Campus unites to remember, educate about May 4

An aerial shot of the May 4 Memorial, with Taylor Hall on the right, and Blanket Hill center, taken April 28, 2014.

Kent State is preparing to commemorate the events and remember the effects of May 4, 1970.

Kent State will host its annual commemoration of the events on May 3 and 4, said Ashley Manning, sophomore English major and co-president of the May 4 Task Force.

“We want to ensure that the four students who died will continue to be remembered,” Manning said. “And the campus community as a whole continues to remember and that they recognize this happened and don’t forget that part of the past.”

Two panels featuring political activists, eyewitnesses to the events and civil rights leaders will discuss “Activism Then and Now” at 2 p.m. in room 317 of the Student Center and “Eyewitness to History: May 4th Perspectives” at 7 p.m. in the Kiva. A candlelight march and vigil will be held at 11 p.m. at the Victory Bell.

On Sunday, a commemoration will be held at noon on the Commons, the large field near Taylor Hall. It will feature four speakers, including Dean Kahler and Joe Lewis, two of the students wounded on the day of the shooting. Manning said the task force will also be giving a chronology of the events that took place on May 4.

By commemorating these events, Manning said the task force hopes to help find peace for those who died and those who were affected by the shootings.

“In a way we are seeking to get peace for those who died by receiving that justice for them and promoting the unfairness of the situation,” she said. “And when we try to seek justice for them, we are also seeking for peace and giving their families that peace of mind, that they will be remembered.”

The shootings left a big impression on Kent and for the many years that followed, the campus atmosphere was off, said Col. James Howe, Kent State graduate 1984 and former cadet in the Air Force ROTC program.

As a freshman in 1980, he said the mood on campus was one of hostility toward the military and the ROTC cadets were forced to lay low.

“We didn’t even wear our uniforms on campus during the week,” Howe said. “We wore them early on Saturday mornings for our leadership labs, while everyone else was still sleeping off Friday night.”

Howe said when he was in the ROTC program they didn’t do anything in honor of the fourth. However, he said the university did have the commemoration.

“The May 4 memorials were more of a rehash of protesting the Vietnam War,” Howe said. “One of the victims of the shooting that had suffered minor injuries was the one who led them.”

The Army ROTC program will also be playing a part in the remembrance of May 4. Lt. Col. Mark Piccone, commander for the Army ROTC program, said he informally incorporates the May 4 incident into a discussion with senior cadets.

“The discussion is usually tailored on how situations can turn so quickly from a protest into something like what happened on May 4,” Piccone said. “So we try to turn it into a teaching tool on how to be a leader, as far as getting the correct information and making proper decisions that are seriously thought out.”

Piccone said they don’t hold any vigils or memorials, but they have continued to show remembrance for the ROTC cadet who was killed the day of the shootings.

“William Schroeder was the member of the ROTC battalion who was killed here at Kent,” he said. “We have a plaque of him hanging up on a wall in the ROTC building.”  

Piccone said the Army ROTC has done community service to honor the fourth. He said the cadets planted flowers in the fall of 2012 and they bloomed just in time for the memorial ceremony on campus the following spring.

“The school asked us to plant flowers at the May 4 Memorial and the Liberty Bell,” he said. “We planted around 2,000 that all came up in spring. It was campus beautification, which was our way of memorializing and remembering what happened.”

The May 4 shootings are a part of Kent State’s history and we will gather again this year to remember the events and continue to honor those who perished.

Contact Mary Booth at [email protected].

Students at Kent State typically learn that May 4, 1970 was a historic day, not just on campus but across the country.

However, most students and visitors frequently get the facts wrong when it comes to explaining the events of that day.

Paul Kline, a sophomore exercise science major and intern at the May 4 Visitors Center on campus, said one of the biggest misconceptions that people who come to the center have is the order of events on May 4.  

“I’ve had people ask me if the burning of the ROTC building was after the protest, like as if the students had done it out of retaliation because of the shooting,” Kline said.  “But that’s obviously not true; that happened before the shooting.”  

Not only do people mix up the order of events that happened the entire weekend prior to the shootings, some people also believe the guard shooting at the students was a natural occurrence in response to previous events, said Lori Boes, assistant director for the May 4 Visitors Center.  

“A lot of the people that were shot weren’t at those events,” Boes said.  “It shouldn’t have been the logical outcome.  I think that’s a misconception that people have, well the ROTC building was burned so the shootings happened.”

The first protest of the invasion of Cambodia by the students was actually on Friday, May 1 where they buried a copy of the Constitution, according to special collections and archives of KSU Library.  On the same day, they decided that the students would have a second demonstration of protest on Monday, May 4.  

On Saturday, May 2, the ROTC building on campus was set on fire. 

Then on Sunday, students rallied together yet again, around the Commons at the Victory Bell, where they were dispersed and reassembled on the intersection of East Main and Lincoln streets, blocking traffic.  During this event, a number of people, including both demonstrators and guardsmen, were injured.

Among the different presumptions people make about May 4, one of the larger ones is the guardsmen and other authorities responsible for the shootings were held accountable for their actions.  

Kline says that a lot of people come into the visitors center asking them what the punishment or consequences of the guards actions were, which he says they have to explain to the visitors that there wasn’t any, just a statement of regret signed in Jan. 1979 by James Rhodes, Ohio governor at the time.

“That’s a big misconception, a lot of people just automatically assume that there was a penalty given to the guard after this happened,” Kline said.

Another mistake that people seem to make in regards to the shootings is the length in which the actual firing from the National Guardsmen takes place.  The actual firing of guns is only 13 seconds long, however, Kline says that many people just assume it’s around 10.  

Not only do students get the number wrong about how long the shooting was, some people only seem to remember the four students who were killed on May 4 from the shootings, said Jacquelyn Monnin, graduate student and intern at the May 4 Visitors Center.  

“Everybody knows that four students were killed, but I think they think those were the only students that were shot. Sometimes it’s just four is that number that we think about,” Monnin said.  “Four doesn’t seem like a lot but the number of students that were affected is a lot more than that.”  

Boes said that the biggest error that she’s known people to make about May 4 is the actual location of the protest that happened that day. “Back then, the MAC Annex wasn’t here, so when people see the pictures in gallery two [in the visitors center], it’s kind of confusing for them,” she said.  

According to Kline, many people confuse the location of the Victory Bell, which is on the Commons behind Taylor Hall for the location of the actual sit-in protest of May 4.  The students organized their demonstration that day on the grass in front of Taylor Hall, the opposite side of the Victory Bell.  

Kline said a lot of this confusion is due to new buildings on campus and the absence of some older buildings that are seen in the pictures of May 4, 1970.

Contact Julia Adkins at [email protected].