KENT — The mood of nearly 500 people at Saturday’s commemoration of the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State University was somber as they remembered four students killed and nine wounded by Ohio National Guard troops.

For about three hours, the crowd listened to speakers and singers in the Student Center Ballroom. Activities originally were scheduled to take place on the Commons near Taylor Hall, but the threat of rain forced them indoors.

“The shots fired that day will be forever etched in the minds of local residents, Kent State students and all Americans,” said retiring KSU President Beverly Warren.

“The memory of this tragedy will live on as long as students walk across these grounds, and the university and community will continue to work to assure that what happened on May 4, 1970, will never be repeated.”

She thanked the May 4th Task Force for organizing the annual commemoration for the last 44 years.

In March, Kent State trustees approved a resolution “ensuring the university’s commitment and responsibility” for the commemoration and ongoing education regarding the event.

That action means the May 4th Task Force, a student group, will no longer be the organizer of the remembrance. The Task Force took over in 1975 after the university discontinued its support for the annual observance.

This fall through May 4, 2020, Kent State will mark the 50th commemoration with a yearlong observance of educational programs and events, in addition to the traditional activities.

The 50th commemoration will be the first led by university President-elect Todd A. Diacon, who will succeed Warren on July 1.

The theme for this year’s observance was “May We Forever Stand: Long Live the Memory of Kent and Jackson State.” Protests in 1970 also resulted in student deaths at the latter university in Mississippi.

During the afternoon, musicians Barry Be, a friend of May 4 victim Allison Krause, and Ray Flanagan sang songs. One sung by Flanagan was the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young hit “Ohio.”

 

Four lives lost

Speakers talked about the lives of the four slain students — Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. Miller’s mother, they noted, was the last of the victims’ parents to die (last year).

Popular Cleveland musician Carlos Jones, who talked about Krause, said on that fateful day “we were reminded we could be murdered by our government.” He added, “I agree with Allison — flowers are better than bullets.”

And he urged the audience to love because “love can heal.”

A chronology described the events leading up to the Kent State shootings, as well as the May 15, 1970, Jackson State shootings and the Feb. 8, 1968, Orangeburg Massacre at South Carolina State University.

Keynote speaker J. Kavin Ross focused on the May 1921 race riots in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Okla., which he said was one of the darkest days in U.S. history. About 300 people died and 1,000 homes were destroyed.

Ross is now an advocate for research and review of the incident, and was a production manager for the 2015 documentary film “Hate Crimes in the Heartland.”

The film explores the 1921 race riots and the 2012 Good Friday murders in Tulsa, and reveals the connections between the media, power, race and justice.

Ross grew up in an area in Tulsa known as the “Black Wall Street of America” and is a graduate of the historic Booker T. Washington High School.

He explained that several years ago, as a news reporter checking into a possible story, he discovered a long-lost mass burial ground of bodies thought to be from the 1921 race riots.

For many years after his discovery, he said, local officials did nothing to recognize the cemetery, but eventually officials decided to fund an investigation, which will start this June.

 

Childhood memory

Ross said he was 8 years old when the Kent State shootings occurred, and he remembers wondering, “Why would law enforcement shoot students?”

Rabbi Michael Ross from KSU’s Hillel and Hudson’s Temple Beth Shalom focused on how the Jewish people have mourned the Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and two other recent shootings at religious institutions.

He said Kent area leaders of 49 years ago likely felt the same loss as Jewish leaders around the nation have felt recently.

Special recognition went to the late Albert Canfora, father of wounded Kent student Alan Canfora, for his efforts in supporting the May 4 commemoration over the years, while current KSU student Lela Barry was given an activism scholarship.

Other May 4-related events included a panel discussion on “Student Activism: Then and Now,” the candlelight vigil at the sites where the slain students fell and book signings by several authors.

Visitors to the campus had the opportunity to stop by the May 4 Visitors Center’s exhibits, including the newest one titled “Bill: An All-American Boy,” which honors Schroeder’s life. It’s the third in a series in tribute to the four lives lost.

 

Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400, ext. 4189, or klahmers@recordpub.com.