President Nixon meets with anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial

President Nixon meets with anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial

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In the early hours of May 9, 1970, a frazzled President Richard Nixon embarks upon what his Chief of Staff will describe as "the weirdest day so far" of his presidency. Preoccupied with the recent Kent State shootings and the unrest that has spread to college campuses across the country, Nixon makes an impromptu and bizarre visit to a group of anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial.

On the Friday after the Kent State massacre, in which Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine during an anti-war protest, Nixon was unable to sleep. Around 4 in the morning, after spending several hours making phone calls, he roused his personal valet, Manolo Sanchez, and asked him if he had ever seen the Lincoln Memorial at night. Knowing he would encounter a crowd of student protesters that had camped out on the National Mall, Nixon set off with Sanchez, his physician and a Secret Service team.

READ MORE: How Nixon’s Presidency Became Increasingly Erratic After Kent State

Nixon's account of the event differs greatly from that of the protesters, although both confirm it was a strange moment. Nixon described the students he met there as "overawed" and portrayed the conversation as a civil one. He told the protesters that he understood their hatred of the war, saying, "I know probably most of you think I'm an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel." Trying to start a friendly conversation, he asked where they went to school, and when some replied that they had come from Syracuse the president responded by talking about the school's football team. "Here we had come from a university that's completely uptight, on strike," one student recalled, "and when we told him where we were from, he talked about the football team." Nixon opined on the benefits of travel, particularly to Prague, Warsaw and Asia, but his audience struggled to follow along. "As far as sentence structure," one of them later told a reporter, "there was none."

The conversation lasted over an hour and both sides at least managed to explain their views on the war, although neither convinced the other. Nixon did not sleep that night, instead insisting he take Sanchez to see the floor of the House of Representatives before eating breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel. A diary entry written later that day by H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's Chief of Staff, corroborates the students' version of events: "I am concerned about his condition ... he has had very little sleep for a long time and his judgment, temper and mood suffer badly as a result."

READ MORE: Vietnam War Protests

Battle of the Park Blocks at 50: How a shocking burst of violence defined Portland -- and panicked Nixon’s White House

Portland Mayor Terry Schrunk stood before reporters at City Hall, his eyes downcast. “I hoped it would never come to this,” he said.

About 30 peace demonstrators and four police officers had been badly injured in the South Park Blocks that afternoon, with bloody, half-conscious protesters being dragged to safety by their compatriots after being clubbed by police.

The melee on May 11, 1970, sparked shock and outrage. Something like this wasn’t supposed to happen in Portland, a conservative, working-class burgh far removed from resistance hotspots like Berkeley and Washington, D.C. Civic leaders feared anarchy was descending upon their town, while student activists fumed at the rough police tactics.

Fifty years later, attitudes about the “riot” have changed. The clash now holds a special place in local lore. It’s the Battle of the Park Blocks, a turning point, the unofficial arrival of an oft-romanticized “new Portland.”

That spring of 1970 found much of America in turmoil. President Richard Nixon had sent troops into Cambodia, an escalation of the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War. Then came an incomprehensible shock on the home front: On Monday, May 4, national guardsmen opened fire on students during an antiwar demonstration at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four and wounding nine others.

The reaction to the Ohio tragedy was immediate, with calls for a massive nationwide student strike to finally put an end to the war -- and the administration running it.

“Kent State blew the lid off everything,” says Doug Weiskopf, who was a Portland State student-activist at the time.

Portland police prepare to dismantle a tent in the Park Blocks while students and anti- war protestors try to block their path. (The Oregonian)

Impromptu rallies popped up around the downtown Portland campus supporting the strike idea. And they grew and grew.

Portland State’s president, Dr. Gregory Wolfe, canceled classes for the rest of the week, hoping it would serve as a release valve for the tension. He turned down Gov. Tom McCall’s offer to send in the National Guard. Wolfe later said he remained committed “to the importance of recognizing all positions and keeping open and free discussion.”

Not everyone agreed with this point of view.

A car barreled through PSU on Wednesday, May 6, and hit a student, breaking his leg. A lot of demonstrators didn’t think it was an accident. They started building barricades, using park benches, folding tables and whatever else they could find, to block off streets around the campus. (Southwest Mill, Montgomery, Harrison and Hall streets all cut through the South Park Blocks at this time.)

