Saturday, October 20, 2012

The May 4 Visitors Center: What Kent State Left Out

Two weeks ago, when I was in Kent, I  had lunch with my old friend Dean Kahler. Afterwards Dean was able to get me into the new May 4 Visitors Center, which did not officially open until today.

As I expected, the university did not acknowledge any of the controversies that dominated the headlines throughout the years. And it seemed to reduce the sustained miscarriage of justice to a mere footnote. The center was exactly what you would expect from a committee comprised of politically disparate people who were more interested in not offending anyone than in making any kind of statement or point.

By the same token, there was nothing to excite the visitors either. I was, however, astonished by the Center's 43-page pamphlet (This We Know) which is handed out to visitors. I was so angry about it that it has taken  me the past two weeks just to collect my thoughts.

The booklet was written by Carole Barbato, Laura Davis, and Mark Seeman, three of the professors who were instrumental in making the Center possible. In telling the story of May 1-4, 1970, the pamphlet cited every important study of the shootings expect mine. It was as if I disappeared. It did not cite any of the new evidence I uncovered, or mention any of my analyses of the evidence, or acknowledge any of my revelations about what happened behind the scenes.

Even worse, the professors deliberately excluded me from its "Recommended Reading" section. This despite the judgment of Choice magazine (which reviews books for university libraries) that I addressed "the major unresolved questions of who did what and why in a manner that brings more clarity to this controversial historical tragedy than any other work to date."

Of course, this was no oversight. If anyone doubted my long-held suspicions that Kent State's scholars were deliberately trying to erase me from the university's official history, this was the icing on the cake. One of the ironies, of course, is that more than two decades after the original publication of the book, I am still the only journalist who has actually done everything expected from scholars. I am still the only person who examined the complete evidentiary record, and I interviewed more than all the other authors combined, with the exception of James Michener, who had almost a dozen researchers working with me at the time.

Ironically, while the university treats me like this, I feel like I am always waiting for their scholars at the university to catch up to me. I have no doubt that  the reason they did not want anyone to discover my book is because I ridiculed their scholars and blew the whistle on the  shameless intellectual dishonesty of Jerry Lewis, their "go-to" guy when it comes to all things May 4th.

Tom Hayden later wrote that the center was a "memorial for activists," and I am sure certain professors tried to keep me invisible because I am an old-fashioned liberal, and my values are more conservative than their guardians of the memory of May 4. Unlike Laura Davis and the (former??) anarchists she relied on as her consultants for creating the Center (Tom Grace, for one), I am not the least bit interested in making excuses for the violence that occurred before the students were killed.  According to the Daily Kent Stater, Davis actually publicly defended that violence before she realized it was imprudent to say that out loud at Kent.

I do not subscribe to any of the big "White House-did-it theories," which usually are designed to deflect action from the students' own criminal act. The fact is that I am mostly interested in a good mystery, and cannot even understand why any grown-up would be interested in glorifying what Alan Canfora calls "our revolt."

I am, I hate to say it, not only the leading expert but persona non grata at Kent State. I have never been allowed to give a speech or share my findings with members of the Kent community. Of course, I am not alone in that. To date, no author of a book on May 4 has been heard from on campus since 1975 (going on 39 years). The university seems to be following the advice of the PR crisis management consultants it hired. No one gets to be heard or seen unless they are a booster of Kent State. Dean and I discussed this, and he made the remark that someone at the university was out to get me. I have known for years --that I've been a threat to some of the scholars and the propagandists still there. Sometimes it feels like every dunce at the university is in confederacy against me.

That, of course, was Jonathan Swift's definition of a genius, which I certainly am not. I am just an A minus to B student who was more resourceful, more curious, and, coming from a family of college professors, more of a scholar than anyone there.