-long effort to commemorate the anniversary of the shooting.

According to the event’s website, the event “is designed to prepare teachers to educate a new generation about the history and legacy of May 4, 1970 and its relevance to contemporary issues and events.” 

Grace is an adjunct professor of history at the State University of New York Erie Community College, 50th Commemoration Advisory Committee member and the author of “Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties.” 

Kent State President Todd Diacon introduced Grace and noted that this event is the first of over 100 university events planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of May 4.

Grace discussed the parallels between the time of unrest in the 1960s and the United States’ current political climate. 

“History is a dialogue between the past and present,” Grace said. 

Grace mentioned that understanding the similarities between the time periods can be difficult for students that don’t have any memory of them.

He went on to discuss various textbooks used in schools that he has researched, including some in Ohio, and compared the sophistication and accuracy of them for the teachers in attendance.

“The text used at Theodore Roosevelt High School, ‘America Through the Lens,’ gives a full paragraph to the killings here and at Jackson State,” Grace said. “I like too, the quote at the beginning of the book’s section on the war from Former Secretary of State John Kerry, ‘I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it.’”

Grace also noted that educators planning to teach about Kent State without a textbook can consult the university’s collection of oral histories. 

“The oral histories are rich document sources,” Grace said. “Like all evidence they require careful use and contextualization.”

The purpose behind Grace’s own book is to uncover the roots of Kent’s student movement and detail the aftermath of the shootings, when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on Kent State students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four students and injuring nine others.

“The term used in the book’s title, ‘Long Sixties,’ refers to a tumultuous era that does not fit neatly into a chronological decade,” Grace said.

Grace performed both qualitative and quantitative research to write his book and looked into the demographics of Kent State students at the time to see where they came from and what kind of backgrounds made up the groups on campus. 

“I personally interviewed dozens of Kent activists to determine the occupations of their parents,” Grace said. “In other words, what kind of homes did these kids grow up in.”

Grace concluded the talk by suggesting those who want more information on May 4 and the surrounding questions about the events that took place and the aftermath since to consult his book, “Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties.” 

“The killings did not silence the voices of change,” Grace said. “Those who survived have labored for half a century to ensure that the dead were remembered as they are today with historical signage, campus memorials and restoration of the historic scene.”

Maria McGinnis is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

A correction was made to the original version of this story to include the correct job title of Thomas Grace.