A detailed timeline of the journey to acceptance and its effects on Kent State students
By Taylor Robinson, Hailee Carlin, Cameron Hoover, Mariah Hicks, Abigail Miller and McKenna Corson
As the 50th anniversary of the tragic May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State approaches, the university and its students are gearing up for a week full of remembrance, commemoration and celebration. But the university didn’t always embrace its past, leading students to deal with conflicting feelings. As the years and decades passed, students’ stance on the tragedy evolved from discontent and confusion to acceptance and remembrance. This timeline covers the evolution of how the events of May 4th were recognized on Kent State’s campus as well as the evolution of students’ understanding of the events of May 4th and how they were educated about its history.
Leading up to May 4, 1970-
At Kent State, the protests began on May 1st, the day after the U.S. invasion of Cambodia after Nixon ran a presidential campaign on the notion that he’d pull troops from Vietnam and end the war. Hundreds of students came together on the Commons, an open grass area at the center of campus to express their opposing views. That night, downtown Kent was rowdier than any College Fest the streets had seen, with violent clashes between students and local law enforcement. Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declared a state of emergency and contacted Ohio governor James Rhodes asking the Ohio National Guard to intervene. The morning of May 2nd, students gathered to help clean up the mess downtown. That night, over 1,000 students gathered and some cheered as the ROTC building burned, increasing animosity between protestors and police. With less tension and warmer weather, an eerie calm swept the town on May 3rd. Local, state and university officials met to find a solution to the chaos. A crowd formed on the Commons at the Victory Bell and when they failed to follow orders, the Ohio Riot Act was read, and tear gas followed. Hostilities rose, and the crowd took their protest to East Main and Lincoln streets. What happened next forever immortalized Kent State in history. On May 4th, despite the university’s attempts, more than 2,000 protestors and spectators came to a scheduled protest on the Commons. The peaceful protest turned when Guardsmen ordered protestors to disperse, angering demonstrators who threw rocks. The General ordered his men to lock and load their weapons. The Guardsmen then threw tear gas into the crowd and began a unified march up Blanket Hill, forcing protesters down the hill toward the football practice field. In a 13-second period, 28 guardsmen fired around 67 shots toward the parking lot. Four students died and nine injured. In between the anger and confusion, students were ordered to leave the premises. The university was closed, and normal campus activities did not resume until the summer session.
1970s- Over the course of the 1970s, the Kent State community continuously struggled to not only accept what had happened on May 4th, but to also honor the memory of the students lost. The decade is marked by newly constructed memorials, tension between students and administration and a consistent need for unity.
It’s September 28, 1970, only months after the tragedy that shook the Kent State campus and claimed four lives, and around 5,000 people, including about 2,000 students, are packed into Memorial Gym to participate in the first ever memorial service for those slain on May 4. The service includes speakers Rev. Ralph David Abernathy; chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Dean Kahler; a student injured on at the shootings on May 4, 1970.
“The proper way to mourn the passing of the lives of the four who died here and the countless others who have died in the struggle for nonviolence is no longer to afford the luxury of being a ‘silent majority,’” says Rev. Abernathy at the service. “But to get on the case.”
For the shooting’s first anniversary, the May 4 committee and the Center for Peaceful Change orchestrated a three-day memorial service. Starting on Sunday, May 2, 1971, and concluding on Tuesday, May 4, the service included speeches from civil rights activist Julian Bond; comedian, and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; former New Haven police chief, James Ahern; then president of Yale University, Kingman Brewster and poet Rod Mckuen.
Approximately 7,000 people attended to listen to the speakers and to watch the University dedicate four separate memorials for each student killed on May 4th during its first-anniversary commencement. The memorials dedicated were four oak trees, planted near Taylor Hall, close to the sites where the students were killed and a sculpture made by, at the time, Kent State professor Alastaire Granville-Jackson. The dedication service included a poem read by student Maggie Brock called, “Flowers are Better Than Bullets,” and an address by Rev. Jesse Jackson. After the service was finished, the Victory Bell rang seven times. Four times for the students who were killed, two times for the students who were killed at Jackson State and one time for all of the people who were, “victims of war, hatred and repression.”
In November of 1976, tensions between the Kent State students and the administration rose when the University administration announced they planned to build a new Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) facility on the site where the May 4 shootings occurred.
Students made their indifference clear about the proposed construction during a Board of Trustees meeting that same month. Around 40 students accompanied Student Caucus executive secretary Scott Marburger with signs that read, “Why are we always the last to know,” and “Money talks” to the meeting where he gave an impromptu speech on the lack of student input put into the proposed HPER facility.
