A look forward at events during the 50th commemoration of May 4

A diagram of the “May 4 Listening Wall,” showing the purpose of each of its four corners and end caps.

Nathan Mehring

Between 70 and 100 events, speakers, projects and exhibits are planned for the fall and spring semesters leading up to the 50th commemoration event on May 4, said Rod Flauhaus, the project manager for the 50th commemoration of May 4.

“We can’t fit all perspectives into one speaker or event…but we want to give an overview of the range of perspectives and viewpoints into the year of events,” Flauhaus said. “It shows the effect May 4 has on people.”

These events are in addition to the normal May 4 commencement ceremony on the anniversary. May 4 falls on a Monday in 2020, in the same way it did in 1970. Because of this, a compact series of events will take place during the weekend leading up to Monday, Flauhaus said.

The schedule of events will be released around the beginning of the fall semester, Flauhaus said.

Flauhaus was a student at Kent State during the 1980s and was the chair of the May 4 Task Force for the 15th commencement of the event. He was also a consultant for the 30th commencement ceremony and was instrumental in the initiative to create the May 4 Memorial on campus, he said. With Flauhaus’s years of experience honoring May 4, he’s seen how perspectives on it have changed.

“People are coming around to viewing it as a significant historical event,” Flauhaus said. “Its impact goes overlooked, but after 50 years, around the country, people are starting to understand the true significance of these events and its place in history.”

The 2019 Educators Summit at the Kiva on July 31 kicked-off the year of events. The event brought in teachers and gave them information on how to teach May 4’s history and legacy to their students, Flauhaus said.

“Educating the next generation is as important as educating this generation,” said Mindy Farmer, the director of the May 4 Visitors Center.

More events will begin during the fall semester. One event Flauhaus is excited for is the arrival of Howard Ruffner in September. Ruffner is presenting his new book, Moments of Truth: A Photographer’s Experience of Kent State 1970.

Ruffner was a student at Kent State in 1970 and took photographs at the shooting. One of these photographs landed on the cover of LIFE Magazine. He will sign books and share unreleased photographs at this event, Flauhaus said.

May 4 Visitors Center Events

Many projects and exhibits are planned by the May 4 Visitors Center for the upcoming year. One of the things the center is focusing on is trying to give tours of the center to every single First Year Experience course this year.

Another project is “#KSUVoices1970” which will use Twitter and Instagram to recreate what Kent State was like for students, faculty and witnesses to the shooting during the 1969-1970 school year by using digital archives and interviews. This will start at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year and end with spring graduation, Farmer said.

“It’s a snapshot of the time…it’ll cover everything from the mundane to the profound,” Farmer said. “One of the myths of May 4 is that nothing else was happening at Kent State that year.”

A few exhibits will also open during this year to honor May 4. During the fall, the fourth and final exhibition honoring the students who were killed on May 4 will open. This will be Jeffrey Miller’s exhibit.

“I think for Jeff, more than anyone else, there’s one image that defines his life, and he was so much more than that one image,” Farmer said. “So to open him up, to show that he was so funny and so kind, and so interesting, we’re really excited about that exhibit.”

All four of the exhibits will be up in April. William Schroeder’s exhibit, which is currently up, will be at Idea Base in downtown Kent. Miller’s exhibit will be at the alumni center, Allison Krause’s will be at the School of Peace and Conflict Studies and Sandra Scheuer’s exhibit will be at the Hillel, the Jewish Community Center at Kent State, Farmer said.

Another exhibit, honoring those who survived the Kent shooting and the Jackson State University shooting, will open on the 50th anniversary of the shootings. This exhibit will honor all who were impacted and will be a collaboration between the center and the Kent State Library, Pan-African Studies and Jackson State University, she said.

“[This exhibit] will highlight their accomplishments, talk about lessons learned [and] lessons moving forward,” Farmer said.

In addition, the center is working on an exhibit called “Witness” that will highlight student reporters, photographers and witnesses who captured the shootings. This exhibit is being led by the College of Communication and Information, she said.

Also, a program called “First Friday Films,” where movies will play during the first Friday of every month, will start in September and go through November, Farmer said.

