Carol Meyer has returned to Kent State almost every May 4 to remember the tragic moments when National Guardsmen opened fire on campus 50 years ago.
The university canceled all official in-person events this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and asked visitors to reschedule plans to go to the site of the shooting.
But Meyer was among more than 50 people who still gathered on the campus commons Monday to witness the annual ringing of the Victory bell at 12:24 p.m., the moment when four students were killed and nine others injured.
“Technically, there is no event,” said Meyer, who drove 17 hours from his home in Florida for the unofficial commemoration. “There are very few of us. Obviously, not many people wanted to take the risk this year, but I knew I had to be here.”
The night prior, about 20 people gathered for the candlelight march at 11 p.m. at the site where the shootings happened on May 4, 1970.
The march ended at the parking lot near Taylor Hall, where Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were killed. As is tradition, community members silently sat on the markers signifying where the four students died.
Typically, the vigil observers rotate on 30-minute shifts, but this year most observers had been there all night due to lack of participation.
Meyer was at the site since 11 p.m. Sunday and stayed until after the bell was rung Monday afternoon.
“This has to happen,” he said. “It’s a tradition that must go on.”
He was joined by Rainbow Bear, who started coming to Kent State in 1977 for the Tent City, a protest against the building of the gym annex on the shooting site.
The annex is still a point of contention. On Monday morning, the windows were spray painted with a demand for Kent State President Todd Diacon to move the gym.
Early Monday morning, the site was quiet, with only a few people walking around Taylor Hall.
One of the earlier visitors was Kent State junior and political science major Malania Birney, who took the course “May 4, 1970 and Its Aftermath,” taught by Karen Cunningham this semester. Birney brought four bouquets of flowers to place at each of the four markers.
“After the course, I felt really connected to the students who were here, especially those who were wounded because we got to hear their stories this semester,” Birney said. “They were our age and stood up for what they thought was right and they were fearless. It makes me proud to be part of a university with a social justice background. This was one of the largest student protests at the time and it completely changed the course of history. I’m proud to be a part of that.”
By 11:30 a.m., dozens were gathered at the site, including 13-year-old Brody Alexander, who came from Westerville near Columbus to play “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes.
A little after noon, the candlelight vigil participants began to move down the hill to the Victory Bell, where the student protest began on May 4, 1970.
This year, however, university personnel had roped off the bell to allow Jerry Lewis, a sociology professor on staff in 1970, to sit at the bell with his wife, Diane.
Several people participating in the candlelight vigil came into the roped area anyway as 50th Commemoration Project Manager Rod Flauhaus tried to stop them.
“This is happening,” Meyer said as they walked into the roped area.
Those participating in the vigil then placed their candles one the Victory Bell bench and left the roped area to continue watching the commemoration.
“We’re here to remember the fallen and wounded at Kent State on May 4 and 10 days later at Jackson State,” Lewis said to the crowd before ringing the bell 15 times
Following the ringing of the bell, many people, most of whom wore face masks, continued to congregate in the area, including Harold Greenberg, a graduate assistant in the journalism department on May 4, 1970, and the editor of the Kent Stater in 1968, and his wife Dr. Ellen Glickman, current director of the School of Health Sciences.
Dr. Lowell Zurbuch, a member of the 1970 faculty, also was at the site. In 1967, Zurbuch supervised the welding of the statue that now bears a bullet hole in it, and he witnessed the shooting from the former ROTC building.
After much of the crowd dispersed, Bill Arthrell of Cleveland Heights, who was indicted as part of the “Kent 25” for his involvement in the May 4 protest, buried a copy of the U.S. Constitution to protest both President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus and Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia.
“It’s May 4, and 50 years ago I was standing here protesting the war in Vietnam and invasion of Cambodia,” Arthrell said. “I had the trauma of my life as I was protesting. I saw the National Guard suddenly turn around in the same direction. That couldn’t have been spontaneous and they all fired at student protestors. I ran down Taylor hill and I was under what is now the practice football field.”
Overall, Flauhaus said he was pleased with how the 50th commemoration was able to adapt to current circumstances.
“In the world of the pandemic, we were still able to remember what happened 50 years ago and still honor those students who had lost their lives and were wounded. We wanted to show the world that we have not forgotten and still care. Given all that was going on in the world, we were able to do that in a very meaningful manner,” he said.