After a Board of Trustees meeting on May 12, 1977, that rejected the May 4 Coalition’s plea for a different construction site and confirmed the construction of the site, some 250 students marched to the intended construction site on Blanket Hill and set up a tent city they named, “Tentropolis.”
Students at the time of the proposed construction believed that building a new gym over the site of May 4th would desecrate the site of the shootings. For most students involved in the Tentropolis protests over the summer of 1977, the construction of the new HPER facility was just another way for the University’s administration to deny May 4th ever happened.
“The government would like it to die, in fact, they would like to bury it. In fact, they’d like to bury it under a building.”– William Arthrell
“Once again, you know, this issue refuses to die, and I think that’s really important,” said former student William Arthrell in an interview done by the Kent State University Oral Histories Project on May 4, 1995. “I think it’s because lots of activists and, and because of what you’re doing, that made sure it hasn’t died. Because the government would like it to die, in fact, they would like to bury it. In fact, they’d like to bury it under a building, which is what they did in 1977.”
After protesting, and delaying, the construction of the new HPER facility, the May 4th Coalition was forced out of the site by injunction. Some 193 Coalition members who didn’t vacate after they were ordered to on July 9, 1977, were arrested on July 12. Construction for the facility began on Sept. 19, 1977
1980s- The 1980s at Kent State marked the 10th and 15th commemoration of the May 4, 1970 shootings. During the ‘80s, the board of trustees formed a May 4th Memorial Committee in attempt to build a proper memorial. The university newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, wrote many editorial pieces urging the university to create a proper memorial. A course educating students on May 4th was set in motion.
May 2, 1980 An opinion piece in the Daily Kent Stater titled “10th May 4 marks tunnel’s end” wrote, “The overriding message of May 4 is not just to learn from history, so that we don’t repeat it, but to grow also… While we must not forget what happened here, we must not be dragged down by it either.” The piece acknowledges how to university has improved and grown from important lessons learned out of the events of May 4th.
May 4, 1980 marked the 10th commemoration of May 4, 1970. Ringing the Victory Bell in the blazing sun at 12:30 p.m., nearly 1,200 people began the four and a half hour ceremony.
Focusing on the four students killed at Kent State, James Goldstone directed the television movie Kent State. A columnist reviewed the movie for the Daily Kent Stater . The movie received positive feedback as the actors spoke and visited campus over the upcoming years.
May 2, 1981: Many editorial pieces in the Daily Kent Stater acknowledged the dilemma of how to remember May 4, 1970, and called for a proper commemoration. “In the prior ten years, May 4 became nothing more than a forum for various organizations who have sought to advance their cause in the name of those killed,” wrote columnist John Funtik.
May 4th Task Force offered Kent State President Brage Golding an idea to build a memorial for the four students killed and nine wounded.
May 5, 1982: An editorial piece in the Daily Kent Stater reflected on the lack of action taken for ideas for a May 4, 1970, memorial. It presented a hopeful idea that the new president would follow through with a memorial. “Maybe the next president will plant a tree,” wrote senior Jeff Kerata.
After receiving a petition from students requesting a physical memorial, Kent State President Dr. Michael Schwartz took the issue to the Kent State Board of Trustees.
The Board of Trustees established the May 4th Memorial Committee to determine the meaning of the events of May 4, 1970 and the committee deemed any permanent memorial would be appropriate.
In February, President Schwartz appointed 10 members to the May 4th Memorial Committee: two faculty members, two alumnae, the mayor of Kent, a Kent resident, a graduate student, a member of the May 4th Task Force and two administrators. The committee held their first meeting in March.
“A memorial would finally put the tragedy of May 4 behind the University and put to rest the conflict over how the tragedy should be remembered.”– Daily Kent Stater, editorial staff
May 4, 1984 Daily Kent Stater claimed the time was right for there to finally be a memorial. “There are nine other families of wounded students, the University community and the Kent community that must come to terms with what happened here 14 years ago. A memorial would finally put the tragedy of May 4 behind the University and put to rest the conflict over how the tragedy should be remembered,” wrote the editorial staff of the Daily Kent Stater.
In January, the May 4th Memorial Committee’s report recommended the development of a physical memorial to further commemorate May 4, 1970. The Kent State University trustees accepted this idea. The Daily Kent Stater published a story with Sarah Scheuer, mother of Sandra Scheuer and Elaine Holstein, mother of Jeffrey, who were killed on May 4, 1970:
“Parents: Observe May 4, don’t repeat it.”
