May 4 Activist Alan Canfora’s Memory and Legacy Will Live Long at Kent State University
The commemoration of the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State University this year will take place for the first time without the most ardent May 4 activist.
Alan Canfora, one of the nine students wounded the day the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a peaceful student anti-war protest, died Dec. 20, 2020, following a short illness. He was 71.
For 50 years, Canfora was a tireless advocate for the four students killed that day – Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder – and the nine wounded.
Canfora, a 1972 alumnus, devoted his life to the role of May 4 activist, spending decades researching the day’s events, which lead to his uncovering, in 2007, digital audio proof in the May 4 archives at Yale University, revealing how a guardsman had shouted the verbal command to “fire” on the students. The discovery of the audio, Canfora said at the time, meant that no one could ever try to defend the actions of the guard, shooting unarmed students in broad daylight.
Unlike many who were wounded on May 4, Canfora was actively participating in the anti-war protest when he was shot. As a 20-year-old sophomore, Canfora can be seen in photos of the day waving a black flag at the rally. He chose black because just a week earlier, he had attended the funeral of childhood friend killed in Vietnam.
At the time of Canfora’s passing, Kent State President Todd Diacon noted how Canfora’s legacy will never fade at the university, just as Canfora never allowed those killed and injured on May 4, 1970, to be forgotten.
“Alan was tireless and fearless in his search for the truth of what really happened on May 4, 1970. He made a difference, and he will be missed,” Diacon said.
Canfora and injured students Thomas Grace, his college roommate, and Robert Stamps formed the May 4 Task Force to ensure that May 4 was commemorated every year. Keeping the memory of May 4 alive, Canfora had said, was a duty and a privilege.
The university’s 51st commemoration of the shootings will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual commemoration will take place at noon on May 4. It will include the dedication of markers on campus bearing the names of the nine wounded students. The markers are placed in the spots were the injured were standing when they were shot and note the distance of how far the students were from the troops.
The markers were one of the last May 4 projects on which Canfora worked.
In a February 2020 interview for a Kent State Magazine article on the 50th commemoration of May 4, Canfora discussed plans for the markers and noted that they were a ”thoughtful gesture by the university administration.”
“It’s meaningful to my blood brothers,” Canfora said, using the term he coined to refer the group of nine injured because they all shed their blood on May 4. “I am grateful and humbled that we will be recognized in history.”
In the same interview, Canfora spoke of his love for the university.
“It’s the finest university in Ohio,” he said. “Kent State had one bad day in 1970, and it has remained a specter, unfortunately.”
Canfora met his wife, Anastasia, at Kent State at a May 4 Task Force meeting in 2009. They married a year later and welcomed a daughter in 2015 and a son in 2020.
In the magazine interview, Canfora acknowledged how becoming a father late in life might mean he would not see his children grow up. He said he hoped his children would be proud that their father “fought the good fight” so that younger generations would more fully understand the significance of May 4.
He also said that he hoped that his children would one day attend Kent State.
The Alan Canfora Activism Scholarship celebrates Canfora's life, his Kent State experience and the importance of social justice and advocacy to society. This scholarship was established in December 2020 by Michael Solomon, a 1974 Kent State graduate, to honor Canfora’s life and legacy. This scholarship will provide up to two years of renewable support to Kent Campus incoming freshmen or transfer students who have a demonstrated financial need, a demonstrated interest in social justice and advocacy, and a demonstrated commitment of care and compassion toward others.
“What endeared Alan to me was his ability to look at things he did, and openly say how he had wished he had done them differently later in life,” Solomon said when announcing the scholarship. "His toughness was well-balanced with his thoughtfulness. It is Alan’s character and commitment that make him the best of what it means to be an Ohioan and an American.”
Donations to the scholarship fund in Canfora’s name may be made via the Alan Canfora Activism Scholarship page. (Read about the inaugural recipients of the Alan Canfora Activism Scholarship.) For more information about this year’s May 4 Commemoration, visit the May 4 51st Commemoration website.