Marking the 50th Anniversary of the May 4th Shootings

National Guard personnel walking toward crowd near Taylor Hall, May 4, 1970.
Credit Kent State University. News Service May 4 Photographs / Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Guard shootings on the Kent State University campus. After days of protests and simmering tensions over the Vietnam War, on May 4, 1970, guardsmen opened fire on students, killing four and wounding nine more.

Much has changed in the 50 years since the shootings including the university's own acknowledgment and acceptance of what happened on that day. At the same time, some questions and mysteries still remain.

To mark the 50th anniversary, WKSU's reporters will consider the lasting impact of the shootings. This coverage includes "Fragments of May 4", a project working with Kent State University journalism students, who've collected and produced audio stories associated with artifacts donated to the May 4 Visitors Center.

On May 4th itself, WKSU will air four special one-hour programs that capture the details of what happened and the shootings' ongoing legacy:

  • 9am - May 4 at 50, a special live one-hour joint broadcast co-hosted by WKSU's Andrew Meyer and WCPN's Mike McIntyre. Guests will include current Kent State president Todd Diacon and past president Carol Cartwright. We'll be joined by Alan Canfora and Dean Kahler, survivors of the shootings and by reporters from both stations to talk about their coverage of the anniversary.
  • 10am - May 4 Voices: Kent State 1970.  This is a new radio adaptation of a play by David Hassler, entirely drawn from the May 4 Oral History Project. It was produced and directed by WKSU’s Joe Gunderman, using 22 professional actors, almost all of whom have a direct connection to Kent State.
  • 11am - APM Reports - Soldiers for Peace.   Soldiers for Peace takes a deep look at how GIs were transformed by Vietnam, and the strategies veterans and active-duty personnel used to bring the war to an end. The program upends enduring myths about the anti-war movement.
  • Noon - Remembering Kent State 1970. A documentary originally produced in 2000 that uses archival tape from 1970 to tell the story of the days leading up to and including May 4.
  • 7 pm - May 4 Voices: Kent State 1970.  This is a new radio adaptation of a play by David Hassler, entirely drawn from the May 4 Oral History Project. It was produced and directed by WKSU’s Joe Gunderman, using 22 professional actors, almost all of whom have a direct connection to Kent State.

 

 

photo of national guardsmen on May 4, 1970
KENT STATE UNIVERSITY NEWS SERVICE / KENT STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES - SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AND ARCHIVES

Fifty years ago, on May 4th, 1970, unarmed students on the campus of Kent State University were fired upon by Ohio National Guard troops as the students protested US involvement in the Vietnam War. When the shooting ended, four lay dead and nine more were wounded. WKSU joined with WCPN for a special simulcast of The Sound of Ideas on May 4, 2020 at 9 a.m. to remember the tragedy.

militray personnel examine sculpture
RALPH SOLONITZ / KENT STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AND ARCHIVES

Don Drumm is known for his signature aluminum-cast art, from towering totems to palm-sized pieces, many featuring his iconic sun design. Drumm’s art is all over the world, but one sculpture from his early career is on Kent State’s campus. It figures prominently in the May 4 shootings.

photo of national guard
KENT STATE NEWS SERVICE

It was 50 years ago today that Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on protesting students at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. 

The event brought the Vietnam War home to a divided America. May 4th remains a lightning rod for questions about the rights of free speech vs. the forces of law-and-order.

Fragments of May 4: From the Ashes of the ROTC Building

Apr 30, 2020
A photo of the bullets that were found at the sight of the burnt ROTC building on May 3, 1970.
DAVID BURGETT & ALEXANDRA SOBCZAK

Just as protests against the United States’ invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War were beginning on Kent State’s campus, Bob Crane started to notice a shift in how his fellow students were treating him. 

 

photo of students during the 1974 Annual Commemoration of the Kent State shootings
"1974 Commemoration: Photograph" / Kent State University Libraries, Special Collections and Archives

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the day National Guardsmen opened fire on Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War. 

The university planned a number of events for the days leading up to and including the anniversary of the May 4th shootings. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the school has shifted to a roughly hour-long virtual commemoration

Fragments of May 4: The Power of So Many Flowers

Apr 29, 2020
A photo of the plaque that was unearthed this year that honors Brinsley Tyrell and states the number of the daffodils.
JOAN STEIDL & LYNDSEY BRENNAN

In May 1990, a hillside on the Kent State campus burst with 58,175 daffodils for the first time. One flower was planted for each of the U.S. servicepeople killed in Vietnam.

Fragments of May 4: A Photo That Foretold What Was to Come

Apr 28, 2020
A photo of the moratorium march
HOWARD RUFFNER / KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

Editor's note:  This story originally indicated that this photo was taken in the early Spring of 1970. It is from a march that took place on October 15, 1969.    

When an editor at Life magazine approached Kent State University student Howard Ruffner to ask him about  sharing some of the pictures he had taken  from the weekend leading into May 4 or “any rally or activity that takes place” that Monday, he never imagined one of his photographs would be the front cover.

photo of Derf
JEFF ST.CLAIR / WKSU

Few of the dozens of books written about what happened at Kent State May 4, 1970 have the emotional impact of John Backderf’s graphic novel Kent State, Four Dead in Ohio.

