Student Strike of 1970
In the aftermath of the American Invasion of Cambodia, National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 in Kent, Ohio, and Jackson city police and Mississippi state troopers killed one student at Jackson State College and a high schooler passerby, in Jackson, Mississippi on May 15.
More than 450 university, college and high school campuses across the country were shut down by student strikes and both violent and non-violent protests that involved more than 4 million students.
While opposition to the Vietnam War had been simmering on American campuses for several years, and the idea of a strike had been introduced by the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, which advocated a general strike on the 15th of every month until the war ended, the Kent State shootings seemed to provide the spark for students across the US to adopt the strike tactic.
On May 8, ten days after Nixon announced the Cambodian invasion (and 4 days after the Kent State shootings), 100,000 protesters gathered in Washington and another 150,000 in San Francisco. Nationwide, students turned their anger on what was often the nearest military facility—college and university Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) offices. All told, 30 ROTC buildings went up in flames or were bombed. There were violent clashes between students and police at 26 schools and National Guard units were mobilized on 21 campuses in 16 states.
Nixon Administration reaction
The protests and strikes had a dramatic impact, and convinced many Americans, particularly within the administration of President Richard Nixon, that the nation was on the verge of insurrection. Ray Price, Nixon's chief speechwriter from 1969–74, recalled the Washington demonstrations saying, "The city was an armed camp. The mobs were smashing windows, slashing tires, dragging parked cars into intersections, even throwing bedsprings off overpasses into the traffic down below. This was the quote, student protest. That's not student protest, that’s civil war."
Not only was Nixon taken to Camp David for two days for his own protection, but Charles Colson (Counsel to President Nixon from 1969 to 1973) stated that the military was called up to protect the administration from the angry students, he recalled that "The 82nd Airborne was in the basement of the executive office building, so I went down just to talk to some of the guys and walk among them, and they're lying on the floor leaning on their packs and their helmets and their cartridge belts and their rifles cocked and you’re thinking, 'This can't be the United States of America. This is not the greatest free democracy in the world. This is a nation at war with itself.'"
The student protests in Washington also prompted a peculiar and memorable attempt by President Nixon to reach out to the disaffected students. As historian Stanley Karnow reported in his Vietnam: A History, on May 9, 1970 the President appeared at 4:15 a.m. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to discuss the war with 30 student dissidents who were conducting a vigil there. Nixon "treated them to a clumsy and condescending monologue, which he made public in an awkward attempt to display his benevolence." Nixon had been trailed by White House Deputy for Domestic Affairs Egil Krogh, who saw it differently than Karnow, saying, "I thought it was a very significant and major effort to reach out."
In any regard, neither side could convince the other and after meeting with the students Nixon expressed that those in the anti-war movement were the pawns of foreign communists. After the student protests, Nixon asked H. R. Haldeman to consider the Huston Plan, which would have used illegal procedures to gather information on the leaders of the anti-war movement. Only the resistance of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover stopped the plan.
As a direct result of the student strike, on June 13, 1970, President Nixon established the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, which became known as the Scranton Commission after its chairman, former Pennsylvania governor William Scranton. Scranton was asked to study the dissent, disorder, and violence breaking out on college and university campuses.
The student protests provoked supporters of the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration to demonstrate in their own right. In contrast to the noisy student protests, Administration supporters viewed themselves as "the Silent Majority" (a phrase coined by Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan).
In one instance, in New York City on May 8, construction workers attacked student protesters in what came to be called the Hard Hat Riot.
- The Report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, William W. Scranton, Chairman, US Government Printing Office, 1970, pg. 422-424. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from ERIC.ed.gov
- Director: Joe Angio (2007-02-15). Nixon a Presidency Revealed (television). History Channel.
- Roy Reed, Special to The New York Times, "F.B.I. Investigating Killing Of 2 Negroes in Jackson :Two Negro Students Are Killed In Clash With Police in Jackson", New York Times (1857-Current file) [serial online]. May 16, 1970:1. Available from: ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). Accessed July 28, 2012, Document ID: 80023683.
- Todd Gitlin, The Sixties, New York: Bantam Books, 1987, p. 410.
- Gitlin, p. 410.
- "1970 Timeline". New York University. Retrieved 2007-05-01.
- The Report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest (Subscription). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1970. Retrieved 2007-04-16. This book is also known as The Scranton Commission Report.
- Photos and Documents: May 1970 Student Strike at the University of Washington, Pacific Northwest Antiwar and Radical History Project.
- Photos from May 1970 student protests and peace vigil at the University of Alabama, from the University of Alabama photo collection, W. S. Hoole Special Collection Library