Originally published May 5, 1997
For 27 years, they have gathered at Kent State University, to stand in silence, to march by candlelight, to listen to speakers uphold the value of protest.
And yesterday, they did it once again — in the name of Sandra Scheuer, in the name of Jeffrey Miller, in the name of Allison Krause and in the name of William Schroeder.
But this time there was an added lure for thousands who came to the commons area of the Kent State University campus — just over the hill from where Ohio National Guard troops on May 4, 1970, opened fire on a crowd of Vietnam War protesters, killing those four students and wounding nine others.
Yesterday's May 4 commemoration events included the first appearance of Crosby, Stills and Nash, the folk rock group, who — with former member Neil Young — memorialized the tragedy with the song Ohio.
Len Hart, 39, of Champion near Warren, returned to campus yesterday for the first time since graduating in 1980.
He came to hear the music, he said, but he and his wife,Gayle, said they had another reason for bringing their children.
"There's no mention of it in school, period," Gayle Hart said. The couple hoped their sons, Brian, 14, and Scott, 12, would pick up a history lesson about the Vietnam era.
"I don't think the kids should have been shot and killed," Len Hart said, adding that he believes the political and wartime tensions of the time fueled the tragic turn of events.
"I think it's been proven the war shouldn't have gone on as long as it did," he said as his sons listened. They listened, too, as their father questioned the wisdom of Gov. James Rhodes in arming the guardsmen.
But one speaker, Ronald Kuby, civil rights attorney and former law partner of the late William Kunstler, told the crowd the tragedy had not been in vain. Kunstler was a strong supporter of student protesters during the Vietnam war. "Blood sacrificed on these grounds helped end the war," Kuby said. Student protests escalated after the Kent tragedy, he said, affecting 400 campuses across the country.
Chic Canfora, who was present when the shootings occurred in 1970, exhorted the crowd: "And remember, this is not just about tragedy and about death, it's about life and what can happen when students stand together to make the world a better place."
She said today's students can band together on other issues — like making the environment safer — to help change the world.
Jena C. Brown of Minerva High School noted the pain the families of the dead students must have felt over their losses in her winning essay The Casualties of War.
"The Kent State shootings ended the lives of four promising young people and changed the lives of the nine who were wounded," Jena said. "I mourn for the four who were killed."
Referring to current hunger, unemployment and lack of medical attention for the poor, Jena urged the political leaders of today and tomorrow: "Listen to us when we cry injustice. You may learn something from us! It is my God-given and government-ensured right to be able to voice my beliefs without the fear of persecution or execution."
The crowd roared approval as Crosby, Stills & Nash sang several of their hits, including Ohio. The group — who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Tuesday in Cleveland — came to the event at the invitation of the student May 4 Task Force.
Speaking to reporters earlier, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash mourned the dead students.
"The students stood up for their God-given right to protest, and they got slaughtered for it," said Crosby.
"Those people were expressing their constitutional right of assembly and were attacked for it, and they've never been apologized to," he said.
After the program was over, 1991 Kent State graduate Christine Brooks of Copley Township said, "It's good to renew the spirit of protest."
She said she recognizes the relevance and importance of that "more now that I've been out in the world."
Her husband, Kyle Brooks, a 1990 graduate, said he always tells his Highland High School English students about May 4 because many of them know nothing of it.