a reminder of
May 4 tragedy
Lewis collection will be
shown at KSU Library
By Chad Murphy
Record-Courier staff writer
Proclaiming “Stop Killing Youth,” “Remember Kent State 1970 - 1987” and “Flowers are Better than Bullets,” political and memorial buttons in a display case at Kent State University’s Main Library remind students and passers-by of the Vietnam War era and of May 4, 1970.
From the collection of Jerry M. Lewis, emeritus professor of sociology, the buttons are displayed for the 35th anniversary of the May 4, 1970 shootings, which killed four students and wounded nine. Lewis said he brings out the buttons every five years in memory of May 4 and to honor the slain students.
“I tried to pick the more interesting buttons and the ones that will generate conversation,” he said.
One of the three button collections features pictures of the four students killed - Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder - along with the well-known picture of Mary Vecchio kneeling over Miller’s body, screaming. Lewis said the other two collections displayed feature more general political buttons from the era and May 4 commemoration buttons from previous years.
Lewis said he came by his button collection, which now numbers in the thousands, during the Vietnam anti-war movement. Students would ask him to purchase a button, which he later displayed on a bulletin board.
Once, Lewis said a student asked him what a particular button, reading more today” meant. He told the student he didn’t know and began to look into the statement, which later found out referred to Vietnam casualties.
After that, collecting the buttons began to have more of an attraction for him.
“For me, the interesting part is doing the research and understanding what the meaning of the button is in the political context in which it occurred,” he said.
But the May 4 buttons need no research for historical context. Lewis was an eyewitness to the students protests and shootings by the Ohio National Guard. According to a paper he wrote to accompany the button display, Lewis was a faculty marshal on May 4, 1970.
Looking back, Lewis said what he remembers most were his dual responsibilities following the shootings, personal and public. One was to himself, to get himself through the shootings. The other was to the public, dealing with students, the media and others.
With an area of research being crowd behavior, May 4 gave Lewis another avenue of study to pursue. He said he’s grateful for the cathartic effects of being able to write about what happened.
“I always felt that I was lucky that I could write about these things,” he said.
As another faculty member at KSU on May 4, 1970, Honors College Dean Larry Andrews, also chair of this year’s Symposium on Democracy planning committee, said the events had a strong impact on him.
He established a class on May 4 in the honors program and taught students about the events in the 1970s and s, because he believes “the university needs to embrace it’s history,” Andrews said.
Andrews said he remembers how students protesting the war began to protest the National Guard’s presence on campus. He also remembers the animosity between the university and Kent. He said as a Kent resident as well as a KSU faculty member, he found that difficult to deal with.
“I felt a lot of people overreacted to student protests,” Andrews said.
Lewis said May 4 is a very important part of KSU’s culture, a fact he says is confirmed by the continued popularity of the annual commemoration.
He’s enjoyed how the commemoration’s been handled in recent years, oriented to remembering the May 4 and the students killed. Lewis said in years past, people have used May 4 to argue their own political positions, something he doesn’t like.
And if the commemoration opens old wounds, so be it, Lewis said. He equated healing with forgetting, and said May 4, like the Holocaust or the Lincoln assassination, is something that should never be forgotten.
“I don’t want people to forget that the National Guard fired into an unarmed crowd,” he said.
For Sarah Lund-Goldstein, co-chair of the May 4 Task Force this year, the 35th anniversary is about preserving history. She said it’s getting to the point where many of the stories about May 4 are starting to disappear, mostly due to key players either moving away or dying.
The annual silent candlelight march will be held at 11 p.m. Tuesday, starting from the Victory Bell on the KSU Commons. Led by Jerry M. Lewis, emeritus professor of sociology, the march will be about 1.3 miles long.
Following the May 4 commemoration on Wednesday, the Portage Community Peace Coalition and Kent State Anti-War Committee are sponsoring a march and rally. The march will begin at about 3:30 p.m., half an hour after the commemoration is expected to wrap up, on the KSU Commons.
The march will travel to the Prentice Hall parking lot and stop in front of Terrace Hall for a demonstration outside the ROTC offices. After that, the march will head to the gazebo at the intersection of Franklin and Main streets in downtown Kent for a speak out against the war.
In case of rain, the May 4 commemoration will be held in the Kent Student Center Ballroom, and the march will assemble in the student center plaza.
Phone: (330) 673-3491
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