The site where Jeffrey Miller and three other students died is now marked by six lighted poles

In February, 2010 the site of the Kent State shootings in 1970, was added to the national register of historic places.

Normally a listing does not occur until at least 50 years have passed since the event took place. The Kent State site, however, was listed after just 40 years.

The reason for this is that the officials doing the evaluation of the application thought that the events of May 4, 1970 - most of which took place on the university's commons area - were so important that an early listing was clearly justified.



  The day the war came home
  Why remember May 4, 1970?
  In my view: the Kent State University shootings
  In video: Remembering the campus killings

On May 4, 1970, after four days of protests, Kent State University received international attention when the protest on campus ended in tragedy.

Members of the Ohio National Guard shot between 61 and 67 bullets over 13 seconds, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students.

These events, along with the killings at Jackson State, stimulated the first and only national college and university student strike in US history. They also led to several legal rulings about the use of deadly force against protesting students.

The listed site is 17.24 acres in the centre of the Kent State University campus and includes several important areas associated with the events of that day.

They are the commons, Blanket Hill, and the Prentice Hall parking lot where the four students died.

In the words of a press release from Kent State University, the May 4 site "is an area within which the Ohio National Guard, student protestors and an active audience of observers ... ebbed and flowed across a central portion of the campus, beginning at approximately 11.00 am and ending at approximately 1.30 pm, May 4, 1970".


Professor Jerry M. Lewis was a faculty marshal when the shootings took place on May 4, 1970

So, why is the listing on the National Register important?

First, and perhaps foremost, it ensures that the site where the four students who died - Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer - will always be remembered.

Currently the area where they fell is marked by six lighted poles which help us to honour and remember our fallen students as well as the nine wounded.

Secondly, to date, there have been 27 books and ten television documentaries that have dealt with the sociological, legal and political aspects of that day. This is likely to continue. The protection of the integrity of the site will help writers and producers accurately portray what happened on May 4 as they tell the story of that tragedy.

One important aspect of such research is the impact those events - and the college student movement in general - had on the Vietnam war.

Many have suggested that the famous photograph by John Filo of Mary Vecchio screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller brought the war home to the US.

It has even been suggested that this photograph perhaps more than any other image captured the horror and tragedy of the Vietnam war.

'Inquire, learn, reflect'

Thirdly, as an educational institution, Kent State University has a responsibility to teach about the events of May 4.

The main May 4 memorial challenges people with the prominently displayed words "inquire, learn, reflect".

The university has met the challenges of these ideas in several ways.

It has, for example, a course entitled "May 4 and its aftermath" that is regularly taught to undergraduates.

There is also an archive of photographs and text that is part of the library's special collection and which can be used by writers and students from all over the world.

On May 3, 2010 the university will dedicate seven markers that explain through text and photographs the events of May 4 so that visitors can trace the steps of history. 

The protection of the May 4 site will facilitate the teaching of future generations about the events of that day and its aftermath. 

Finally, one of the essential points of a democracy, and perhaps the most important one, is the issue of how much force a government can use against its people.

The shootings at Kent State University bring this question to the forefront and the protection of the May 4 site is essential to this discussion.

Jerry M. Lewis is a Professor Emeritus of Sociology. As a faculty marshal on May 4, 1970 he witnessed the shootings by the Ohio National Guard. With Thomas R. Hensley, he is co-editor of Kent State and May 4: A social science perspective 3rd edition, Kent State University Press.

Source: Al Jazeera