Kent State: A tour of the May 4 site

By Nicole Ziege (Video) and Emma Collins (Article), F/G Scholars

The site of the Kent State shooting still somewhat resembles the spot where four students were killed and nine injured nearly 50 years ago on May 4, 1970.

Since then, buildings have sprung up nearby, a gym has been built on part of the site and trees have been cut down. But the spots where four students — Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder — were shot are stilled marked on the parking lot where they died, and visitors can walk the same path that the students and national guardsmen walked long ago on a day that would mark a turning point in the public’s opinion of the Vietnam War.

The protest started at the Victory Bell on the Commons when a group of students gathered for a rally.

“This is where the story of May 4 begins,” said Mindy Farmer, director of the May 4 Visitors Center.

The Commons is similar to how it was nearly 50 years ago, although part of the field is now a sports field. The bell isn’t marked as anything special; nothing identifies it as the spot where the rally began and where it ended when hundreds of students sat down and demanded answers for why the guard had just fired on the crowd.

The field with the Victory Bell is surrounded mostly by hills, the same hills Troop G, Company A and Company C walked up after demanding the students disperse. When tear gas didn’t break up the crowd, the guardsmen marched up a hill and past Taylor Hall to a practice field where they aimed their guns at the vocal demonstrators.

It was on their way back when members of Troop G fired on the crowd for unknown reasons. They fired on the top of the hill next to a pagoda that Farmer said was never meant to become a significant part of history when it was built just a few years before the shooting.

“Crowd” is something Farmer makes sure to emphasize, adding that it’s not fair to say the guardsmen fired on protestors.

“That’s not true,” she said. “They fired on a crowd.”

And fire they did, shooting off 67 shots in 13 seconds. Farmer called the bullets “tank-piercing bullets,” and the hole left behind by one can still be seen in a nearby statue.

The hill overlooks the location where students ran for cover, some hiding behind trees, others behind cars. It’s the same spot where the four students were killed. The area was a parking lot then, and it still is today, with four memorials marking the locations where the dead were shot.

Farmer pointed out the distance the bullets had to travel to injure and kill students. The guardsmen claimed they feared for their lives, but as Farmer pointed out, the closest injured student, Joseph Lewis, was at least a hundred feet away from the guardsmen when they fired.

After they fired, the guardsmen marched back down the hill, returning to where they had begun. The students followed, staging a sit-in to protest the shootings.

There’s another memorial a little ways off, past the parking lot and on top of the hill. It overlooks the site where the anti-war protest began. Farmer said that memorial is the official May 4 Memorial. There are four pylons for the dead, and a slab placed beneath some bushes honors the nine injured. Farmer said the tribute to the injured was added after the memorial was completed and people complained about the lack of a tribute to the victims who survived. She said the plaque was added as a compromise.

The ground of the memorial is also granite. Carved into part of it are the words inquire, learn, reflect.

“I think ‘inquire, learn, reflect’ is really a nice thing to say about what happened here,” Farmer said.

The site became a national historic landmark last year. It was a culmination of 50 years of back-and-forth as the university wavered between honoring the students and trying to forget the tragedy.

Eventually, guests will be able to participate in a virtual tour. The site of the burned ROTC building is currently unmarked, but with the virtual tour, visitors will be able to see what it once looked like. The building itself was built around the end of World War II and never meant to be permanent, Farmer said. It was slated to be demolished eventually, although the protests leading up to May 4 succeeded in doing that first.

Farmer said the virtual tour will guide guests along the path and explain the events of May 4.

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