Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Smoke and Fire: Political and Civil Unrest at the University

May 5th, 2015

By 1969 American society was increasingly uncivil and the University of Kansas was facing a crisis. The struggle for civil rights and racial equality continued, but was joined by a radicalized white youth. They did not believe that American involvement in the Vietnam War was justifiable and had no interest in being drafted. Tension would remain high throughout the year, culminating in the so-called “Days of Rage” that included racial conflicts, student protests, bomb threats, arson, and sniper fire. This second and final part in a series about two of the most tumultuous years for the University outlines the events from May 1969 to May 1970.

May 9, 1969: Protest Cancels ROTC Review

The annual Chancellor’s ROTC Review was cancelled when 200 protesters broke down the gate into Memorial Stadium. They began by reading the names of the 33,379 servicemen and women killed in Vietnam to date and then joined together on the field and started a sit-in, chanting and waving signs against the ROTC. Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe decided the review could not be accomplished in such circumstances and wanted to avoid violence from the agitated crowd. The protest was organized by KU Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Afterward, 33 of 71 identified protestors were suspended for one semester by KU in confidential hearings. The event left Wescoe visibly drained and worried about what lay ahead; his fears would not be unfounded.

 

Photograph of ROTC demonstration in front of Strong Hall, May 1969

The group of protestors rallies in front of Strong Hall before their disruption
of the ROTC Review, May 1969. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/18 1969: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Photograph of a ROTC demonstration, May 9, 1969

Protestors during the ROTC Review at Memorial Stadium, May 9, 1969.
ROTC members stand on the track in the background. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/18 1969: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

October 15, 1969: National Vietnam Moratorium Day

More than 3,500 KU students, faculty, and locals paraded on Memorial Drive and Jayhawk Boulevard in protest of the Vietnam War. Later, about 150 people gathered in front of Strong Hall in a silent vigil held behind rows of white crosses. The day also included four KU professors making their case against the war inside Hoch Auditorium, attended by 3,000 students. Similar rallies and gatherings were happening all over the country, pressuring President Nixon to change policy in the Vietnam War.

Photograph of protestors lined up behind white crosses, October 15, 1969

Protestors lined up behind white crosses on the lawn of Strong Hall on
National Vietnam Moratorium Day, October 15, 1969. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/18 1969: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click images to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Photograph of two men silently protesting on campus, October 15, 1969

Two men silently protesting on campus,
National Vietnam Moratorium Day, October 15, 1969.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/18 1969:
Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

February 23, 1970: University Daily Kansan dumped into Potter Lake

In retaliation for the University printers’ decision to no longer print the Black Student Union’s (BSU) Harambee, the group gathered 6,000 copies of the UDK and tossed them into Potter Lake on campus. Harambee celebrated black culture and encouraged black solidarity. It ran information for a scholarship program established by BSU but also included Black Power Movement ideology, like the need for oppressed people to arm themselves to achieve freedom. The reaction from some white groups deemed the material obscene and inflammatory, leading to the printers’ decision to discontinue its service.

Photograph of men pulling copies of the University Daily Kansan out of Potter Pond, February 23, 1970

Photograph of men pulling copies of the University Daily Kansan out of Potter Pond, February 23, 1970

Black Student Union Protest, men pulling copies of the University Daily Kansan
out of Potter Pond, February 23, 1970. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/18 1970: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

February 26, 1970: Black Student Union Protest

The BSU presented a list of demands calling for more black faculty members and students and the creation of a black studies program. The timetable for the demands was deemed unrealistic by Chancellor Chalmers, but an African Studies program would be created later in the year.

April 20, 1970: Arson Fire at Memorial Union

The culminating act in a day of mayhem and a week of civil disorder on the KU campus, a period often referred to as the “Days of Rage,” was the April 20, 1970, fire at the Kansas Union. Eventually deemed arson, the fire caused nearly a million dollars in damage and took place against the backdrop of a nation in turmoil over the Vietnam War and racial unrest in a college town considered a “hot bed” of political activism and protest.

Photograph of the Memorial Union fire, 1970

Memorial Union fire, 1970. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/22/54/f 1970: Campus Buildings: Memorial Union (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Photograph of the Memorial Union fire, exterior damage, 1970

Memorial Union fire, exterior damage, 1970. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/22/54/f 1970: Campus Buildings: Memorial Union (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Photograph of Memorial Union fire, interior damage, 1970

Memorial Union fire, interior damage, 1970. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/22/54/i 1970: Campus Buildings: Memorial Union (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

May 5-8, 1970

The month of May witnessed the greatest display of campus dissent and disorder. As the end of the 1970 school year approached, KU protesters urged fellow students to go on strike. After the US invasion of Cambodia and four student deaths at Kent State, the campus was on high alert.