The Daily Kent Stater reported an interest in a course devoted to studying the events surrounding May 4th. Professor Thomas R. Hensley and sociology Professor Jerry M. Lewis developed the course “because they thought students should do research on May 4 and its aftermath.” The course was offered in 1977, titled “Great Contemporary Issues.”
May 4, 1985 marked the 15th commemoration of May 4, 1970. It began with the Kent State and Alison film and a panel discussion followed by a candle light march. The commemoration included Jeffrey Miller’s mother, a U.S. senator and eight of the nine wounded students.
April 4, 1986: The university announced Ian Taberner as the winner of the memorial competition. His design was to feature a sunken walkway across the hillside with four circular openings to represent the four slain students and an open-air auditorium. The Kent State Board of Trustees unanimously disqualified Taberner in July 1986 as he was a Canadian citizen and not a U.S. citizen. The cash prize of $20,000 was forfeited. The board agreed on the second place entry from Bruno Ast and Thomas J. Rasmussen.
On January 25, the ground-breaking ceremony took place for the May 4, 1970, memorial next to Taylor Hall, overlooking the commons areas.
May 4, 1989 Tom Grace, a wounded student; Dr. Gene Young, a lecturer at Jackson State University and witnesses to the shootings were among the 1989 commemoration speakers.
The Daily Kent Stater published an editorial piece by senior Jeff Quick “Students need to hear other side of May 4 story,” to the freshman attending Kent State who have not heard of May 4, 1970. Listing the events leading up to May 4 and news about other schools like Princeton protesting the Vietnam War, Quick wrote about riots in Kent; the ROTC building that burnt down and the rocks thrown at firemen and the National Guard. “The Guardsmen were in fear of their lives because fellow students were throwing rocks and bricks at them. The Guardsmen later said that they heard a shot and started firing. It is unfortunate that this ever happened. I see nothing wrong with protesting, but this should have been a non-violent protest,” Quick wrote.
1990s- The turning of the decade from the 1980s to the 1990s brought a change in leadership at Kent State as Carol Cartwright was named president of the university in ‘91. With the change in administration came more acknowledgment of May 4, 1970, from a university standpoint, and throughout the decade, Kent State took more steps to embrace the tragedy as part of its history and, more importantly, its identity.
The May 4th Memorial Center was completed, installed, dedicated and opened. The dedication took place at 11 a.m. and caused national media to descend onto campus. Students were unsure how to feel about the memorial.
Senior Tia Atchison worried, “I don’t know if people will come and realize what happened here. I don’t know if it’s enough.”
Scholarship funds were started in the names and memories of the four students killed during the shootings.
As the 25th anniversary of the May 4 shootings drew near, President Cartwright wanted the commemorations of 1995 to be unlike the ones from years past. Cartwright formed two committees to plan the 25th anniversary, including historians and members of the May 4th Task Force. This was the first year the entire week leading up to May 4 is noticed as an “official week of commemoration.”
May 4th Task Force president Samantha Carver questioned the university’s motives in treating the 25th anniversary differently than any other year’s.
“It’s good that they’re doing it on the 25th anniversary,” Carver told Kent Stater staff writer Melissa Freeh. “It’s a shame the university doesn’t feel that every anniversary is important. I wonder why they’re doing it. Their purpose is questionable. I hope it’s for the good.”
Students still pushed back on such heavy remembrance for the four killed on May 4.
Senior pre-law student Richard Heinz said,“In spite of all the melodramatic emotionalism that will inevitably be staged on this 25th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, we need to remember that the four students died due to the fact that the ‘peace’ protestors in their generation didn’t know how to protest peacefully,” Heinz wrote in a letter to the editor of The Kent Stater, ending his note with a flippant, “See ya at the candlelight vigil on May 3rd!”
Researchers Stuart Taylor and Michael Hulsizer conducted a study to determine changes in Kent State students’ attitudes toward the events of May 4 between 1970, when they occurred, and 1995, the 25th anniversary. Their study found that only 9% of students in 1995 felt the guardsmen were provoked into opening fire compared to 25% in 1970. Also, 49% of 1995’s students believed the guards should have been charged with murder as opposed to 40% of students in 1970.
Erin Grajek, a freshman who hadn’t yet decided on her major, offered some insight into a student from 1995’s mental space surrounding the May 4 shootings.
“It’s hard for us to understand because we’ve never dealt with protests or been confronted with war,” Grajek told Kent Stater campus editor April Antonelli. “Most students now don’t know how to deal with what happened, and we blame who they tell us to blame.”