The largest barricade, stretching across Southwest Mill Street between Lincoln Hall and Cramer Hall, was called Fort Tricia Nixon, the name inspired by news reports that the president’s daughter, as one headline put it, was “Shocked By Disclosure Students Don’t Trust Government.”

Other barricades also received whimsical or jokey names. There was The Pentagon, which blocked Southwest Mill and Park. The Alan Peterson Barricade, which closed off Harrison, earned its moniker “when a young woman approached its tenders asking if they had seen her friend, Alan Peterson,” Dory Hylton pointed out in her excellent 1993 University of Oregon Ph.D. dissertation, “The Portland State Student Strike of May 1970.” The barricade’s builders, who didn’t know Peterson, started to chant, “Alan Peterson! Alan Peterson!”

The students called the area within the nine barricades the “Liberated Zone,” and they guarded the barriers around the clock. They were “proud of their barricades,” one observer pointed out to a documentary film crew. “They became totally attached to them. They became little social orders within themselves.”

Students tried to protect a "medical tent" that stood in the Park Blocks between SW Harrison and Montgomery streets. Here young people make their last stand after barricades toppled. (The Oregonian) Oregonian

The students considered the three-block-long “Zone” an oasis that gave physical dimension and metaphorical heft to the strike. One professor wandering through the area let his imagination flit away, musing on how the scene “made me think that this is how the army encampments during the Civil War must have looked and smelled.”

The activists leading the effort were a disparate bunch, ranging from stereotypical “hippie types” to Vietnam War veterans, who put up a “medical tent” in the park that became a key symbol of the strike. As the protest gained momentum, only about half of the demonstrators ended up being Portland State students. Participants hailed from Reed and Lewis & Clark colleges still more were a smattering of “street people,” full-time protesters and others simply drawn to the action.

“What we all had in common was we fiercely opposed the Vietnam War,” says Weiskopf, whose father Herbert, a conductor, had been instrumental in launching the Portland Opera Association in the mid-1960s.

In the months before the strike, student protests in Portland -- against the war and the military draft, for racial justice and women’s rights -- had been consistent but also consistently small-scale.

Portland State history professor David A. Horowitz, then a young instructor at the school, had been involved in the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, a nationwide demonstration and teach-in during the fall of 1969. The meticulously organized protest brought out tens of thousands of people in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities. Not so Portland.

“They sent me out to Mt. Hood Community College” on Moratorium Day, Horowitz recalls, chuckling at the memory. “It was 20 frightened kids sitting in the gym’s bleachers while cheerleaders practiced on the court below them.”

Portland police attack students and anti-war activists in the Park Blocks on May 11, 1970. (The Oregonian) THE OREGONIAN

But the Kent State shootings upended the norm. Suddenly Portland no longer was a student-protest backwater. Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets, day after day.

“For the first time in my life I demonstrated, picketing PSU for a shutdown in memoriam for those four students at Kent State,” one student wrote in a diary entry.

Horowitz, not much older than the students, again waded into the action. The strike leaders pushed him forward as “kind of a respectable spokesperson,” he says. He stood before local TV-news cameras and tried to convince his fellow Portland residents to support the protesters.

“I’d say, ‘They’re patriotic. They love their country,’” he recalls.

This was a hard sell -- made even harder thanks to a bunch of cheeky high-school students who, on the strike’s first day, pulled down an American flag from a bank building near the Portland State campus, turned it upside down and sent it back up the flagpole.

To many Portlanders, this action branded the campus demonstrators -- as radicals, as traitors.

And it was this attitude, the buttoned-down view of the average citizen, that carried the day in the halls of power.

By Monday morning, May 11, with classes at Portland State resuming, Mayor Schrunk had had enough. His office had been inundated with complaints about the blocked-off streets, about kids urinating in the streets, having sex in the park.

Strike organizers, who ran their own makeshift publicity shop and kept close tabs on the press they received, understood they were operating on borrowed time. They began talks with school administrators about getting the campus running again, and demonstrators removed a couple of the barricades. “It was winding down,” Weiskopf says.

That afternoon, an elite squad of Portland police officers suddenly appeared in the South Park Blocks, wearing white helmets, dark leather jackets and sidearms. They stood, shoulder to shoulder across almost an entire block, brandishing long thin clubs. The mission they’d been given: Remove the barricades and take down the “medical” tent.

Portland police beat a demonstrator as they begin to tear down the medical tent. (The Oregonian) THE OREGONIAN

Students who were milling about the “Liberated Zone,” laughing and horsing around, froze in place.