May 5: A coffin-bearing crowd of 500 marches against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State massacre.

May 6: ROTC Review was cancelled for the second straight year as a crowd of 1,000 rallies against the group on campus. About 200 re-grouped and damaged the Military Science Building on campus.

Photograph of the Military Science Building, damage from student protests, May 7, 1970

Military Science Building, damage from student protests, May 7, 1970. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/18 1970: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

May 8: Chancellor E. Laurence Chalmers held an Alternative Convocation attended by 12,000 and allowed students to choose between finishing the semester in classes or completing the semester early and taking part in some political activity of their choice. Antiwar activists were upset the University did not take an official stand against the war and close down. Conservative politicians, regents, and alumni thought the Chancellor caved in to student radicals.

Photograph of Day of Alternatives, Chancellor Chalmers with students, May 8, 1970

Chancellor Chalmers with students at Memorial Stadium for the
Alternative Convocation, May 8, 1970. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/18 1970: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Photograph of Day of Alternatives, Chancellor Chalmers addressing students, May 8, 1970

Day of Alternatives, Chancellor Chalmers addressing students at Memorial Stadium, May 8, 1970.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/18 1970: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

JoJo Palko
University Archives Intern

“We’re all going to jail, to jail”: The University and Civil Rights in 1965

March 23rd, 2015

The 1960s were an iconic time in the United States, marked by social activism and cultural conflict. Lawrence was no exception, and the University of Kansas also experienced civil unrest throughout the decade. This is the first in a two-part series about two very tumultuous years for the university. The year 1965 saw a sit-in at Chancellor Wescoe’s office in Strong Hall. While it was perhaps the most well-known of the protests that year, the demonstration was just one of many to thrust students against authority, inequality, and war. What follows is a timeline of some of the events from that year.

Photograph of a group of Vietnam protestors in downtown Lawrence, 1965 February 21

Group of Vietnam protestors in downtown Lawrence, February 21, 1965.
Lawrence Journal-World Photo Collection, University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG LJW 71/18 1965: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge.

February 24: Civil Rights Housing Picket
Approximately thirty-five members of the Civil Rights Council (CRC) staged a picket just before a speech by noted civil libertarian Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Picketers were not against Douglas but were opposed to KU’s complicity in housing discrimination. Douglas spoke to 2,000 in Hoch Auditorium on the role of international law in the nuclear age.

Photograph of Justice William O. Douglas speaking to the crowd inside Hoch Auditorium, 1965 February 24

Justice William O. Douglas speaking to the crowd at Hoch Auditorium, February 24,1965.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/19 Douglas, William O.:
University General: Visitors (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

March 8-9: Fair Housing Sit-In and March
150 members of CRC, both black and white students, gathered in the corridor outside of Chancellor Wescoe’s office the morning of March 8th. The hope was to bring attention to the administration’s unspoken approval of discrimination in campus housing and approved organizations, like fraternities and sororities. The group came with a list of seven demands that the students wanted Wescoe to approve immediately. They included the abolishment of racially discriminatory practices of sororities and fraternities; a rule that the University Daily Kansan could no longer publish advertisements of racially discriminatory landlords and/or organizations; and the formation of a committee of students, faculty members, and administrators to resolve such grievances on campus.

Protestors came and went throughout the day, but as the doors were to be locked to the Chancellor’s suite, 110 of the participants refused to leave. Those that remained were arrested by Lawrence police and taken to county and city jails where they were charged with disturbing the peace and then released on bond. While Lawrence was not the center of the national civil rights movement, those 110 protestors arrested was the largest number besides a demonstration led by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama. That night around 400 conducted a peaceful candlelight march near the Chancellor’s residence, singing “We Shall Overcome.”

The following day, the demonstrators returned with signs and stood in front of Strong Hall. Wescoe met with representatives from several groups and ultimately met the protesters’ demands. “The 1965 demonstration was perhaps the most successful civil rights protest ever in Lawrence,” said noted Lawrence historian, Rusty L. Monhollon. It did not fix all of the issues immediately, but it was the start of student equality.

Photograph of the civil rights sit-in protest in Strong Hall, 1965

Civil rights sit-in protest in Strong Hall, 1965. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/18 1965: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

March 17: Blood Splashed on ROTC Posters
Charles Hook, president of the University’s Student Peace Union (SPU), slashed his left wrist and spattered his blood on a U.S. Navy bulletin board in the hallway of the Military Science Building on campus. It was a protest against U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam. Hook said the action was “purely spontaneous and an individual gesture” and intended to make the ROTC think about the consequences of their training. United States action in Vietnam would be the cause of several protests on campus and across the country during this time.

