May 4 Visitors Center at Kent State University

May 4 Visitors Center at Kent State University
For better or worse, Kent State will always be associated with the May 4, 1970 shootings that took four students’ lives and wounded nine others after a series of protests on campus in response to the escalating war in Vietnam. The May 4 Visitors Center opened more than four decades after the shootings. Located in Taylor Hall, the Visitors Center overlooks the Commons and the Victory Bell where the scene unfolded that day.

Although it is not very big, the museum packs a lot of information into three small galleries. The first gallery provides context for the May 4 shootings, highlighting the civil unrest of the 1960s. The exhibition discusses civil rights marches, the anti-war movement, Woodstock, and the protests that occurred throughout the decade. Three vintage television sets play original clips from the era, including comments from President Nixon and news reports of the time. A chart shows the draft lottery numbers assigned to young men based on their birthdays.

The second gallery focuses on May 4 itself. A 12-minute video outlines the events of the day from beginning to end, using photographs, audio clips, and film footage from that day. The amount of documentation is astounding, and creates a minute-by-minute record of what happened. The gallery features a large screen on one end, with a timeline of events on the flanking walls. Visitors will instantly recognize the image of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the lifeless body of her friend Jeffrey Miller, which has become the iconic image of May 4.

As you exit the middle gallery, a map highlights protests on other college campus across the country in response to what happened on May 4. A selection of newspaper clippings, editorials, and letters sent to the victims or their families examines the immediate aftermath. In one particularly graphic photo, blood flows like a river from a student’s gunshot wound.

The final gallery explores the impact of the May 4 shootings. Panels discuss lowering the voting age to 18, the shooting’s role in changing public opinion about the war in Vietnam, and a new policy requiring non-lethal weapons to be used at incidents of campus unrest.

With a wall of windows overlooking the Commons and Victory Bell, the final gallery also includes small video stations with handheld audio wands that allow visitors to watch speeches and interviews from the victims’ parents from then and now, contemporary news clips, recollections from those who were wounded, and modern speakers reflecting on the tragedy. The program also features interview clips with members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, who immortalized May 4 in their song “Ohio.”

The May 4 Visitors Center includes a Walking Tour and a separate outdoor Memorial. A map is available inside the Museum. You can also check out an iPod loaded with a documentary that corresponds with the walking tour markers. IPods are available at the Museum or at the campus library.

There is no charge to visit the May 4 Visitors Center. If you read all of the exhibition text and take advantage of all of the audio/visual components, it will take you more than an hour to view the entire museum.

The May 4 Visitors Center was funded in part through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Walking Tour trail markers were funded in part through a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council. The May 4 site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

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