“And of course we’re going to play ‘Fire in the Heartland’ many, many times,” she said.

Honoring May 4

Flauhaus said, after years of working to keep the legacy of May 4, he finally got what he was hoping for: the university taking responsibility in continuing the commemoration of May 4.

A resolution, which passed in March, takes the responsibility of planning and executing the annual commemoration from the May 4 Task Force to the university. This also means the university will continue to educate students on the shootings and preserve the sites where it happened, Farmer said.

“This guarantees [May 4’s] legacy will be honored,” Flauhaus said.

Farmer encourages students to come out to the year’s events, especially the ones that link to a particular interest of theirs. She also recommends reading the common readings, volunteering for the May 4 Task Force and taking part in activism and voting.

“One of the legacies of May 4 is that the voting age is lowered,” Farmer said. “So one of the ways is to vote, be active and care about your First Amendment rights.”

Farmer said the Kent State community bears great responsibility because of its history.

“Be informal educators,” Farmer said. “It’s a great time for… the Kent State community to tell its own story. Too often this story has been told by outsiders and that’s not always true to the experience of the people here and to the history of what happened.”

Wick Poetry Center Events

Some May 4 events will be put on by the Wick Poetry Center. This includes the “May 4 Listening Wall,” a tool allowing users to upload primary source documents from May 4 onto a large touchscreen and listen to them while reading a transcript of the document, said David Hassler, the director of the Wick Poetry Center.

“As you tap words on the transcript, you build your own word pool, you can move those words around and create your own found reflection, your own poem, and record a video of your face explaining it and putting it back on the listening wall,” Hassler said. “It builds community conversation around the subject.”

The tool will debut at the National Council for the Social Studies conference in Austin, Texas, this November. It will then tour around the country, and hopefully making a stop at Kent State, Hassler said. Hassler hopes the tool will help audiences outside of Kent engage with the meaning of May 4.

Another Wick project is a radio adaptation of Hassler’s 2009 play, May 4th Voices: Kent State, 1970. The project is a collaboration with WKSU and will play nationally on NPR stations. Some of the plays’ characters will be voiced by celebrities and artists, including Tina Fey and her husband, Jeff Richmond, Hassler said.

An educational website with resources for May 4 from the Kent State Library archives will be created to accompany the play. The archives would be used by teachers, he said.

The play is based on the Kent State Shootings Oral History Project, which tells the story of May 4 from the many different perspectives and witnesses, Hassler said.

“[The play] tells the human story of May 4 and its aftermath, capturing the sense of trauma, confusion and fear felt by all people regardless of where they stood that day,” he said.

The poetry center will also put out two national calls for poets to contribute to May 4 projects.

One of the calls is for a “Global Community Poem.” Poets will be asked to add lines to a global poem about peace and conflict transformation. It will utilize Submittable, a submissions portal used for poetry submissions, Hassler said.

“The resulting poem will connect writers from around the world to the [commemoration],” he said. “As well as the resulting appeal for peace and advocacy.”

Hassler is working with the City of Kent to put flat-screen televisions in business windows downtown to display the poem, so people can read the poem while walking.

The second call to poets will be for full-length poems about peace and conflict transformation. The poems will be judged and the top five winners will be given the opportunity to read their poems at the May 4 Music and Poetry Event, Hassler said.

Along with reading their poems, the selected poets will have their poems turned into musical compositions by composition students at Kent State’s School of Music, he said.

Naomi Shihab Nye, an award-winning Palestinian-American poet, will also have a poetry reading session. Shihab Nye will also choose the winner of the full-length poem contest, he said.

“We believe that her experience working with communities around difficult and painful subjects, including gun violence, makes her the perfect guest for a reading on campus,” Hassler said.

The poetry center’s involvement in May 4 events was inspired by the founding director, Maggie Anderson, Hassler said. In 1990, she hosted a multi-day gathering of poets from around the world for poetry readings around peace and conflict resolution.

“I was a graduate student at the time and profoundly impressed and inspired by that,” Hassler said. “I’m kind of carrying on that legacy…this is the most involved the poetry center has ever been.”

Nathan Mehring covers downtown. Contact him at [email protected]