May 4th is commonly referred to as Star Wars Day because it’s funny and cute to say “May the fourth be with you.” That’s cool, I love Star Wars, but I’m also a graduate of Kent State University in Kent, OH, and May 4th has an entirely different meaning to me because of that. It’s dark and heavy, but the events of that day must never be forgotten.
To explore this piece of history, we have to go back to the year 1970 (AKA 14 years before I was even born). The Vietnam war was in full swing, and college students had been protesting the war all over the country. After the Nixon administration announced plans to invade Cambodia, the protests grew much louder, especially on the Kent State campus. Large groups of protesters assembled all over campus to express their disapproval. After the ROTC building on campus was burned down, the governor sent troops from the National Guard to Kent to respond to the situation.
The protesters weren’t dissuaded, and they remained vigilant for yet more days. A group of students symbolically buried a copy of the Constitution beneath the victory bell on campus to express that they felt it was being murdered by the Nixon administration. Then, on May 4, in broad daylight, the Kent State campus changed forever.
It was a day like any other, at the time. Some groups of protesters were still peacefully assembled around the hill behind Taylor Hall and some students were milling about campus going to class. No one knows who gave the order to shoot to this day, but, suddenly, the National Guardsmen began firing into the crowd of unarmed college students. Four students were killed by the Guardsmen and 9 others were injured, one of whom was paralyzed and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
The entire country was disrupted by the Kent State massacre. People were (understandably) stunned that the American government would gun down unarmed students for merely exercising their right to free speech. Tyranny much?
The site of the Kent State massacre is now recognized as a historical place, and the university has set up a stone memorial for the victims as well as a museum in Taylor Hall and a walking tour of the surrounding campus where the events occurred. The etchings on the memorial read “Inquire. Learn. Reflect.” Those are still powerful words to me.
I didn’t exist in 1970, but those students were just like me. I walked the same campus they did, took classes in Taylor Hall, and took an interest in the future of my country and how I felt it should be. The government, apparently, felt that they should shut up and allow injustice to happen, and they were willing to massacre unarmed young people in order to achieve that.
There are many ideas we can take away from the Kent State massacre to this day, but the one that resonates with me the most is that we must always preserve our Constitutional rights, especially our right to free speech. Our country was founded on these principles and we must stay true to them. Even if you don’t like what someone is saying, you must respect their right to say it. That’s just part of being American.
My thoughts are back home in Ohio today as I know they are holding the annual commemoration ceremony on campus. I used to go every year before I moved to NC. Now I go visit the memorial anytime I happen to be in Ohio, and I’ve taken my husband there as well. Even though I wasn’t alive to witness the events of May 4, 1970, they have been a huge influence on me and my life, and we must not forget because those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Inquire. Learn. Reflect.