“It looked like an army coming down the Park Blocks,” Weiskopf remembers. “It was only a week after Kent State. A lot of people were really scared, seeing that. But they were also angry.”

The police moved forward, clubs held in front of them.

The students backpedaled. “Pigs!” some of them yelled. “Fascists!”

“Heil, Hitler!” others barked, thrusting their arms in the air.

The police tactical unit advanced, block by block. They ended up -- along with hundreds of students -- in front of the medical tent.

Strikers surrounded the tent and joined arms, ostensibly to protect it. “We thought it was going to be civil disobedience,” says Horowitz, who was watching the scene from a short distance away.

The demonstrators had secured a city permit for the tent the previous week. The police squad’s captain now told Kevin Mulligan, one of the strike’s leaders, that the permit had been canceled.

Mulligan’s response was blunt and profane.

The students around Mulligan cheered and hooted. “Adrenaline was pumping through us so heavy,” Weiskopf recalls.

It apparently proved too much for the police, the impudence of these kids, the insults. All at once the cops “picked up speed and basically just attacked the crowd,” Dana Olsen, an Oregon Journal photographer at the time, recalled in an interview years later.

“I was trying to retreat with dignity,” Horowitz says. “A club grazed my pants. Then the guy next to me, a student, lunged forward -- and the police hit him in the head. Basically knocked him out. I kind of dragged him into Smith Center.”

The police appeared to beat students indiscriminately, women as well as men.

“People were screaming and running,” Olsen recalled. “The noise was incredible.”

Professors, office workers and other bystanders couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

“I can say without fear of contradiction from anybody who was there that the police purely and simply attacked the students, for no apparent reason other than, ‘We’re going to teach those damn students a lesson,’” Portland State publications officer James Gleason said the next day.

Students carry a protestor through the halls of Smith Center to a waiting ambulance after the melee in the Park Blocks. (The Oregonian) THE OREGONIAN

He said he saw officers clubbing people who were dispersing, people who had turned their backs and were moving away.

Schrunk, a former Multnomah County sheriff, had issued the order to clear the barricades, but Doug Weiskopf doesn’t blame the mayor for the violence that sent more than two-dozen people to local hospitals. Instead, he points the finger at then city parks commissioner Frank Ivancie, whom Schrunk had designated as the point man to deal with the student protests.

Ivancie, a World War II vet who chomped on cigars and still wore a fedora, hated the very idea of a counterculture.

“He was a garden-variety fascist,” Weiskopf says of the late Ivancie, who served as Portland mayor from 1980 to 1985. “I don’t say that lightly. He took delight in sending in the cops to beat us up.”

The strike had been crushed, definitively, but the demonstrators did not accept defeat.

A new plan quickly came together. The next day, some 3,500 people marched on City Hall. And this time, it wasn’t just young people protesting the status quo.

“I want to cry,” an elderly woman told a film crew before she joined the march. “I think it’s time that the adults came forward and helped out kids. I think it’s time we stopped standing behind closed doors and saying they’re crazy and they’re nuts. That they’ve got long hair and want to be radicals.”

He’s No Richard Nixon

President Nixon was up early 5/9/70. He drove to the Lincoln Memorial, got out of his limosine and mingled with a group of anti-war demonstrators here for the big rally. Here, the Chief Executive chats with Barbara H. President Nixon was up early 5/9/70. He drove to the Lincoln Memorial, got out of his limosine and mingled with a group of anti-war demonstrators here for the big rally. Here, the Chief Executive chats with Barbara Hirsch, 24, of Cleveland, Ohio (left) and Lauree Moss, of Detroit, Mich. Man on right is a secret service agent. MORE LESS

I’m always reluctant to criticize presidents for Secret Service protective measures. America has a successful and longstanding history of killing its presidents. More particularly, any president is hard-pressed to overrule his Secret Service detail. That’s not only because they’re protective professionals and he or she is not. But it’s a huge responsibility and second-guessing their actions only makes it harder. We can’t know just what thinking led the Secret Service to whisk the President into the White House’s underground bunker complex or turn off the lights at the White House. But the pregnant symbolism — whatever the underlying reality — matched what we’ve seen very immediately from the President himself. Much as he seemed to grow tired of the COVID epidemic he similarly seemed to lose interest in the wave of protests over the death of George Floyd or simply get bored. He spent the weekend first shifting gears to cleaning up the mess over his looting/shooting comments and then going to Florida to watch a space launch, which he said would be an emblem of his Presidency. Then he shifted back to more provocations and threats, including his nonsensical but inflammatory claim that he will declare “Antifa” a domestic terrorist organization.

