Associate Provost's Perspective
The public’s interest in May 4, 1970, remains strong. Twenty-two full-length books have been written about the shootings at Kent State University on May 4. Numerous creative works respond to May 4, including “Flowers and Bullets” by renowned poet Yevegeni Yevtushenko and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s song “Ohio.” Film treatments include The Day the War Came Home, released in 2000, which won an Emmy Award for best documentary. That year, Kent State Professor Emeritus of Sociology Jerry M. Lewis alone provided 90 interviews to local, national and international media. A month ago, the National Geographic Channel launched its How It Was series with a new documentary that it produced on May 4. Kent State’s May 4 Collection Web site in Special Collections and Archives has averaged 40,000 hits per year since 2000 (more than 300,000 hits since the 30th anniversary of the event). And, in 2006 and 2007, there were 17 national and 27 statewide articles in the media related to the Kent State shootings.
Many visitors are also drawn to the Kent Campus to visit the May 4 site. They find their way to the May 4 memorial, where 52,000 brochures were distributed in the last eight years. During one hour of an unpleasantly hot, but otherwise ordinary, day in the summer of 2007, 13 people in five groups could be found visiting the site. A middle-aged couple from Hartville had always intended to visit and chose that afternoon. An alumnus in his 30s, now living in Los Angeles, brought his two nephews from Brecksville to the “historic place.” Another pair of alums brought their daughter to show her where her mother, who now works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, had protested the building of the Gym Annex, which covers part of the May 4 site. An instructor biking from Seattle to Washington, D.C., to raise funds for the American Lung Association, brought his wife and her father, a member of the Minnesota National Guard in 1970. The instructor said he wouldn’t think of traveling to Ohio and not stopping to see the site of the Kent State shootings. And a current graduate student in clinical psychology was there with her friend, a police officer in Hagerstown, Md., who had asked to be taken to see “the site of the shootings.” The site is also visited by numerous school and college field trips that are made yearly to the site during the academic year and during the May 4 annual commemorations.
Visitors also find their way to the University Library. In a one-year period, there were 182 people who signed the remembrance book in the May 4 Resource Room. These signatures represented people from all over the world, including Algeria, Australia, Japan, Scotland and Taiwan, and representing 18 states. Special Collections and Archives also has served countless researchers — students, journalists, artists and filmmakers — who have combed the contents of more than 200 boxes of May 4 materials.
Kent State is rich in raw documentary materials. The university also has responded thoughtfully and sensitively through its memorial markers, including the large Bruno Ast memorial, the Hillel marker in the Prentice parking lot and the cordoned spaces there that mark where the four who died fell. Still, those members of the public who visit the May 4 site in great numbers have asked for more information about where the events took place so that they can understand what happened here.
As we observe the 38th anniversary of May 4, 1970, the university has announced the beginning of a campaign to fund the construction of a May 4 Visitors Center, which will provide a history of the event in one easily accessible location, within the historic site.
A planning grant submitted to the National Endowment for the Humanities proposes that the center will include a permanent exhibit to be located in the historic space recently vacated by the Daily Kent Stater; a virtual visitors center in a Web site format; a brochure and audio program that guide visitors on a tour of the site; supplementary materials, including a guide to a special interactive experience of the center and treatment of significant topics, such as the relation of the civil rights movement to student activism; and special live programs. Plans also will be drafted to use graphic design work and narrative created for the permanent exhibit on posters for a traveling exhibit for schools and libraries and to outline a docent training program. Long-range plans call for docents to be staffed by student interns and volunteers.
As Jay Winter, the Charles J. Stille Professor of History at Yale University, noted during preparation of this proposal, the Web site would provide an opportunity worldwide for people to learn from and see in the history of May 4, embedded in the history of the Vietnam War, the fragility of civil institutions when confronted by violence. This project, he noted, has the potential to extend the public work on war and remembrance that stands to benefit so many in a world continuing to be so affected by violence. Winter concludes his book Remembering War with an explanation of that benefit: “Acknowledgment — understood as active knowledge, expressed in public as the recognition, the rethinking and the restating aloud of claims — moral, political material — which other human beings have on us. Among those claimants are victims of war and violence. The least of their claims is that we not let them and their stories vanish without trace, that we face them, that we face what has happened to them.”