University Library displays reflections of May 4

Megan Ayscue

Kent State lives in infamy following the tragedy of May 4, 1970. 

The University Library has a collection of “oral history” where people tell their story from that day.

Ellis Berns, a student during the time of the shootings, is one of the people that gave a oral history retelling.

“I ended up heading up to the University (that Monday),” Berns said. “You could almost feel the tension as you got closer and closer to the University. I’m not one to defy authority. I tend to be one that follows, and that’s what the irony of this whole thing.”

Berns then made his way toward Prentice where the guardsmen stood.

“There weren’t any lines, but all over the place there were signs and indications that no more than three or five people can gather,” he said. “I got to the Victory Bell, and there were a bunch of people there. We were there to make a stand, and I was there to make a stand.”

Sandra Scheuer, one of the four students killed, went with Berns and left the protest when the guard fired.

“I remember I had my arm around (Sandra Scheuer), and she was laying on her stomach face down. I remember calling out to her, ‘Sandy, it’s over. Let’s go, let’s go.’ I remember calling out to her, and there was no response. And then I looked,” he said. “The bullet had not just grazed her but had severed a carotid artery. So there was a lot of blood … I remember trying to administer first aid. I remember trying to reach in, to try to stop the bleeding into her neck, because you could just see where the bullet had penetrated her carotid artery.”

Naomi Goelman Etzkin, another student in 1970, also told her oral history from May 4.

“I lived in Olson Hall, room 409, overlooking the football field,” Etzkin said. “Got up on Monday, May 4, to see additional troops camped on that football field. And watched that morning as different units of the National Guard were practicing running around our dorm and other buildings, in what appeared to be getting familiar with the setup on campus.”

Etzkin watched the guard turn away from herself and fire at the crowd of students.

“When we heard the gunshots, we did not believe that they were real bullets. We thought they were shooting in the air, and we just didn’t believe that bullets could be real,” she said. “And we went running back to our dormitory, and we watched out the fourth floor window in Olson Hall as the ambulances came over the hill. People began coming back into the dorm, having walked over bleeding bodies.”

Bob Barnett, a student at Kent State in 1970, attended the Wednesday discussion panel “Remember the Past, Continue the Struggle” held at Kent State. He remembers the events around May 4 well.

“About 5 o’clock … That’s when things started to get scary Sunday night,” Barnett said. “And as the sun went down, the helicopters came in pointing lights, dropping tear gas all night long. So I was up all night.

“Went out early that morning to pick up some art materials ,and that’s the first time I saw the troop carriers on each corner. Kind of a strange sight for Kent, very surreal.”

Barnett decided to go walk to the protest after his class Monday morning.

“To tell you the truth, the rally was forming very rapidly, but it was peaceful until the guard decided to line up against my end of the commons and march down across toward the crowd. And that’s when things fell apart,” he said.

“They had unsheathed bayonets aimed right at our chests; I was right up front. A large crowd quickly formed behind me, which was scary because if anyone had started to push from behind, I was standing right there with this bayonet right up against my chest.”

Barnett said the protest seemed to start calming down, so he walked back to his dorm.

“I got to my dorm, went up and out on the third floor balcony and about that time is when I heard the shots,” he said. “A whole bunch of people came running between the buildings.”

Barnett said students weren’t sure how they’d leave campus. He was able to leave campus the next day with his friend, and even remembers eating mac and cheese for dinner before being picked up.

New students at Kent State — like freshmen Colette LaDuke and Tanya Dalton — attend the May 4 events alongside the students that were here for Tent City and the shootings.

LaDuke and Dalton said going to these May 4 events are important because this is a part of the school’s history, and their history.

“It’s a big thing that happened on this campus, I think it’s important to be a part of it,” LaDuke, a visual communication design major, said.

Other aspects of the Kent State campus are involved around this time of year as well. The Kent State PhoneCenter, a branch of the Kent State University Annual Fund, is sure each employee is up to date on what happened on May 4.

“Often, people like to think they kind of understand exactly what happened just to find out they’re pretty misinformed,” Andreus Sanchez, director of the PhoneCenter, said. “We like to … make sure there’s no discrepancies, that we’re not delivering false information.”

The PhoneCenter makes sure each of it’s employees understand exactly what happened on May 4.

“A lot of our alumni are under the impression that Kent State students aren’t up to date on what May 4th is, which is completely false … We’re remembering it,” said Olivia Rohde, a senior advertising major and worker at the PhoneCenter. “We’re not just pretending like it never happened, we’re making sure that all current students are aware of what happened on that day.”

Sanchez said the number of inquires the PhoneCenter receives around May 4th increases.

“You’d be amazed at how many people we call that were there that day there were … right on that field, and it’s really a pretty humbling experience,” Sanchez said. “It’s not something I don’t think you could really prepare for.”

Rohde said people are happy to even be able to tell their story from that day.

“Regardless of what your feelings or political stances are or anything like that might be, the story always gets told,” Sanchez said.

Megan Ayscue is an administration reporter, contact her at [email protected]