May 4 commemorated with speakers Ifill, Stone

Katie Nix

The new Kent State May 4 Visitors Center housed about 425 visitors on Saturday, including Gwen Ifill, journalist and author, and Oliver Stone, Academy Award-winning writer and director, both of whom participated in the annual May 4 commemoration at Cartwright Hall at 4 and 7:30 p.m., respectively.

“I was 14 years old when May 4 happened in 1970 so I was conscious of the events around me and knew their importance,” Ifil said, who is currently serving as moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and senior correspondent and co-anchor for the PBS NewsHour. “But coming to Kent and seeing it all in a physical context makes it all the more special.”

Ifill moderated a May 4-based discussion panel featuring: Thomas M, Grace, a wounded causality from May 4; Darlene Clark Hine, a May 4 witness; Cybelle Jones, director of Gallagher and Associates, the firm that designed the May 4 Visitors Center; Edward P. Morgan, who participated in the 2009 Symposium on Democracy, which helped lay the foundation for the May 4 Visitors Center and Renee Romano, Rebecca Klatch and Chris Appy who were scholar consultants on the May 4 Visitors Center.

Ifill said she found the juxtaposition of the memorial striking: of the then and now, objection and activism, Civil Rights movement and anti-war movement and the 13 seconds the National Guard shot and the 43 year-old legacy.

The panel began its discussion with Grace’s recount of the day as well as the context of the time in regards to local protests that had begun almost 20 years earlier before May 4 with the Civil Rights movement.

“Those protests in the ‘50s in Kent, which was segregated at the time, set the stage for the activism,” Grace said. “Anti-war protests had begun in 1960 and steadily increased until it all came to a head on May 4.”

Grace said he was shot in the ankle and was in the ambulance with Sandra Scheuer when she died.

The panel continued to discuss the role of race and class in relation to May 4.

“[May 4] aided the formation of numerous coalitions, without some of which we would not have a black president,” Hine said.

After the panel discussion, the May 4 Visitors Center was formally dedicated by Kent State President Lester Lefton, Ohio State Representative Kathleen Clyde and Roger J. DiPaolo, Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier editor.

“We learn, we reflect, we remember,” DiPaolo said. “The memories will not endure forever. The stories we can tell now must survive for the day when our voice fall silent. The events of May 4 are too important to be forgotten.”

Following the formal dedication, Professor Gary Hanson, of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication introduced Academy Award-winning writer and director and 25th Infantry Division member Oliver Stone.

“In hindsight, I’m glad these students, these normal-looking Midwestern students, stood up for what they believed in,” Stone said. “This memorial and Visitors Center is powerful and necessary to have a memorial to that time as well as the incident.”

While touring the May 4 Visitors Center, Stone, director of films such as “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “JFK,” requested to watch the featured film twice.

“As an infantry member, I’m curious about the order being given to fire on the students,” Stone said. “I wanted to know if an order to fire was given and what General Canterbury was thinking. If he had any combat experience, he would have cooled it and to me it demonstrated a complete breakdown in training.”

One of the guardsmen, Larry Shafer, who admitted to shooting on students on May 4 without hearing any command, died on Friday, the day before the anniversary.

Stone spoke at Cartwright Hall before having a moment of silence in memory of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer and then having a discussion with Hanson about his films and their historical context.

“Much of history is wrong and it’s all our fault,” Stone said. “We’re learning it wrong. With my movies, especially the new series on Showtime, [Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States], I hope to fix that.”

However, Stone said he would not want to make a May 4 movie.

“It’s a story that needs to be told for generations to come or we don’t learn anything from it,” Stone said. “But I can’t make them all.”

Contact Katie Nix at [email protected].