CNN looks to May 4 Archives for new series

Paige Brown

CNN has begun airing its new original series, “Soundtracks: Songs that Defined History,” which will feature an episode about Kent State, May 4 and The Vietnam War.

“Kent State is such a pivotal moment in our history because it is the inciting incident that became the focal point, which clearly expressed the incredible national divide in America over the Vietnam War,” said Maro Chermayeff, executive producer of the documentary series.

It is because of this that CNN chose to focus an entire episode on May 4, 1970.

“The killing of innocent students on the Kent State campus by the Ohio National Guard was a stark and painful moment which highlighted the contentious state of America, and was a powerful symbol of social upheaval,” Chermayeff said.

With its significant May 4 collection, it is no wonder Kent State’s Special Collections and Archives became an important source for the team behind the series.

“CNN was originally looking for video footage, but we have very few items available in that area,” said Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, assistant professor and university archivist. “We were able to provide assistance regarding photographs, which is probably one of the most utilized formats within the collection.”

Kent State’s Special Collections and Archives contains a large variety of May 4 items.

“Our collection is exceptional because of the various viewpoints, from faculty to administration, city of Kent residents, staff and students,” Hughes-Watkins said. “We collect a broad array of content — artifacts, memorabilia, sound recordings, oral histories, poetry, correspondence, photographs, art.”

While the collection is open to everyone, Hughes-Watkins said that students are some of the most frequent users. However, Hughes-Watkins also mentioned filmmakers, media, historians and Kent State alumni also reference it on occasion.

“Some of the most heavily requested content includes photographs, newspaper clippings and audio-visual material,” Hughes-Watkins said.

The collection also features unique materials.

“There is a variety of rare content such as letters written by students, faculty and community members, diaries and journals and photographs that were taken by private individuals rather than those working for the press, which have not been widely published,” said Cara Gilgenbach, head of special collections and archives.

The May 4 episode of “Soundtracks” is set to air Thursday at 10 p.m.

Chermayeff said some of the songs she loves that did not end up making the cut included, “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon, “Universal Soldier” by Donovan and “Handsome Johnny” and “Once I Was” by Richie Havens.

“We always knew that the Vietnam War could be the subject of several episodes of the series with varied thematic focus areas,” Chermayeff said.

Chermayeff also mentioned different perspectives for the episode that were discussed include soldiers overseas, the return home from war and PTSD, Vietnam radio hits and the last days of Vietnam.

“We chose at this juncture to focus on the war at home and the musical dialogue of the divisive nature of the war, beginning with ‘Ohio,’ the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young classic protest song and the killings at Kent State, an event so pivotal that it required an immediate musical response from singer-songwriter Neil Young,” Chermayeff said.

This year will mark the 47th anniversary of the historic tragedy.

“We do understand that as the 50th anniversary approaches, the May 4 Collection will continue to be a valuable resource for various projects in all of their formats,” Hughes-Watkins said. “We anticipate increased visibility leading up to the 50th.”

Paige Brown is the libraries reporter, contact her at [email protected]