As I wrote yesterday, I don’t know and I don’t think anyone knows how this rush of overlapping crises plays out politically in November or under any other time frame. But if our analogue is Richard Nixon in 1967, 󈨈 and 󈨉, there are some notable differences.

For all his malevolence and the damage he left in his wake, Richard Nixon was a smart and strategic thinker and political operator. He was overwhelmed, reactive and finally lost control of the Watergate crisis. In this earlier period he operated from a considered and ultimately highly effective plan. What we think of as the post-󈨀s conservative backlash had two specific electoral dimensions. One was decisively shifting the white South into the Republican column in presidential elections – the full shake out for congressional, state and local elections would take two more decades. The second was shifting a critical slice of traditionally Democratic constituencies in the urban north — largely “ethnic” and working class — into the Republican column.

One basic difference is that Nixon was a former vice president arguing that the incumbent president and party had let the country spin out of control into manifest disorder. That is inherently more difficult as an incumbent president. Not impossible certainly but considerably more difficult.

The bigger difference is that President Trump clearly has no plan. There’s no ten-dimensional chess here. He’s reacting each day to the new events of the moment, much as he has through the COVID epidemic. Flexing, threatening, running away, demanding credit. He is also showing all his signatures — erratic behavior, short attention span, the reflex to inflame and divide. Also on vivid display is what’s likely best seen as his physical cowardice. I don’t expect him to wade out into the crowds to create some transformative moment. But where is he? Twitter is disembodied. You might as well be tweeting from the Moon. With such a large bullhorn it’s all one way communication. Lights out at the White House, hiding in a bunker, has the feeling of turning out the lights on Halloween and hiding out in your bedroom with a flashlight because you want the trick or treaters to go away or not egg your house. Lashing out, roaring for dominance, hiding in the basement.

The simple and sorry truth is that you don’t need to have a plan. In general we vastly overstate the impact of strategies adopted by political leaders and to a great degree even actions. History is like a force growing out of trends, myriad individual actions, multiple unknowns that remain hidden to us in the present and it rolls forth with … well, with the force of history. But Trump doesn’t look like a strong or commanding or even reassuring presence. He acts terrified and more than anything out of control.

‘Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s Coming’

May 4, 2020

Ohio National Guardsmen in gas masks as they aim their weapons on the Kent State University campus during student anti-war protests on March 3 and 4, 1970. (Howard Ruffner / Getty Images)

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Hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when American politics was as polarized as it is now and dominated by a president as dishonest as Trump. President Richard Nixon may have lied less frequently than Trump, but the lies of “Tricky Dick” were arguably more deadly. Among the biggest and most blatant of those lies came into public view on April 30, 1970, when Nixon, who only two years earlier ascended to the presidency claiming to have a secret plan to end the Vietnam War, announced the expansion of that war: the US invasion of Cambodia (after having secretly bombed Cambodia). The announcement sparked outrage among the young, student strikes at 60 colleges and universities, and demonstrations, some violent, on dozens of campuses. Nixon further inflamed the political atmosphere by denouncing the protesters as “bums blowing up the campuses,” and local Nixonian politicos, most notably Ohio Governor James Rhodes, echoed such demagoguery, likening the anti-war student activists to Nazi “Brown Shirts.” Rhodes followed through on his angry rhetoric by calling in the National Guard to Kent State University, with tragic consequences.

On May 4, 1970, the Guard fired without warning on a crowd of unarmed anti-war protesters at Kent State University, in a 13-second barrage of 67 shots that killed four students and wounded nine. The killings sparked the most widespread student protests in American history, with demonstrations involving more than 4 million students, over 350 student strikes, the shutting down of some 500 colleges and universities, and 73 violent protests, resulting in some 1,800 arrests. Soon after Nixon learned about the shootings at Kent State, his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, told the president, “They’ll blame it on us.” Nixon agreed and quickly adopted a bunker mentality that shaped much of his approach to the backlash over the invasion of Cambodia.

