Kent St. to open visitors center on 1970 shootings

KENT, Ohio - The historical significance of the 1970 shootings on the Kent State University that left four students dead and nine wounded will be chronicled in a visitors center opening on the northeast Ohio campus.

Kent State was the scene of deadly gunfire on May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam War. The shooting site by the university's Taylor Hall already has included a memorial, a walking tour and markers where the four students died.

The new 1,900-square-foot May 4 Visitors Center that officially opens Saturday on the ground floor of the former student newspaper office in Taylor Hall was funded by $1.1 million in donations from veterans groups, the public, the university and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Visitors will be able to "better understand the events of that day set against the political and cultural changes of the times," university President Lester Lefton said in a statement.

Dean Kahler, paralyzed from the waist down by a guardsman's bullet that day, said he remembers a time when he didn't feel welcome on campus and officials didn't to want to talk about what happened.

One photo in the new center shows Kahler on the ground just seconds after the shooting.

"I didn't want to get too close," he told the Akron Beacon Journal. "Those people had rifles."

The center includes three galleries that cover the social movements of the 1960s, the Vietnam War and the shootings and their aftermath. It also includes a map showing the 132 college campuses where protests occurred between April 30 and May 4 after President Richard Nixon announced an escalation of the war. A timeline and a short film help recreate the May 4 events.

Jerry Lewis, a sociology professor who witnessed the shootings and has researched and lectured about May 4, told The Plain Dealer that the center is opening at the right time.

"It took time to reflect on it and deal with it," Lewis, 76, said.

He said students moving through the center are often laughing at first and then get quiet as they move into the room about May 4.

"Then they get very, very quiet," he said.

Carole Barbato, a communications studies professor at Kent State's East Liverpool campus, was a student on campus in 1970 and co-teaches the university's May 4 course.

Students in that course often ask why students didn't leave when they were told to go that day, Barbato told the Cleveland newspaper.

"You have to understand the social movement at the time when you believed you could change the world," Barbato said.

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