March 22-26: Vietnam Vigil at KU
Monday evening began a picket-vigil at the KU Military Science Building. Once again, Charles Hook led the demonstration against U.S. policy in Vietnam and military methods of accomplishing goals. The SPU would have at least one member stand vigil throughout the next several days and nights.

April 28: Park Plaza Fair Housing Picket
Members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and CRC picketed the office of Park Plaza South apartments in Lawrence for not allowing two African American students to rent from them. Led by KU professor Mildred Dickeman, a member of CORE, the picketers stand outside the office from 9 am to 5 pm demanding that the apartment complex implement a non-discriminatory policy.

May 11: Edward Teller H-Bomb Protest
Dr. Edward Teller was a University of California physicist widely regarded as “the father of the hydrogen bomb.” His speech discussed “The Responsibility of the Scientist” and the effects of nuclear war. Dr. Teller’s speech was picketed by twelve representatives of SPU at KU. They stood outside Hoch Auditorium and carried signs that said “Dr. Strange Teller?” and “Bombs for Peace?”

May 21: Third ROTC Review Picket
A group of twenty people representing the SPU picketed the annual ROTC Review in Memorial Stadium. They carried signs reading “The U.S. Talks Peace But Drops Bombs,” “Voluntary ROTC Is a Vote for War,” and “Do We Want Peace in Vietnam or a Piece of Vietnam?” According to Charles Hook, the group hoped to influence some of the cadets to drop out of the ROTC program. Two of the men wore suits and several others wore sports shirts with ties. They marched around the football field during the event. The ROTC Reviews were a popular event to picket and protest during the 1960s and into the 1970s.

Image of a flyer outlining the Student Peace Union's agenda and itinerary for the ROTC Review, undated

Flyer outlining the Student Peace Union’s agenda and itinerary for the ROTC Review, undated.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 67/38 Student Peace Union Records.
Click image to enlarge.

September 22: KU Committee to End War in Vietnam forms
The purpose of the committee was “to provide a nucleus for the channeling of student and faculty opposition to the U.S. policies in Vietnam.” Led by Errol Harris, professor of philosophy, the group planned to focus on educational programs like teach-ins and inviting well-known speakers to campus. One member stated that it is the responsibility of students to inform themselves about a situation for which they may be called upon to give their lives. This attitude would continue at KU for several years as the conflict in Vietnam escalated.

Photograph of Vietnam protestors with signs in front of a store on Massachusetts Street, 1965

Vietnam protestors with signs in front of a store on Massachusetts Street, October 16, 1965.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/18 1965: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

December 6: General Taylor/Vietnam Demonstration
General Maxwell Taylor, former ambassador to South Vietnam, appeared for a press conference in the Regents Room of Strong Hall and then delivered a forty-five-minute talk in Hoch Auditorium. A capacity crowd of about 4,000 people attend the speech. Two different groups demonstrated in front of Hoch to protest certain aspects of the war in Vietnam. One was a silent vigil sponsored by the KU-Vietnam Committee and the other was a vocal protest sponsored by The United Campus Christ Fellowship.

Photograph of protests in advance of Maxwell Taylor's speech, 1965 December 5

Protests in advance of Maxwell Taylor’s speech, December 5, 1965.
Lawrence Journal-World Photo Collection, University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG LJW 71/18 1965: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos).
Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of General Maxwell Taylor speaking inside Hoch Auditorium, 1965 December 6

General Maxwell Taylor speaking inside Hoch Auditorium on December 6, 1965.
Lawrence Journal-World Photo Collection, University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG LJW 0/19 Taylor, Maxwell: University General: Visitors (Photos).
Click image to enlarge.

JoJo Palko
University Archives Intern

“Students Take News in Grim Disbelief”

November 22nd, 2013

“The President is Dead” was the oversize headline on the front page of the University Daily Kansan on Friday, November 22, 1963. As the nation and world commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, here is a glimpse at how the KU campus community reacted to news of the event.

Image of the University Daily Kansan, November 23, 1963

Single-page Special Edition of the University Daily Kansan, published on November 23, 1963.
University Archives. Call Number: UA Ser 69/2/1. Click image to enlarge.

Image of the first page of "The Tragedy," Jayhawker Magazine Yearbook, Winter 1964 Image of the second page of "The Tragedy," Jayhawker Magazine Yearbook, Winter 1964 Image of the third page of "The Tragedy," Jayhawker Magazine Yearbook, Winter 1964

 Two speeches given at the convocation for President Kennedy – those by John Stuckey,
Chairman of the All-Student Council, and Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe – were reprinted in the
Winter 1964 volume of the Jayhawker Magazine Yearbook. University Archives.
Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1964. Click images to enlarge.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services