Nixon’s private response to the Kent State tragedy, recorded in the diary of his top aide H.R. Haldeman, was chilling. Not a word of sympathy for those killed or wounded—or for their families. Instead, his focus was on political strategy: “Very aware that the goal of the Left is to panic us, so we must not fall into that trap” (May 6). Even Haldeman could not help noting in his diary that Nixon was “pretty cold-blooded” in planning to fire Interior Secretary Walter Hickel for expressing sympathy with the student protesters (May 7). Not justice but tribalism drove Nixon’s views on the investigation of the shooting: “Very concerned about press report that FBI said [National] Guard was at fault at Kent State. Called [FBI Director] J. Edgar [Hoover]…. P[resident] told Hoover to knock it down.… Really afraid we’ll end up putting the Administration on the side of the students and really doesn’t want that” (July 24). The political firestorm over the Kent tragedy forced Nixon to appoint a Commission on Campus Unrest. But rather than looking to the commission for lessons about how to avoid future campus bloodshed, Nixon sought to use it cynically to promote public backlash against student protesters: “wants Scranton commission to go ahead with open hearings because it keeps the student unrest issue alive through the summer and works to our advantage. Wants to be sure to get some really horrible types to testify. Then need to get our right-wing types to blast the whole thing. Gets a little involved but should work” (July 17).

Though Nixon tried to act as if the protests against the Cambodia invasion and Kent State shootings had not gotten to him, Haldeman knew better, noting that the president “obviously realizes but won’t admit, his ‘bums’ remark very harmful” (May 6), and that the protests had yielded “the weirdest day so far” (May 9), as a sleepless Nixon went to the Lincoln memorial with a few White House aides and Secret Service agents just before 5 am , in a final, belated, and bizarre attempt to reach out to student anti-war activists. Nixon talked to some protesters, awkwardly discussing college football and the importance of international travel. The president later recounted that one of the students told him, “We’re not interested in what Prague looks like. We’re interested in what kind of a life we build in the United States.” As the crowd began to grow, Nixon’s aides convinced him to leave. Before Nixon departed, he spoke to Bob Moustakas, a long-haired, bearded college student from Detroit. The two took a photograph together, as Nixon recounted that the student had “the broadest smile I’d ever seen.” Moustakas later compared the encounter to “when you’re in early high school and you’re having a party in somebody’s basement…the parents come down and talk to you…make sure the lights are on.” He concluded that there was a “conversation, but not much communication.”

Remembering Kent State

Kent State: 50 Years After the Shootings

While Nixon described the surreal Lincoln Memorial visit in positive terms, he continued his war on the anti-war movement, paying special attention not only to students but also to university administrators. Much like 21st century conservatives, Nixon believed liberal administrators were his true enemies, guilty of coddling young radicals. “The elite class in this country lacks character,” said Nixon, in one of his many tirades against university presidents who opposed his Vietnam policies and tolerated anti-war dissent. Calling them “flabby soft bastards,” Nixon argued that “limousine libs are really a danger” to the country he covertly sought retribution, attempting to end federal funding to such universities as MIT that he felt were anti-war, longing to redistribute federal aid to campuses he viewed as hawkish and pro-Nixon.

Nixon’s public actions during that spring were a natural extension of his private rants.

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Both Nixon and his bellicose vice president, Spiro Agnew, had been doing all they could to arouse antipathy between their conservative supporters, whom they valorized as America’s law-abiding “silent majority,” and anti-war protesters, whom they demonized as lawless countercultural subversives. The impact of this politics of resentment could be seen in the Ohio grand jury proceedings that in the name of “law and order” sided with the National Guard, including the killers among them, while indicting 24 Kent students and one faculty member.

Dean Kahler, a Kent student paralyzed by a guardsman’s bullet, experienced this resentment in its ugliest form. While recovering from his wound, the first card Kahler opened was inscribed, “Dear Communist Hippie Radical, I hope by the time you get this you are dead. We don’t need people like you.” Sentiments such as these led Rick Perlstein to conclude, in his magisterial work Nixonland: “Do Americans not hate each other enough to fantasize about killing one another in cold blood over political and cultural disagreements? It would be hard to argue they do not. How did Nixonland end? It has not ended yet.”

