Site of shootings may become National Historic Landmark

The May 4 Visitors Center, already recognized as part of the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), is now under review to become a National Historic Landmark (NHL).

 The U.S. Department of the Interior notified the city of Kent in February that a study was to be conducted regarding the designation. Earlier this year the chair of the Board of Trustees wrote a letter to the National Park Service in support of May 4 as a designation for a National Historic Landmark.

The nomination was pioneered by professors emeritus Mark Seeman, Laura Davis, Carole Barbato and Jerry M. Lewis in 2009. 

The location of the shootings is over 17 acres, Lewis said. This includes the Commons, Taylor Hall and the areas surrounding Taylor and Prentice Halls.


“For several reasons, May 4 is part of the tragedy of the Vietnam War: A lot of people have said that … May 4 helped end the war,” Lewis said. “Arthur Miller, the famous playwright, said that May 4th represented the war coming home to America. To the extent that Vietnam is a historical event in American society, May 4 is part of the culture of that historical event.”

Recognition as an Historic Place protects the site from development. 

“When students come here, they can look at the site that’s protected,” Lewis said. “It was being changed by the gym annex and a little bit of Centennial Halls. And now, with the registering as a historical site, it’s protected and it won’t change.”

The potential designation as a NHL differs from the title of Historic Place, mainly based on selectivity and national status.

“The main difference between the NRHP nomination and the NHL nomination is the requirement to compare May 4 with other sites where the excessive use of force resulted in national tragedy,” said Seeman, who worked on the process of application with Davis. 

“In contrast to the National Register of Historic Places review, a NHL can take a long time, sometimes years, because of their scheduling constraints, but we think we are on the fast-track for a November vote,” he said.

Of the over 90,000 places recognized in the NRHP, only about 2,500 are landmarks, according to the National Park Service.

To be a landmark, the site must be considered, “exceptional national significance in the nation’s history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture—as well as to illustrate important themes, persons, and events in national American history, according to the Department of Interior.

Mindy Farmer, director of the May 4 Visitor’s Center, believes that the site of the shootings meets this criteria. 

“The landmark application really builds on the register of Historic Places application,” Farmer said. “You send out an inquiry through the Ohio state division … and then they send it (to the) national. (Then), they came back with some comments to really challenge us to build on that application,” 

Connecting the events of May 4 to a legacy of activism is something that a designation as a Historic Landmark would only cement further.

If approved by the NHL committee in the fall, the application will move to be reviewed by the National Parks System Advisory Board,and then to the secretary of the interior. If all goes smoothly, a decision could be made as early as 2017.

“It’ll be further proof that what happened here matters; what happened here changed the course, the trajectory of our society in some really important ways … I think it’s an important lesson for students today, who weren’t involved in that,” Farmer said. “I think it’ll empower students today to make their own mark, in different, more positive ways.”

Benefits to the university

As the highest designation that can be given Davis, the founding director of the May 4 Visitors Center, believes the landmark title will stress the importance of May 4 even further.

“The university as a whole has a million visitors per year, in one form or another, who come to the campus,” Davis said. “And truly, a large percentage of those visitors—again before there was even a May 4 Visitors Center—wanted to be taken to the place where the shootings took place. They wanted to be told the story.”

One aspect considered other than the historical purpose is the physical integrity of the area. Patricia Henry, a historian at the NHL, said historical and current descriptions are required so the integrity can be assessed.

The landmark title can be taken away if the university doesn’t keep up maintenance in the area, Farmer said.

“It will attract more people to the story,” Davis said. “It will attract more people to the site and it will help them see patterns in American history, which lead to the kind of understanding that makes us better citizens, that makes us better able to deal with important issues.”

Contact Cameron Gorman at [email protected]. Contact Neville Hardman at [email protected].