The Cleveland-based comic artist, who goes by Derf, spent two years researching and another two years drawing the book.

Derf depicts the final days of the four students before they were shot down on a campus parking lot 50 years ago.

Fragments of May 4: A Photo of the Friend Who Always Had a Smile on Her Face

Apr 27, 2020
A photo of the picture Marty Levick took of Sandy Scheuer a few weeks before the May 4 shootings.
DARIAN BOLAN & ALYSON NICHOLS

For Marty Levick, the photograph he donated to the May 4th exhibit was a treasure. It showed his dear friend Sandy Scheuer as the person she truly was—a happy, kind and caring girl who always had a smile on her face.

photo of chic canfora
FACEBOOK/KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

A woman who witnessed the shootings at Kent State on May 4, 1970 remains optimistic about this year’s 50th commemoration despite its move to a digital remembrance because of COVID-19 concerns.  Chic Canfora participated in a Facebook live session hosted by the University Monday. She shared her story about witnessing May 4 and her thoughts on it looking back. Canfora reassured viewers the virtual commemoration will still hold the power it was intended to have in person.

book cover
Robert Giles

The 50th anniversary commemoration events for the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State University were canceled because of the new coronavirus, but some are still working to make sure the tragedy is not forgotten.

“When Truth Mattered: The Kent State Shootings 50 Years Later” is a new book from Robert Giles, a former managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal.

a photo of May 4 logo
KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

Kent State has canceled plans on its campus to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Guard shootings that took the lives of four students on May 4, 1970. The University said it has made the decision "in the interest of the health and safety of the community," and also to comply with an order by state officials to stay home. The order takes effect Monday, March 23 at 11:59 p.m. and is aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that is sweeping through the country.

/ Courtesy of PHONG NGUYEN

World-renowned Vietnamese musician Phong Nguyen has dedicated his life to studying Buddhist music. He can play more than 20 instruments and has done extensive research on chants that he's performed in concert all over the world. Back home in Stow after studying abroad for the past few years, Nguyen is putting on a rare concert at Standing Rock Cultural Arts in Kent on March 14, and is reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the May 4 shootings at Kent State University.

photo of Thomas Grace
SARA DONATO / KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

Spring Commencement at Kent State will feature two speakers who were wounded during the May Fourth shootings 50 years ago.

Kent State President Todd Diacon said historian Tom Grace will deliver remarks for graduate students, and fellow Kent State alum Dean Kahler will speak at Kent State’s Commencement for undergrads across all eight campuses.

Kahler was shot in the spine on May 4 and although he remains paralyzed, Kahler competes in 5K and 10K wheelchair races.

a photo of Jane Fonda
YOUTUBE

Jane Fonda will return to Kent State this spring. The university has announced her appearance is part of events planned to honor the 50th anniversary of the May 4th shootings

Chic Canfora looks forward to Jane Fonda’s return to Kent State. “She was here in 1971," Canfora recalls. "She was here with a strong message that dissent is a powerful form of protection for our democracy."   

a photo of Mitch Landrieu
CARTER ADAMS / WKSU

The former mayor of New Orleans drew parallels between the troubled times of 1970 that led to tragedy at Kent State and the troubled times right now that have led to an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Mitch Landrieu spoke to Kent State University students and faculty Tuesday night. He said the four students killed on May 4th, 1970 died in a moment of patriotism, something he considered as Congress questioned witnesses this week during the impeachment hearings.

 

 

photo of Sara Abou Rashed
DAVID WILLIAMS / WKSU

Educators and Administrators from around Northeast Ohio are attending a summit at Kent State this week, intended to better prepare them to teach the next generation of students about the history and legacy of May 4.

One of the speakers they heard from is Syrian immigrant, poet and activist Sara Abou Rashed. She believes it's important to accommodate students of all backgrounds. She spoke about the hurdles she faced transitioning to a new education system in a different language. She says the words of one teacher really stuck with her.

A photo of Bob Woodward speaking on stage at Kent State University
SARAH TAYLOR / WKSU

Kent State University marked the 49th anniversary of the May 4 shootings with keynote speaker Bob Woodward.

The two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist discussed his career at The Washington Post starting in 1971. 

Photo of Journalist Dan Rather
ANDREW ATKINS / WKSU

Kent State University today dedicated the site of the May 4, 1970, shootings of 13 students -- killing four -- by Ohio National Guard soldiers as a National Historic Landmark.

Journalist Dan Rather will speak tonight as part of the school's Presidential Speaker Series.

“This was an emotional earthquake for the country to have young national guardsmen firing on young students," Rather says. "Or if you want to use a metaphor, it was a tremendous hammer to the heart.”

Remembering Kent State 1970

May 4, 2018
photo of Kent May 4 victims
KYLE MONLINELLI / WKSU

On May 4th, 1970, Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on Kent State students protesting the invasion of Cambodia, the escalation of the Vietnam War - and the presence of the guard on campus.  In this documentary from 2000, WKSU takes a look at the personal stories and larger lessons that grew from May 4, 1970.

Four students died; nine were wounded. The scene became an icon for the Baby Boom generation.

photo of Samaria Rice
WKSU

 This year’s choice of speaker at Kent State’s May 4th commemorations is drawing criticism as well as praise.