Remembering Jackson State

Remembering the Jackson State Tragedy

But this may give Nixon too much of the blame for igniting America’s hatred-fueled politics, because when one factors in race, that hatred took root long before Nixon’s presidency. It is not the murder of white students at Kent but the Jackson State massacre, 11 days later (May 15, 1970)—in which two African American students were killed and 12 wounded by the Mississippi State Patrol, who, over the course of 28 seconds, riddled their dormitory with bullets as if it were a military target—that speaks to this older, deeper pattern of hatred, and its legacy of racist violence. Nixon’s cynical comments on Kent in the Haldeman diaries were loathsome, but so was the president’s silence on the Jackson State killings. The black lives lost on that historically black college meant nothing to Nixon either politically or personally. The massacre elicited much less protest (which came primarily from black campuses) and media coverage than Kent State.

Historians, too, have been slow to study the Jackson State shooting, and even slower to probe the Orangeburg massacre of 1968, sometimes mistakenly called “the black Kent State before Kent State” (it was a racially motivated massacre more similar to the Jackson than to the Kent State shootings) in which the South Carolina State Patrol killed three African American students and wounded 28. Nor have narratives of the student movement of the Long 1960s noted that this era’s violent campus upheavals began and ended with racist assaults: First came the segregationist riots at the University of Alabama (1956), the University of Georgia, (1961), and the University of Mississippi (1962), later the more bloody Orangeburg and Jackson State shootings.

To commemorate the Kent and Jackson State tragedies on their 50th anniversary, we offer accounts of Kent by historian Thomas Grace, author of Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long 60s (2016), who was himself among the wounded at Kent State, 1970, and of Jackson by Nancy K. Bristow, author of Steeped in the Blood of Racism: black Power, Law and Order and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College (2020), the first book by a professional historian on the Jackson State shootings since that tragedy occurred.

Robert Cohen Robert Cohen is the author of Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary: Sit-ins, Civil Rights, and Black Women’s Student Activism (2018)

Michael Koncewicz Michael Koncewicz is a Research Scholar at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University. He is the author of They Said No to Nixon: Republicans Who Stood Up to the President’s Abuse of Power.

Anti-war protests, Graham's crusade, Nixon's visit to Knox all in May 1970

Allison Ensor taught English literature at the University of Tennessee for more than four decades, but he does not have to think long to recall the most exciting period of his tenure - May 1970.

The reason: Forty years ago this month, some of the world's major players, and prevailing forces, descended upon Knoxville.

At the first of the month, a rare UT student strike occurred in protest of both the bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and the shooting deaths of four students during anti-war protests at Kent State University in Ohio.

Then, days later, world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham came to Neyland Stadium for a 10-day crusade that drew tens of thousands daily.

Although the two events initially seemed connected only by geography, they would become linked in perpetuity because of the crusade visit by one man - President Richard Nixon.

Because he had ordered the bombing, and some saw his action as an escalation of an already lengthy war, protests also occurred at the Graham event during Nixon's visit.

"That was unprecedented, all coming within the same month," Ensor said. "That was really something."

UT journalism professor Jim Stovall was a student reporter for the News Sentinel and remembers the excitement of observing many of the events up close.

"It was a great experience for me and one that meant a lot to me later in my career," he said.

The month to remember began in full force on Wednesday, May 6, as the three-day voluntary strike was announced by Student Government Association President Jimmie Baxter - who went on to become a federal prosecutor - during a peaceful gathering of thousands in front of the University Center following the May 4 Kent State tragedy.

Many stayed out of school, which then met on Saturday and was operating on the quarter system.

Ensor remembers the strike well.

"I continued to meet with my classes, but fewer students were there," he said.

Knoxville College also held a student strike after some students at Jackson State in Mississippi, another historically black school, were killed during a protest.

The UT strike passed fairly peacefully, and Knoxville officials began gearing up for the Graham Crusade.

That event had been pushed through the efforts of such people as Ralph Frost, who presented concerts at UT, and the Rev. Lane Adams of Knoxville, who had been a member of the Graham evangelistic team.

Thousands of Knoxville residents ended up signing a petition to bring Graham to Neyland Stadium, and he accepted a year in advance.

The crusade began on Friday, May 22, and ran through the following Sunday, May 31, with evening events except for afternoon gatherings on the two Sundays and Memorial Day.

Singer Johnny Cash made an appearance on May 24, when 62,000 attended.

Hundreds were giving their lives to Christ daily, and organizers considered the crusade a success, spiritually.

Politically, however, a few problems were arising.

"Many people at the university did not think that a university facility was the proper place for a Christian meeting such as a Billy Graham crusade," said Stovall, who had interviewed Graham in North Carolina the year before when the crusade was announced.

