Speakers tell of May 4 shootings

VIENNA – On the 44th anniversary of the Kent State University shootings, a college professor who was there at that time as a freshman shared her story as well as what the May 4 Visitors Center at the university showcases for those who remember that day and the generations born years later.

Dr. Laura Davis, professor emeritus and director of the May 4 Visitors Center at KSU, said on May 4, 1970, she was an 18-year-old college freshman who was outside walking with many other students.

Davis, along with Lori Boes, assistant director of the center, were guest speakers at the recent Vienna Historical Society meeting.

The two said a candlelight memorial and other events are being planned today at the campus, and special programs will be shown on cable television to commemorate May 4.

Davis said the gallery has visitors from across the nation and around the world wanting to learn more of the tragic day.

”We have had visitors from across the nation and the world. There have been groups from Japan, Indonesia and the Ukraine to the center…This is a story still being told today and a topic of such divergent opinions,” she said.

Artifacts and items from the four students who were shot are included such as poems. There is a memorial area as well with hometown newspapers from where the four students lived with biographical information on their lives.

”These were four ordinary students not trying to be martyrs. They were simply there on that day,” Davis said.

In addition to a memorial of the four students killed, the gallery also showcases what else was taking place in the late 1960s and in 1970, including protests and struggles for social justice on national issues.

”We want the gallery to show how May 4 is relevant to people today. People can reflect on what they see and read about the shootings,” Davis said.

Boes said Kent students took non-violent action on issues of national importance at that time.

”May 4 was not a riotous event where guardsmen were forced to violently suppress the campus situation … Many people reacted differently due to the generation gap to the shooting with some saying, ”They should have shot all of them,” Davis said.

She said 1970 was a different time with a generation gap between high school and college students and their parents and other older groups.

”There was a tremendous divide at the time between the generations over values and changes in the status quo. The 1960s was a time of social change and turmoil,” Davis said noting the draft lottery was an issue of much controversy.

Boes said life-size photos on both sides of one room and an 11-minute video from that day allow people to experience and feel like they are part of the actual event.

”The aftermath of the tragedy was huge and an historical event of national significance with different reactions from different people. This event pierced middle America. While many were outraged many others were not sympathetic to the students,” Davis said.

She said after the shootings there were 1,300 protests nationwide against what had happened, more than the number of protests against the war before the shootings.

Boes said after the shootings people internationally were watching.

“People around the world couldn’t believe what had happened,” she said

Davis said from what she witnessed that day being there the soldiers were ordered to fire.

”I believe a plan was made ahead of time. The motion of the guardsman was so synchronized before the shooting,” she said.

Immediately after the shooting, Davis said a friend pulled her into a nearby building on campus to protect her.

Davis said afterward the Ohio National Guard and 42 other states adopted new guidelines of not carrying rifles for crowd disbursement for civil disobedience

She said after an investigation no one was held responsible for the four shootings.

Boes and Davis said the event also brought attention to First Amendment rights.

”The center tries to show how May 4 was a major turning point in the war. The exhibit presents the basic information of what happened and lets the viewer make their own conclusion. We put the facts out an leave everything open ended so people make of it what they will,” Davis said.

Boes said as people leave the gallery they can write a response on a computer to four questions including, ”What is the meaning of May 4 today?”