Setting facts straight on May 4 archives

William A. Gordon

May 4 scholars have a long tradition of stealing credit for things they do not deserve credit for. I witnessed it time and time again while working on my book about the campus killings on May 4, 1970.

Unfortunately Mark Weber, dean of Libraries and Media Services, continued this tradition with his misleading Nov. 27 letter to the editor (“May 4 history is already preserved”). First, Weber misled readers by suggesting that the May 4 Resource Room in the library was something initiated and created by library officials. To set the record straight, credit belongs primarily to Paul Keane, a Kent State alumnus who had to plead with and pester library administrators to set aside that room.

At first Weber’s predecessors did not want it, and then they tried to hide it away in a small out-of-the-way room on the third floor. Eventually the library succumbed to pressure and set aside a room on the first floor, but even when they did, they failed to capture the essence of the tragedy or help students or visitors understand what it was all about.

Second, Weber suggested the archives is the proper destination for all May 4 historical material. Maybe that is the way it should be, or the way he would like it, but a succession of archivists managed to lose the research papers of all four major authors of books on May 4. Again, Paul Keane was so frustrated dealing with Weber’s predecessors that he set up an alternative archives at Yale, where Peter Davies and Joseph Kelner eventually donated their papers.

I have not made any final decision where I’ll donate my interviews and investigative notes – but Kent State is not on my list. Contrary to Weber’s claims, no archivist showed any interest in obtaining my papers – or, for that matter, the papers of a number of other potential donors I know. Some of the previous archivists, in fact, were extremely unprofessional. One of them even politicized May 4 by directing journalists and researchers to propagandists.

Third, Weber reacted to the task force’s proposal for a resource room by becoming territorial. He reacted like a threatened animal, always protective of his turf.

Now that I have now had a chance to review the proposal, I believe that what he and other university officials should have done was shown the task force the door. Their self-serving proposal only demonstrates these kids are living in some kind of dreamland and have no grasp of what merits or does not merit public display.

The artifacts the task force claims are valuable are not really artifacts from the shootings, newspaper headlines or legal/historical documents created after the fact. They are self-servingly offering their own buttons and T-shirts, and personal belongings of the dead students: Allison Krause’s medicine bottle and Sandra Scheuer’s address book. Really, who cares? These are not the kind of items that would help anyone get a handle on May 4, or tell the story in some simple, straightforward, or compelling way.

If the task force wants to perform a public service, let me suggest that the group sever relationships with the kooks who over the years have given them atrocious advice. The task force should also contact former members and immediately insist they return to the archives documents they bragged stealing from there.

Finally, Dean Weber needs to get real. He also needs to assure us that he is going to implement additional security measures to prevent future thefts.

William A. Gordon is a 1973 Kent State alumnus and author of “Four Dead in Ohio.”