“On this day Kent State becomes everyone’s campus. Even if it is just for today, try to be understanding of others’ rights to commemorate as they see fit. And even if you don’t feel the need to take part, respect those who do. This is more than just a day in Kent history; it is part of U.S. history.”– Kent Stater, “Our View”
The Kent Stater wrote in an “Our View” on May 4, 1995, “Campus today is going to be filled with extra people, cars and media — extra hassle. But try and remember that on this day Kent State becomes everyone’s campus. Even if it is just for today, try to be understanding of others’ rights to commemorate as they see fit. And even if you don’t feel the need to take part, respect those who do. This is more than just a day in Kent history; it is part of U.S. history.”
The parking markers in the Prentice Hall lot showing where the students died drew mixed responses from the community.
Reactions to the new markers ranged from “very healing” to “kind of morbid.” Tim Bugansky, a sophomore journalism major who had been awarded a scholarship in the name of one of the four students killed on May 4, questioned in an editorial in The Kent Stater whether the university’s constant commemorations went too far.
Hundreds attended the ceremony dedicating the four memorials, which featured speeches from Cartwright, Kent State professor Jerry Lewis and associate professor Carole Barbato, who was a close friend with Sandra Scheuer. The dedication marked sacred ground in remembrance of what had happened.
Early 2000s- The 2000s at Kent State marked the 30th and 35th commemoration of the May 4th, 1970 shootings. During the ‘00s, the university accepted the events of May 4 with the 30th commemoration, as university president Carol Cartwright established the May 4, 1970, 30th Commemoration Committee and various monuments, both living and not. The university also received its May 4, 1970: Kent State Shooting Historical Marker located outside Taylor Hall.
The 30th anniversary of May 4th brought actual university involvement and an acceptance of the events that transpired in 1970. University president Carol Cartwright established the “May 4, 1970, 30th Commemoration Committee” to plan the commemoration with the May 4 Task Force. In his article titled “Kent State/ May 4 and Post War Memory” published in American Quarterly in 2006, John Fitzgerald O’Hara quoted Cartwright saying: “‘With the turn of the century, we decided we should more positively embrace May 4 and use it in a more positive way and help people look forward.’”
Rachel Dissell, a KSU journalism student from 1997-2001, saw a change in how Kent’s administration looked at May 4th when she was a student, switching from a hesitance to acknowledge everything that came from May 4th aside from the actual day of commemorations to various aspects the university believes it needs to accept and grow past due to concerns addressed by students and faculty.
“The conversation became ‘We need to integrate this into our who we are as a university and inform what we do instead of trying to move past it or ignore it,’ Dissell said. “There was a great number of professors and students that really pushed that conversation of saying ‘We really want to honor people who were killed and think about the reasons they were doing what they were doing and protesting and be curious. We need to hit that stuff head-on and have those conversations.’”
“You say the words Kent State, and you know, it has a certain connotation. They didn’t want to just be known as that university where those kids were shot; they wanted it to be so much more.”– Kevin Necessary
Kevin Necessary, another KSU journalism major during 1997-2002, attributed the university to not fully focusing on May 4th to prevent Kent State from being known for solely the shooting, but he saw a change as the 30th anniversary drew closer.
“You say the words Kent State, and you know, it has a certain connotation,” Necessary said. “They didn’t want to just be known as that university where those kids were shot; they wanted it to be so much more. I think during that time, especially during the run-up to the 30th anniversary, there was much more of a reconciliation as to ‘this is part of our history. This is something that we need to accept as part of the university.’”
O’Hara also wrote: “Kent State University has established on campus a fractured yet unified site of memory that embodies a history of social division and reunification, political conflict and reconciliation, national trauma and recovery, after both the event and the war.”
May 4th signs the university had refused to accept as a part of the university’s memorial were inducted into official May 4th memorial landscape: “Solar Totem,” a tower of oblong steel plates that stood in between guardsmen and students that a stray bullet pierced a hole through, the Victory Bell, the metal pagoda in front of Taylor Hall where guardsmen stood while firing, a student-created series of stained-glass windows in the library and “Kent Four,” a four-stemmed candelabra with four un-lit gas flames.
“Living” monuments also came into existence with this 30-year push for May 4 acceptance: an annual interdisciplinary conference tackling democracy, May 4 website and digital archive, retooled archive and resource room, four full-tuition scholarships under the victims’ names and a course covering May 4 taught by “in-house experts” Jerry Lewis and Thomas Hensley.
