May 4 Visitors Center gives “historical context” to tragedies


Kent State 1976 graduate Paul Osickey visits the May 4 Visitors Center in Taylor Hall on Thursday, August 30. A special preview of the new center, which is not yet open to the public, was held from 12-5. Osickey, who now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was visiting campus with his wife when they came upon the preview hours. The visitors center will be open to the public on October 20, 2012, and will hold several other preview days inviting the press, local business owners and leaders in Kent. Photo by Jenna Watson.

Christina Suttles

Select members of the Kent community gathered in Taylor Hall Thursday for a first look at the May 4 Visitors Center, which officially opens to the public Oct. 20.

The museum, a permanent tribute to those affected by the May 4 tragedy, features a three-part series of historical memorabilia in the style of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

The first part documents the political turbulence leading up to 1970 with television snippets of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement as well as illustrating the era’s popular culture.

“What the indoor exhibit does is tell the story of May 4 in the context of its time,” said Laura Davis, faculty coordinator for May 4 Initiatives. “It’s really trying to make historical sense and give an historical account of what happened here.”

The last two parts of the exhibit not only pay homage to the victims, but are laced with photos, quotes and magnified newspaper articles illustrating how the events affected both the community and the nation.

Davis said by telling the story from the students’ point of view, it shows young people’s involvement in the civil-rights struggle.

“Our biggest message is that young people can make a difference,” Davis said. “We really do try to tell the story from the students’ point of view but have all of the voices that were involved in this story be heard in this space.”

Davis said she considers the museum an expansion of the memorial that already exists throughout the University Commons, making the entire exhibit roughly 17 and one-half acres. Davis said that the center will also include a series of digital exhibits in time for the grand opening.

Roger DiPaolo, editor of the Record-Courier, vividly remembers May 4 and the days leading up to it. He said what struck him the hardest was how the Visitors Center is compartmentalized in a way that acts a metaphor for the timeline of May 4.

The introduction to the center captures the vibrancy and optimism of the sixties, he said, while the second section of the exhibit is dark and ominous, reflecting how abruptly the optimism vanished after May 4.

DiPaolo said the Record-Courier makes it a priority to commemorate May 4 anniversary each year.

“You don’t celebrate a tragedy, you memorialize it,” he said. “Because if you don’t memorialize it and people do forget it, it can happen again.”

Brian Katona, a summer intern at the Visitors Center, said he’s unsure any memorial could do justice to the tragedy but likes that it focuses on the people involved.

“One of my favorite things about this space is that it includes a lot of different aspects of each student’s personal life,” he said. “I think it helps to bring out the people rather than just the event.”

Contact Christina Suttles at [email protected].