As the 50th anniversary of the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State approaches, the university and its students are gearing up for a week full of remembrance, commemoration and celebration. But the university didn’t always embrace its past, leading students to deal with conflicting feelings. As the years and decades passed, students’ stance on the tragedy evolved from discontent and confusion to acceptance and remembrance. This timeline covers the evolution of how the events of May 4 were recognized on Kent State’s campus as well as the evolution of students’ understanding of the events of May 4 and how they were educated about its history.
The protests at Kent State began on May 1. Hundreds of students came together on the Commons, an open grass area at the center of campus to express their opposing views.
On May 2, students gathered to help clean up the mess downtown after a night of violent clashes between students. That night, over 1,000 students gathered and some cheered as the ROTC building burned, increasing animosity between protestors and police.
On May 3, A crowd formed on the Commons at the Victory Bell and when they failed to follow orders, the Ohio Riot Act was read, and tear gas followed. Hostilities rose, and the crowd took their protest to East Main and Lincoln streets. What happened next forever immortalized Kent State in history.
On May 4, more than 2,000 protestors and spectators came to a scheduled protest on the Commons. The peaceful protest turned violent when Guardsmen ordered protestors to disperse, angering demonstrators who threw rocks, which then led to an open fire. In a 13-second period, 28 guardsmen fired around 67 shots toward the parking lot. Four students died and nine injured. The university was closed, and normal campus activities did not resume until the summer session.
On Sept. 28, 1970, around 5,000 people, including about 2,000 students, packed into Memorial Gym to participate in the first ever memorial service for those slain on May 4.
For the shooting’s first anniversary, the May 4th Committee and the Center for Peaceful Change orchestrated a three-day memorial service.
Tensions between Kent State students and the administration rose when the University administration announced plans to build a new Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) facility on the site where the May 4 shootings occurred.
The May 4th Coalition was forced out of the site by injunction. Some 193 Coalition members who didn’t vacate after they were ordered to on July 9, 1977, were arrested on July 12. Construction for the facility began on Sept. 19, 1977
May 4, 1980, marked the 10th commemoration of May 4, 1970. Ringing the Victory Bell in the blazing sun at 12:30 p.m., nearly 1,200 people began the four and a half hour ceremony.
James Goldstone directed the television movie "Kent State." A columnist reviewed the movie for the Daily Kent Stater. The movie received positive feedback as the actors spoke and visited campus over the upcoming years.
May 4th Task Force offered Kent State President Brage Golding an idea to build a memorial for the four students killed and nine wounded.
May 5, 1982:
An editorial piece in the Daily Kent Stater reflected on the lack of action taken for ideas for a May 4, 1970, memorial. It presented a hopeful idea that the new president would follow through with a memorial.
The Board of Trustees established the May 4th Memorial Committee to determine the meaning of the events of May 4, 1970, and the committee deemed any permanent memorial would be appropriate.
In February, President Schwartz appointed 10 members to the May 4th Memorial Committee. The committee held its first meeting in March.
In January, the May 4th Memorial Committee’s report recommended the development of a physical memorial to further commemorate May 4, 1970.
On Jan. 25, the ground-breaking ceremony took place for the May 4, 1970, memorial next to Taylor Hall, overlooking the commons areas.
The May 4 Memorial Center was completed, installed, dedicated and opened. The dedication took place at 11 a.m. and caused national media to descend onto campus. Students were unsure how to feel about the memorial.
This was the first year the entire week leading up to May 4 is noticed as an “official week of commemoration.”
Researchers Stuart Taylor and Michael Hulsizer conducted a study to determine changes in Kent State students’ attitudes toward the events of May 4 between 1970, when they occurred, and 1995, the 25th anniversary.
Reactions to the new markers ranged from “very healing” to “kind of morbid.” The dedication marked sacred ground in remembrance of what had happened.
- May 4 signs the university had refused to accept as a part of the university’s memorial were inducted into official May 4 memorial landscape: “Solar Totem,” the Victory Bell, the metal pagoda in front of Taylor Hall, a student-created series of stained-glass windows in the library and “Kent Four.”
The May 4, 1970: Kent State Shooting Historical Marker, located outside Taylor Hall, was placed by KSU and the Ohio Historical Society.
Kent State professors Laura Davis and Carole Barbato created the goal to institutionalize May 4 history within the university to preserve survivors’ stories for future generations, according to OhioHistory.com.
The site of the shootings is added to the National Register of Historic Places on Feb. 23.
The May 4 Visitors Center officially opens during homecoming weekend on Oct. 22 in Taylor Hall.
The site of the May 4 shootings is named a National Historic Landmark on Dec. 23, 2016.
On the 48th anniversary of the shootings, Kent State holds a ceremony to officially designate the shootings as a National Historic Landmark.
The environment on campus now is different than in years past. The center welcomes visitors, and the area around Blanket Hill is dotted with markers explaining the events of that day.