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May 4th To Hit A Milestone At Kent State

[Kent State University]

For the 50 th anniversary of May 4, 1970, Kent State University is offering a series of events, from panel discussions and film showings to museum and art exhibits. It’s part of a yearlong observance of the day that four students were shot to death by Ohio National Guard troops during the course of an anti-war protest. The commemoration is managed by a former member of the student-run May 4th Task Force, Rodney Flauhaus.

“For years, there's always been a little bit of tension between the May 4th community and the university that has slowly eroded away to now where the administration and the May 4th community and the family members, everybody is pretty much on the same page,” Flauhaus said, adding that the 2020 commemoration seems like a turning point.

 “It's something personally I've seen over maybe 35 years,” he said. “Back when I was on the task force, we couldn't even get the administration to come and participate in the commemoration.”

The May 4th Site and Memorial by Chicago architect Bruno Ast was dedicated on May 4th, 1990. Kent State artist Brinsley Tyrrell added the idea of planting 58,175 daffodil bulbs on the site to symbolize the loss of lives in the Vietnam war. [Kent State University]

He saw things change starting in 1990, when the university installed a memorial near the campus commons area that was at the center of the 1970 protests. Subsequently, permanent memorial markers were installed in the parking lot where the students were killed. Then came a May 4 th visitor’s center and national landmark designation. Flauhaus said that some changes in attitudes came as university leadership changed.

“You have in the administration people who were students and personally affected by these events back in 1970,” he said.

Flauhaus also points to a letter that the families of the dead and wounded wrote to the university asking the administration to assume responsibility for the annual commemoration.

“They're very worried about what happens when they're no longer around. They want to see that transition from being a personal memory,” he said. “They wanted to make sure that that history is preserved, not just preserved, but also somehow embraced.”

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.