40th Anniversary of the Kent State Shootings

Memorial for the students killed during the Kent State shootings

Yesterday I had the privilege of taking part in a historic event– the 40th Anniversary of the Kent State University shootings that took place May 4, 1970.

I didn’t learn much about the era, protests, war or music until high school, and I learned a great deal in a very meaningful way during college.

Kent State University has a love/hate relationship with its past. It seems like it’s always trying to move beyond the shootings, which it doesn’t want to be solely known for, but it also recognizes the importance of the events on an international level and how the events that took place truly shaped history.

I was impressed with how far the May 4th Task Force, which works to protect and preserve the memories, tangible reminders and stories of the event, has come in securing recognition for these life-changing events.

Just since I graduated three years ago, a visitor’s center, walking tour, series of information stations and historical landmark have all been incorporated to help educate, inspire and remind anyone who wants to learn about May 4, 1970.

I attended the anniversary events twice during college, but my friend and I took time off work to attend the 40th anniversary, wanting to take part in several of the day-long activities, including:

May 4, 1970: The Reporters Who Were There

The 7 a.m. panel discussion included:

  • John Filo,Former Kent State photojournalism student who took the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the girl crying out over the body of Jeffery Miller
  • Chuck Ayers, Former ABJ and DKS photographer
  • Michael D. Roberts, Plain Dealer reporter and co-author of Thirteen Seconds; Confrontation at Kent State
  • Jan Leach, ABJ editor and KSU journalism professor
  • Bob Carpenter, formerly with WKSU and WKNT

It was very interesting to learn how the reporting took place given the technology available, the chaos throughout the days leading up to and during the shootings and the difficulty in obtaining substantiated information. Everyone had a slightly different experience, and each story was unique in which parts of the events were captured. Some were student journalists at the time, some professionals. Some teach current students about the values of ethics in reporting and accuracy in journalism.

I also heard the phrase ‘Who was Terry Norman’ from a slightly loud protester in the audience several times. There is always something new to learn about these events, no matter how many times I take the tour or read about what (supposedly according to him) took place.

May 4, 1970:  40th Annual Commemoration

The commemoration ceremony, which lasted from noon-3:30 p.m. included the following speakers:

  • Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panthers
  • Gerald Casale, DEVO
  • Mary Vecchio, May 4, 1970 eyewitness
  • Gene Young, Jackson State eyewitness
  • Russ Miller, brother of Jeffrey Miller
  • Florence Schroeder, mother of William Schroeder
  • Barry Levine, friend of Allison Krause
  • Joe Lewis, May 4, 1970 eyewitness and wounded during events
  • Bernadine Dohr and Mark Rudd, ex-SDS leaders
Daffodil hill at KSU
Protest art
The spirit of Kent and Jackson State
Blanket hill filled with people

There were a few other speakers, including a journalism professor at Kent State that had the crowd on its feet during her rant about corporate America. Although politically there wasn’t much I agreed with during any of the speeches, I was touched and nearly moved to tears by several speakers who focused on the people impacted by the events rather than the politics behind them.

One of my favorite speakers was Florence Schroeder, 90, who has spoken at the commemoration several times on behalf of her son.She climbed up onto the stage with some assistance and proceeded to focus not on how hard it was for her to lose her son, but how people today can learn from the events of May 4th.

My other favorite, Barry Levine, gave an emotional and passionate speech about Allison, the kind of person she was and what he believes she would have said had she been there to commemorate the memorial. By the time he finished his poem, “Who Killed Allison,” I was on my feet with tears in my eyes.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Comes to Kent:  “…Next Stop Vietnam:  The War on Record”

The final panel discussion of the day, sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, took place from 7-9 p.m. and focused on the relationship between music and the Vietnam era.

Presenters included Dr. Hugo Keesing, Doug Bradley and Country Joe McDonald who all gave insights on why music played such an impact on the era. The three collaborated on a soon to be released 13 CD/book project set to come out in June called “…Next Stop Vietnam:  The War on Record 1961-2008” that includes music from all facets of the time period, including pre-war/pro-country songs to protest songs to songs written by veterans years after the war, most of which never made it to the mainstream.

Bradley has focused his career on the way this music has helped some veterans to heal following terrible depression and other side effects of serving in the war, and Country Joe gave very poignant remarks about how he really found himself in the last decade following his time in the war and years of serving as a voice of the protests.

The whole day was a wonderful and educational experience for me, and I do feel I spent time learning, remembering and reflecting, which I set out to do.

“What if you knew her, And found her dead on the ground, How can you run when you know? Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, We’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming, Four dead in Ohio.” – Neil Young, Ohio

Ali and I with Country Joe McDonald

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