49th annual May 4 Commemoration: ‘May we forever stand’

“Our May 4 Coalition who occupied Blanket Hill for 62 days in 1977 to protect the May 4 site from destruction — protesting at a Board of Trustees meeting to demand they move the gym,” Chic Canfora said.

Madison MacArthur

Forty-nine years ago at 12:24 p.m., 67 shots rang out across the Prentice Hall parking lot on campus, wounding nine students and killing four. Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer, Jeffrey Miller and William Schroeder have become immortalized through the years. 

The 49th annual commemoration moved inside to the Ballroom due to weather Saturday, on the second floor of the Student Center. Upon entering, photos of the four students who were killed stretched across the stage. A sign hangs along the back wall, calling for remembrance of Kent State and Jackson State.

The theme for the commemoration this year was “May We Forever Stand: Long Live the Memory of Kent and Jackson State.”

While seats are available throughout the room, people sat on blankets along the back, looking content as though sitting on Blanket Hill. Madeline Camp, the president of the May 4 Task Force and sophomore political science major, stepped up the podium at 12:24, telling the crowd that at that moment 49 years ago, the shots rang out.

While the crowd was inside away from the Victory Bell, Camp said the bell would be rung 15 times, nine for the students injured, four for those killed and an additional two for the students killed at Jackson State in the weeks following May 4, 1970.

“Every year the May 4 Task Force honors an individual who has made an impact on the May 4 Community,” Camp said following a moment of silence. “This year the plaque is dedicated to Albert Canfora, father to Alan and Chic Canfora.”

Camp said how Albert Canfora, who passed away in September, stood with his children in the times following May 4.

“Throughout his life, he fought for truth and justice in support of May 4,” Camp said. “Alongside his children and almost 200 others, Mr. Canfora was arrested in 1977 while fighting to preserve the site of the shootings.”

Chic Canfora accepted the award on behalf of her father as she approached the stage to rousing applause.

“Our father, Albert Canfora, was not just the patriarch of the Canfora family, but a very proud, very protective and supportive patriarch for the students of May 4,” Canfora said.

Canfora said when she heard she would be accepting the plaque at the candlelight vigil from her brother, she became worried knowing she had no time to pull together a speech.

“(Alan) said, my mother, who will be 94 next month, who was married to my father for more than 70 years, was thrilled to hear that my dad would be honored at this commemoration,” Canfora said. “She told Alan she wanted us to say three things; number one, long live the spirit of Kent and Jackson State; number two, power to the people; and number three, and my mother 94, still full of spunk and fire said ‘move the gym.’”

Canfora stepped off of the stage as the crowd whistled and cheered, and Ray Flanagan stepped up to the stage. Flanagan is a local musician asked by the May 4 Task Force to perform “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  

“It was requested that I play this song, and I think this song when it was written was able to capture a lot of complicated emotions,” Flanagan said.

As he began playing, four people stepped forward to the stage and placed lit candles underneath the photographs of the four victims.

Following Flanagan, President Beverly Warren came forward to speak on the university’s commitment to May 4 commemorations. As she approached crowd members stood and yelled, one woman, began the chant of “move the gym” as the president approached the podium.

“You have our pledge that the history made here at Kent State and its lasting legacy, that we will remember for its life long impact on our people, our university, our country, and especially those killed or injured that day and their families,” Warren said.

The university will take over commencements beginning next year with the 50th commemoration of May 4, a major shift since the May 4 Task Force has been responsible for the commemorations since 1975.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank the members of the May 4th Task Force for the careful planning and this commemoration and for being such dedicated and faithful stewards of this anniversary for the past 495 years,” Warren said.  “I’m always amazed that young people who were not only not alive in 1970 but also whose parents may not have been alive in 1970 are willing to devote so many hours to making sure the events of May 4th are commemorated with respect and dignity.”

Following Warren, a chronological timeline was read of the events leading up to May 4 and the National Guard opening fire at Kent State. Immediately after, a chronological timeline was read about the shooting at Jackson State, where two black students were killed just days after May 4.

There were four speakers that came forward for the four victims, including Camp, who spoke on behalf of Sandra Scheuer.

Camp spoke about the challenge of reading letters between Sandy and her friends, looking at the homework they did together and go through the events leading to Sandy’s death.

“It’s heartbreaking to read these accounts, to go through these pictures, but why do it?” Camp said. “Forty-four years ago when the university decided that five years was enough remembering, that a group of students formed the May 4 Task Force to put on commemorations themselves.”

The four speakers each talked about the dreams the four fallen students never got to reach, how they lost their lives too soon and who they were.

Barbara Child, a lawyer, author and former professor, spoke on behalf of Jeffery Miller, specifically about the famous photograph from that day of Miller dead on the ground with Mary Vecchio kneeling next to him, screaming.

“It has come of course to be known as the iconic representation of the killings at Kent. We have seen it more times than we can count,” Child said. “It comes unbidden into view, I invite you to imagine how many times that picture came unbidden into view for Jeff’s mother, Elaine Holstein.”

Carlos Jones approached the stage for Allison Krause, opening up by singing the lyrics to a song he wrote for her family.

“She was a young woman full of life and promise who had set out to further her education to one day you become a productive citizen and perhaps contribute to positive and peaceful change in our society,” Jones said. “But she had questions, she knew there was much unrest in the world and all around her. She knew that there were things wrong with our country, that she and her peers felt compelled to speak out against.”

There was a message beyond the theme of the commemoration for students to know the victims and recognize them as one of their peers, for those four students to be known beyond the fact that they were a part of the Kent State Four, but also artists, poets and dog-lovers. There is more for people to find out about them.

Following the speakers, Rabbi Michael Ross of KSU Hillel spoke about the tragedy of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue this past year and the key-note speaker Kavin Ross, an author, journalist and historian, who has spent decades researching the Race Riots from 1921.

He said through looking into a story a few years ago, he discovered a long-lost burial ground thought to be from the riots.

Even as the commemoration continued in the Ballroom, 0.1 miles from Taylor Hall and the markers of where the four were killed, crowds of families and students walked between them, bowing heads in a moment of silence before proceeding onward.

Madison MacArthur is a senior reporter. Contact her at [email protected].