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Kent State’s May 4 Visitors Center Opens on Oct. 20

Posted Oct. 15, 2012 | Bob Burford

New center tells the May 4 story, set against the political and cultural changes of the 1960s

enter photo description
The Kent State University May 4 Visitors Center shows the
impact of the events of May 4 across the country.

Kent State University will officially open its much-anticipated May 4 Visitors Center on Saturday, Oct. 20, as part of the university’s Homecoming celebration. The public is invited to experience the center’s dramatic exhibits at an open house from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Visitors to the open house will receive a special May 4 commemorative gift, while supplies last.

On May 4, 1970, Kent State was placed in the international spotlight after a student protest against the Vietnam War and the presence of the Ohio National Guard on campus ended in tragedy. Thirteen seconds of rifle fire by 28 Ohio National Guardsmen left four students dead, one permanently paralyzed and eight others wounded.

Using images, artifacts and multimedia, the center’s exhibits tell the story of the decade leading up to May 4, 1970, the events of that day, the aftermath and the historical impact.

“May 4 was a historic event for our university, the nation and the world,” says Kent State President Lester A. Lefton. “The May 4 Visitors Center provides an opportunity for members of our community and beyond to better understand the events of that day set against the political and cultural changes of the times in which they took place.”

Laura Davis, director of the May 4 Visitors Center and a Kent State freshman in 1970 who witnessed the shootings, says, “Historians cite the Kent State shootings as a watershed moment in U.S. history and an important turning point in the consciousness of Americans about the Vietnam War.

“The May 4 Visitors Center offers a powerful and immersive experience that provides context and perspective on the tragedy, and examines the lasting impact that still resonates today,” Davis adds. “From the perspective of more than 40 years, the visitors center experience remembers the students who lost their lives on May 4 – Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder – while offering meaning for today in their loss."

Over the past five years, scholars from Kent State worked with humanities scholars, consultants, community leaders, veterans and students to determine the exhibit content. Members of the public and campus, local historians and community leaders contributed ideas through public forums and focus groups.

Kent State professors and national experts examined proposed content to ensure accuracy and balanced viewpoints. Reviewers for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ohio Humanities Council, the Ohio Preservation Office and the Department of the Interior provided input and feedback.

The cost for the design and construction of the center was $1.1 million. Funding included contributions from the public, veterans groups, a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities and $667,000 from all 16 deans from every Kent State campus and college – an expression of the university’s national leadership role in promoting nonviolence and democratic values.

“The deans invested in the educational mission of the May 4 Visitors Center, both to recognize the historical importance of May 4th and its value to citizens today,” says Todd Diacon, Kent State’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “The visitors center offers an opportunity to reflect on significant issues necessary to sustaining a democratic society. The support provided by the campuses and colleges demonstrate their commitment to help students and communities learn from the past to shape a better future.”

The design firm Gallagher and Associates, based in Silver Spring, Md., whose past projects include the Gettysburg National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center and the Museum at Bethel Woods (Woodstock), worked with the Kent State team to design the center’s impressive displays. Exhibits were constructed by Exhibit Concepts, Inc. of Dayton, Ohio. Media production was handled by GTOO Media of Silver Spring, Md., whose work has been featured in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

On Feb. 23, 2010, the National Register of Historic Places added the site of the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State to its official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.

Visitors to Kent State can walk the steps of that history on the May 4 Walking Tour, which was dedicated on May 4, 2010, for the 40th commemoration. The tour features historic site trail markers and a documentary narrated by civil rights activist Julian Bond.

The May 4 Visitors Center is located in room 101 of Taylor Hall at 300 Midway Drive on the Kent State campus. For 2012, beginning on Oct. 22, the center will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday. Admission is free. The center also will be open by appointment for group tours. Call 330-672-4660 or email may4@kent.edu for more information.

The opening of the May 4 Visitors Center is part of a yearlong series of events designed to educate, inform and help people reflect on the legacy and impact of the 1970 tragedy. A formal dedication of the center will take place in 2013 as part of the university’s annual May 4 commemoration activities.

For more information about the Kent State University May 4 Visitors Center, visit www.kent.edu/may4.