Opinion: It's time for Yale's Kent State Collection to go to Kent State

A photograph taken by Michael Stein on May 4, 1970, on the campus of Kent State University, the day four students were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard. Stein, who went on to become an art professor at Housatonic Community College, in Bridgeport, was a student at Kent State.

A photograph taken by Michael Stein on May 4, 1970, on the campus of Kent State University, the day four students were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard. Stein, who went on to become an art professor at Housatonic Community College, in Bridgeport, was a student at Kent State.

Photograph courtesy of Michael Stein

At age 76, I want to do Kent State Library a big favor before I die. I want to suggest the idea of giving Yale’s “Kent State Collection” to Kent State Library where it belongs, even though it has been at Yale since 1977.

I helped put it at Yale in 1977 when Kent State wouldn’t in writing promise Peter Davies, the author of the book “The Truth about Kent State: A Challenge to the American Conscience” to keep his manuscript and 60 boxes of research from being released as evidence in litigation without his prior permission.

Yale would allow Davies to maintain control over his manuscript and papers so I arranged as a divinity student at Yale for them to become “The Kent State Collection” at the Manuscript and Archives Division of Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library in 1977.

They have sat there uneventfully ever since with one exception: In 2006, Yale’s Kent State Collection created a national news item when one of the students wounded in the May 4, 1970, shooting by Ohio National Guardsmen, Alan Canfora, traveled to Yale and discovered among the archive the only tape recording of the actual volley of gunfire which occurred on May 4, 1970 when Ohio National Guardsmen fired their M-1 rifles into a student demonstration killing four and wounding nine.

With enhanced digital techniques Alan Canfora claimed a command to fire can be heard on that tape.

At the time of that discovery I thought, “Well, Yale’s Kent archive has done its job. It kept evidence from getting lost. It’s earned its keep.”

Since the 17 acres of Kent State’s Blanket Hill where the shootings occurred 51 years ago is now officially a national historic landmark, I think it is time to consolidate all documents related to the Kent State shootings at Kent State Library even though they have been slow at times to recognize their own obligation to history.

Kent State Library is called to be not only the collector and preserver of documents related to a major event in American history, but as a participant in that event by their own reluctance to assume scholarly leadership early on, they have a special obligation not to drag their feet in studying their own positive or negative role as a research organ.

This reluctance seems to have continued even up to the year 2000 when the Kent State Library ignored the email offer of Janice Reinstein Stone, roommate of Sandy Scheuer, who was killed in the gunfire. Ms. Stone’s documentation certified the previously unrecognized fact that Sandy Scheuer knew Jeffrey Miller, one of the other fatalities at Kent State. Finally in 2007, Ms. Stone was satisfied that Kent State library acknowledged and understood the significance of her document.

So I forgive Kent State Library. It’s been in an impossible bind since May 4, 1970. It is funded by the state of Ohio which also funds the Ohio National Guard. How can the library collect evidence that its funding agency might want to forget forever?

I ask Yale in 2021 to negotiate the donation of its Kent State Collection to Kent State Library. I ask as the person who negotiated donation of that very collection to Yale in 1977.

I think it will help Kent State live up to history after 51 years to be the center of research into itself, no matter how embarrassing that research might turn out to be.

Paul Keane co-founded in 1977 “The Kent State Collection” at Yale University.