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Traditional Kent State, Jackson State Memorial Marks 50 Years

kent jackson plaque

SUNY Plattsburgh will hold its annual commemoration — this year marking the 50th anniversary — honoring the victims of the 1970 Kent State and Jackson State university shootings, Thursday, May 7 beginning at noon.

“SUNY Plattsburgh has never missed a year since 1971 holding a ceremony, and we should not allow this pandemic year to break our tradition,” said Bryan Hartman, vice president for enrollment and student success, who is a member of the Class of 1988.

In May 1970, four people were killed and nine were injured when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students who were protesting the Vietnam War and the military intrusion in Cambodia.

Just days later, on May 15 early in the morning, two students at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, were shot and killed and 12 were injured by police. The students had gathered to protest racism.

First Memorial at SUNY Plattsburgh

SUNY Plattsburgh’s first memorial was held in 1971 to commemorate the first anniversary of the shootings. The Student Association organized it and has continued to help ever since. On that day, led by student leaders, administrators and prominent local clergy, 200 people held a ceremony at the base of the Macdonough Monument in downtown Plattsburgh and then marched quietly down Cornelia Street to campus.

kent jackson state tree at kehoeThat march kicked off a “Festival of Life” that was held the following day. A spruce tree was planted in front of the Kehoe Administration Building and later, a plaque was placed in front of the tree, listing the names of those killed on the two campuses. That tree now towers over the Kehoe traffic circle.

“As a college, SUNY Plattsburgh believes we need to hold this memorial ceremony each year so that we do not forget the tragic events that took place on college campuses back in 1970,” Hartman said. “We believe that there are timeless lessons that we all need to be reminded of in hopes that this type of even does not happen again.

“At the forefront of these lessons is to remind us to resolve conflict in non-violent and peaceful ways. SUNY Plattsburgh has a deep tradition in valuing student voices, supporting and respecting civil disobedience on this campus.”

Ceremony Held via Zoom

As a result of COVID-19, the college’s 50th anniversary ceremony will be held via Zoom and will include remarks by Hartman, a slide show that includes a musical selection by the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir, and a panel discussion organized and moderated by Richard Aberle, adjunct lecturer in English. Aberle was instrumental in pulling this commemoration together.

“We’re honored to host a panel discussion with participants who were involved in student protests in 1970 and historians who continue to document the events of that spring,” Aberle said. Panelists include:

  • Robert Luckett, professor of history and director of the Margaret Walker Center for Civil Rights at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi
  • Beverly Wade Hogan, retired president of Tougaloo College in Mississippi and a student leader of the demonstrations at Mississippi Valley State University
  • Donald Cole, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Mississippi and one of the student leaders expelled from Ole Miss for leading the protests in 1970
  • Ralph Eubanks, professor of English, southern studies and the Honors College at Ole Miss and a contributor to The New Yorker, National Public Radio, The Washington Post and author of the memoir, “Ever is a Long Time: A Journey into Mississippi’s Dark Time
  • Katherine Aberle, graduate student at the University of Mississippi and documentary filmmaker whose documentary, “Black Power at Ole Miss,” premiered at the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Ole Miss demonstrations
  • Kenneth Mayfield, an attorney in Tupelo, Miss., who was arrested as a student leader at the February protests at the University of Mississippi. Suspended from Ole Miss, he transferred to Tougaloo College and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan.

‘Etched in our National Memory’

“The shootings at Kent State and Jackson State have been etched in our national memory, but those two events were only the most violent and tragic moments in an era of student activism and sometimes violent social unrest,” Aberle said.

To join the SUNY Plattsburgh 50th Commemoration of the Kent State and Jackson State shootings on Thursday, May 7 at noon, click the link or use the telephone numbers below:


  • Or iPhone one-tap: US: +19294362866,,96979721270#  or +13017158592,,96979721270#

Or telephone: Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 929 436 2866  or +1 301 715 8592  or +1 312 626 6799  or +1 346 248 7799  or +1 669 900 6833  or +1 253 215 8782, Webinar ID: 969 7972 1270.

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