The May 4, 1970: Kent State Shooting Historical Marker located outside Taylor Hall was placed by KSU and the Ohio Historical Society.
2008: KSU professors Laura Davis and Carole Barbato who had been present during the shootings feared the university’s inability to tell the events of May 4 , 1970. They created the goal to institutionalize May 4th history within the university to preserve survivors’ stories for future generations, according to OhioHistory.com. Other faculty members joined this cause and formed a consensus with Kent State leadership in supporting the May 4 Walking Tour, National Register nomination and the May 4 Visitors Center idea.
2010-Current Day- In the present day, more efforts have been made to recognize and commemorate the May 4th shootings. The most substantial commemoration of this decade comes from the building of the May 4th Visitors Center. A tour of the center has now been included in most First Year Experience (FYE) classes, which freshmen take in their first semester. The center has since expanded to further remember the students killed with personal exhibits and Kent State has received major recognition from the National Register of Historic Places.
The site of the shootings is added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 23rd. Though the criteria calls for places to be significant for at least 50 years before being added to the Register, the shootings site is considered to be of “exceptional importance.”
The May 4th Visitors Center officially opens during homecoming weekend on October 22. The $1.1 million center, housed in the first floor of Taylor Hall, consists of several exhibits that set the backdrop of the times and explain closely what happened.
The first portion of the tour includes captions, videos (on vintage television sets), artifacts and photos from the era to set the backdrop and explain the tension that arose from the Vietnam War.
Patrons can also view a map that shows the impact of May 4th on college campuses around the nation, watch an exclusive documentary with footage and audio from that day, and see real newspaper articles and headlines that ran in the aftermath of the shootings.
The site of the May 4 shootings is named a National Historic Landmark on December 23, 2016. While there are over 90,000 places on the Register, only about 2,500 are dedicated with this distinction.
On the 48th anniversary of the shootings, Kent State holds a ceremony to officially designate the shootings as a National Historic Landmark.
The Visitors Center expands to include temporary exhibits the year before.
The Visitors Center launches a series of exhibits to remember and honor the four students killed in the shootings.
Sandy’s Scrapbook, honoring Sandra Scheuer, opens on February 12. Visitors are able to see pictures from Scheuer’s childhood and her drawings, among other letters, photos, and mementos.
Allison the Activist opens on November 9 and is dedicated to Allison Krause’s strong spirit, even showing film of her activist efforts and mementos from her childhood.
The next exhibit—Bill: An All American Boy—features photos, letters, and honors from Schroeder’s scout and ROTC activities.
An exhibit for Jeffrey Miller is to follow.
The environment on campus now is different than in years past. The center welcomes visitors, and the area around Blanket Hill is dotted with markers explaining the events of that day.
May 4th now has a strong physical presence on campus. But how do the students feel about it? Has the new generation been eager to carry on the remembrance?
I think the really distinct opportunity is to take some of the issues we’re facing today that polarize us — in many ways that polarized us during the Vietnam War — that seems so distant to you; that’s a history lesson. But what should be very relevant to you is the increasing challenges on democracies, the attacks on the institutions of democracy, the polarization and perhaps lack of civility about the freedom of speech and the freedom to choose who we worship. Those are relevant. I think we can take May 4 and translate that into: How do we become better citizens with that lesson, applying it to current challenges?–Kent State University President Beverly Warren
Lindey Allen, a junior at Kent State, first learned of the May 4th shootings in her high school government class. She describes knowing only just the basics about the shootings when she came into Kent as a freshman. Like many students, Allen toured the May 4th Visitors Center during her FYE class. Allen was required to answer questions about what she learned during her tour for a grade. She remembers the tour as a positive experience and thinks of the shootings as a big part of Kent State’s history and impactful on the country. “It was pretty devastating,” Allen says. “While time has passed some things have not changed much…especially with the current politics and gun control.”
Jackie Kananian, a senior at Kent State, wasn’t one of the students who got to learn about the shootings in her FYE class. Instead, she took a trip to the Visitors Center for her Education in a Democratic Society class the next semester. Though Kananian knew of the shootings growing up due to her dad’s music taste—specifically ‘Ohio’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—she only had a basic knowledge. Touring the Visitors Center helped make Kananian feel more connected to Kent as a campus and get to know what really happened.
“It’s a very powerful place,” Kananian says. “Though what happened was terrible, it gives [the students] a sense of unity. I think a lot of people appreciate what Kent does to commemorate May 4.”