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Kent State to mark shooting’s 50th anniversary

Submitted photo / Kent State University Kent State University students stand vigil where one of four slain KSU students were shot May 4, 1970.

KENT — Kent State University is planning many events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the May 4, 1970, campus shootings by the Ohio National Guard, including special guests and programs focusing on activism, history and legacy.

Among the four killed was Sandra Lee Scheuer, born in Youngstown, an honors student in speech therapy, and a graduate of Boardman High School. She did not take part in the Vietnam War protests that preceded the shootings. She was shot in the neck while walking between classes.

Among those participating in planned commemorative events are actress / activist Jane Fonda, Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe and historian Eric Foner. Musicians Joe Walsh and David Crosby will perform.

The commemoration represents a significant milestone in the history and legacy of May 4, 1970: Kent State students, faculty, staff and university leaders, along with May 4 survivors and family members, united around a commitment to forever honor the day when the Ohio National Guard fired on students during an anti-war protest, killing four and wounding nine.

“For the first time, the collaboration of groups previously divided on May 4 issues personifies a spirit of unity and reconciliation that has become an integral part of the history and legacy of the Kent State shootings,” the university said in a news release.

In recent years, longtime May 4 activists, survivors and wounded students began working in concert with university leaders to build a May 4 Memorial, place markers where the slain students fell, establish the May 4 Visitors Center and secure the May 4 site’s designation as a National Historic Landmark. The formation of the May 4 50th Commemoration Advisory Committee was the next logical step in reconciliation; its 18 members consist of faculty, university leaders, students, May 4 witnesses and survivors.

“It is our great responsibility and honor to welcome the nation and world to our campus,” said Kent State President Todd Diacon. “Together we will remember Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, and honor Kent State and community members who have kept their memories alive for 50 years. We will listen to, and learn from, noted speakers, experts and performers, all while we absorb the lessons of the importance of free speech, the need for civil dialogue and the dangers of polarization.”

The weekend of events for the 50th Commemoration will take place over four days from May 1 to May 4, with each day emphasizing a different focus of the May 4 story. Here is a partial list of planned events:

• May 1 — The Vietnam Anti-War Movement. The day kicks off at noon on the Commons with a program remembering two student rallies on May 1, 1970, that set into motion events that would change public opinion about the Vietnam War. Panel discussions will occur on “The Impact of the Anti-War Movement” and “The Pivotal Role of Students in Documenting the May 4 Shootings.”

• May 2 — Impact of Student Activism. Kent State alumni and former students will share their previously untold personal stories of May 4, 1970, in a panel discussion. And, a 50th Commemoration Concert will benefit the May 4 Legacy Scholarships. It will feature Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, David Crosby and his band, and additional acts to be announced, the university said.

• May 3 — Remembering the 50-Year May 4 Legacy. May 3 will feature a dedication ceremony for markers honoring the nine students wounded — Alan Canfora, John Cleary, Thomas Grace, Dean Kahler, Joseph Lewis, Donald MacKenzie, James Russell, Robert Stamps and Douglas Wrentmore — and marking the location where each was shot on May 4, 1970.

Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, will be featured. He is one of the nation’s leading historians and a Bancroft, Lincoln and Pulitzer prize-winning scholar on divisive conflicts in American history.

Fonda is the featured presidential speaker. She will discuss her life in social activism and reflect on the history and legacy of the events of May 4. The event is free and open to the public, but advance reserved tickets are required.

The annual candlelight march and silent vigil begins at 11 p.m.

• May 4 — A Commemoration to Honor and Remember. This program pays homage to the May 4 legacy and includes reflections, special recognitions, tributes to fallen students, the reading of the chronology, music and a symbolic moment of reflection at 12:24 p.m., the exact time when the shootings occurred.

The keynote speaker is Laurence H. Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University, regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on constitutional law.

“We were committed to finding meaningful ways to recognize the significance of student protest in 1970 and its direct relation to the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia,” said Canfora, shooting survivor and member of the commemoration committee. “While our personal experiences and points of view varied, we shared a common belief in the vital role of dissent in a democracy and the university’s responsibility to promote and protect freedom of speech.”

For additional details and updates, visit the 50th Commemoration website: https://www.kent.edu/may4kentstate50.

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