Spring 1970: A season of protests

Students' opposition to the Vietnam War,
Kent State killings and University policies prompted riots.

By Stephanie Moletti
DE Assignments Editor

In spring 1970, many SIUC students actively participated in demonstrations and riots with the most violent occurring in May.

The riots were brought on by the United States invasion of Cambodia and the May 4 killing of four students by National Guardsmen during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University in Ohio.

These two events led to demonstrations, protests and rallies across the country. But the events in Carbondale became known to many as the "Days of May," and eventually led to the closing of campus.

The SIU Student Senate unanimously voted May 5 to boycott classes beginning at noon on May 6 and lasting indefinitely in protest of the Vietnam War and the students killed at Kent State.

Chancellor Robert W. MacVicar canceled classes for a mourning period for the Kent State killings.

The demonstrations began early in the day May 6 with speeches in front of Morris Library.

Demonstrators marched through Lawson Hall and Wham disrupting classes.

Streets were blocked by crowds at University and Grand Avenues. Bricks and lumber were taken from the rubble of Old Main, which burned down in June 1969, as ammunition for the demonstrators.

Protesters make demands

Demonstrators attempted to rush the Bursar"s office in Woody Hall, then moved back to Wheeler where windows were broken while students ransacked the building.

Students occupied Wheeler Hall and wrote up their demands which included:


Early evening May 6 students broke into Woody and ransacked offices housing the Vietnamese Studies Center in the south and east wings and broke half the windows out before police cleared the building.

Late in the day, demonstrators moved to South Illinois Avenue and broke windows in several businesses including 710 Book Store.

The University reported more than $13,500 in damages to campus buildings as a result of the May 6 demonstrations. Sixteen arrests were made after the day"s disorder.

Erwin Atwood, an SIUC journalism professor since 1967, said it was just plain terrorism on campus by the people involved.

"Things were chaotic," he said. "There was a tremendous amount of damage done. All in the interest of getting even for the evils of the Vietnam War."

Atwood said one could say there was no evidence of intelligent behavior on either side.

He said there were a lot of young non-students living on the fringes of campus participating in the demonstrations, as well as some faculty members.

Atwood said college students were some of the last to get involved in the anti-war movement, partially because they lost their draft deferments.

"It was all gut reaction, a lot more than Kent State was involved," he said.

Campus dissatisfaction with SIUC President Delyte Morris also contributed to the unrest, according to Atwood. He said many felt Morris acted too much like a dictator.

"There were also a number of old cronies (in the central administration), good old Southern Illinois boys who made good and had a closed mind set," he said.

The curfew question

Many on campus at the time believed that aside from Kent State and Cambodia, the unrest began with protests of women"s hours.

Doug Diggle, manager of Old Town Liquors and 1971 SIUC graduate, said women"s hours in residence halls are what really started all the unrest on campus.

Female SIUC students had to be in the residence halls at a certain time each night, while male students did not have hours. There were several demonstrations and sit-ins in protest of the policy.

"It branched out to a mish-mosh of causes," he said.

Allan H. Keith, an SIUC graduate student in 1969 and "70, agreed that women"s hours created a tremendous unrest within the student population.

"There were many issues, it was a pretty emotional time," he said. "Of course things obviously got out of hand."

"We were forced to be an adversary"

As a result of the May 6 violence, National Guardsmen supplemented SIU police on three-man patrols across campus.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 guardsmen from across the state were mobilized and stationed in Carbondale.

Atwood said demonstrators seemed to respect the guardsmen more than the police.

Mike Pollock, assistant manager of 710 Book Store and a 1971 SIUC graduate, was a member of the National Guard on duty in Carbondale.

"I was a college student at the time - most of the guys were," Pollock said.

"We were really on the students" side and we were forced to be an adversary."

Pollock said the purpose of the National Guard was to be a show of force and they were not issued ammunition. However, the officers were armed with tear gas canisters.

May 7 demonstrations began outside Morris Library with a rally and student speeches.

Students marched down South Illinois Avenue to the intersection at Main Street. Some of the sit-down demonstrators passed bottles of wine through the crowd. Observers reported the odor of marijuana in the air and several joints were seen passed among the demonstrators.

On May 7, approximately 2,500 students blocked the intersection of Main Street and South Illinois Avenue for more than two hours before state police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

More than 2,500 students blocked the intersection for two hours during the night while about 75 people sat in the railroad tracks halting two trains before city and state police could disperse them.

Diggle said this was the most famous of the demonstrations that occurred in Carbondale.

He said local police agreed to let the students occupy the intersection and were rerouting traffic to avoid the area, but things got out of hand when the demonstrators attempted to block the railroad tracks.

Pollock said the students were faced with police lines on three sides while occupying the intersection. He was stationed on University Avenue at the north end of South Illinois Avenue to herd the crowd down University.

"(Security officers) tried to push them back to the dorms," Pollock said. "When (the students) saw us they started to panic, because basically at that time they were surrounded. That"s when they became more violent."

There were 68 arrests made on May 7 in connection with the demonstrations and curfew violations.

Carbondale Mayor David Keene called for a 7:30 p.m. curfew in the city May 7 to last indefinitely and MacVicar extended the curfew to campus.

Pollock said state police and guardsmen enclosed Brush Towers to enforce curfew with someone stationed at two-foot intervals.

"They patrolled the streets with jeeps and other trucks," he said. "Our job was basically to just stand there and take the brunt of physical and verbal abuse."

He said students spat on them and threw rocks and bottles.

"It was a sad situation. I didn"t want to be there and neither did most of the guys with me," Pollock said. "I think there were good people on both sides. It was just a few bad people, I don"t think most of the students had a violent intent."

Relative calm returned to the city May 8 with the imposing presence of local and state police and the National Guard. However, sporadic outbreaks of vandalism and tear gassing continued.

The city imposed a ban on gatherings of five or more people, May 8.

Diggle, a bartender at the time at PK"s, said a tear gas bomb was thrown in through a back window of the bar.

"Luckily no one got hurt," he said. "We helped everybody out both doors. There was a lot of choking and coughing."

Diggle said, "The city, SIU police and National Guard were pretty cool, but the state police were out to kick ass."

Keith said the police overreaction to the May situation was bad.

"Students were temporarily radicalized due to the state police overreaction," he said. "There were many reports of tear gassing of some classes while in session. It seemed to be an effort to terrorize the whole campus into submission."

On May 12, 5,000 demonstrators marched peacefully down South Illinois Avenue until vandalism erupted and the announcement was made that the University was closed indefinitely.

Albert B. Mifflin, retired director of the SIUC publishing office, said he believes the climax came when students broke into Morris" office to confront him.

"The next day he held a brief and terse press conference," he said. "He said something like, 'Last night some hooligans broke into my office, those identified will be dealt with and some will be expelled. End of conference.'"

Mifflin said the decision was made to close the University not long after the confrontation.

MacVicar announced that the University would be closed May 12. The last day of classes was Friday May 15.

"There were all kinds of prices to pay, but (Morris) saw personally the mood and the temper and he saw the need to pull the plug," Mifflin said. Diggle said not many students were attending classes because many were more interested in what was taking place outside.

Diggle, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, worked with legal aid to ensure those arrested were treated fairly in jail.

"Jackson County was not bad, but a lot of the surrounding counties had the attitude that Œthese hippie students need to be taken care of," he said.

By the end of the May demonstrations, windows were broken out of 78 businesses causing more than $75,000 in damages. The University reported $25,525 in damages to the campus as a result of the demonstrations.

Approximately 424 arrests were made before the University was closed.

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