And then, on May 27, news outlets announced that President Nixon would attend the crusade the next day.

Some speculated that the president, who was popular among much of the citizenry, had wanted to visit a college campus after the Kent State incident and had worked his way into coming to Knoxville.

Ensor, who attended the crusade, remembers being at a retirement event for outgoing UT President Andy Holt at the Senators Club (now Court South) on Alcoa Highway and watching Nixon's motorcade go by from the airport.

Some disturbances did take place during the overflow Neyland event, during which the president spoke, and arrests were made then and later.

Singer Ethel Waters even chided the protesters at one point.

Stovall, who was covering the event, remembered a number of national reporters going into an area of the stadium to file their stories after Nixon spoke.

"I wandered in there to watch it happen, and it was quite a sight for a kid reporter like me," he said.

It was a memorable end to what had been an unforgettable month.

John Shearer is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.

About John Shearer

John Shearer has been a freelance contributor to several departments of the News Sentinel since 2006. He began his journalism career in 1984 as a full-time reporter at the Chattanooga News-Free Press. He also serves as an adjunct instructor at the University of Tennessee.

New Nixon Audio Tape Reveals Details of His Late Night Visit with Protestors at the Lincoln Memorial

The Nixon Presidential Library is releasing the second installment of Presidential dictabelts, which include President Nixon’s recollections of his surreal early morning surprise visit to the Lincoln Memorial on May 9, 1970, when he met with anti-Vietnam War protestors who were camped out there. All recorded the same day, May 13, 1970, these dictabelts provide a complex picture of the president’s feelings about the anti-war movement and civic action in the wake of the Kent State tragedy. In some he recounts his May 9 effort to reach out to student demonstrators, in others he orders the cutoff of Federal funds to universities where a majority of the faculty is against the Vietnam War, and asks that the White House quietly discourage corporate sponsorship of “the Urban coalition.”

Also, watch the PBS Newshour Report on the Lincoln Memorial visit here, an interview with Melvin Small, distinguished professor of history emeritus at Wayne State University and author of two books, The Presidency of Richard Nixon and Covering Dissent: The Media and Anti-Vietnam War Movement. On the tapes, President Nixon describes a conversation with his valet, Manolo, asking him if he’d ever been down to the Lincoln Memorial. Nixon: I said get your clothes on and we will go down to the Lincoln Memorial. Well, I got dressed and at approximately 4:35, we left the White House and drove to the Lincoln Memorial. I have never seen the Secret Service quite so petrified with apprehension.

The Day Nixon Cracked

The most bizarre moment of Richard Nixon's presidency happened on May 9, 1970. Days after the Ohio National Guard killed four college students at Kent State University&mdashand less than two weeks after the invasion of Cambodia began&mdashthe president took an impromptu, late-night walk to the Lincoln Memorial with Manolo Sanchez, a White House valet. Nixon stumbled across dozens of student protesters at the site, with whom he engaged in bizarre, rambling debate. Scott Calonico, a filmmaker with a fantastic eye for American history, recounts the event in this fascinating documentary.

The documentary is largely based on the never-before-published photographs of a protestor, Bob Moustaskas, and memos recorded by Nixon later that day. When the tapes were finally released to the public in 2011, Atlantic contributor Tom McNichol wrote about the event, concluding: "Listening to Nixon describe his bizarre sojourn to the Lincoln Memorial is to hear a man who's already sold himself on an alternate version of reality." To learn more, including details about Nixon's bizarre statements to the protestors, read McNichol's piece.

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New recordings of Richard Nixon and surprise pre-dawn visit with protesters

In this Aug. 9, 1974, file photo, Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House in Washington as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the presidency in Washington. Nixon's grand jury testimony about the Watergate scandal that destroyed his presidency is finally coming to light. Four months after a judge ordered the June 1975 records unsealed, the government's Nixon Presidential Library was making them available online and at the California facility Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011.

This article was published more than 9 years ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.

In a remarkable series of audio recordings released Thursday, an almost-fatherly and reflective US President Richard Nixon describes in great detail his encounter with students and protesters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

The encounter with students at the Lincoln Memorial has already been documented and the subject of much writing. However, these audio recordings released for the first time are President Nixon's account of what happened during the middle-of -the-night encounter on May 9, 1970.

The recordings were released Thursday by the Nixon Library in conjunction with a release by the US National Archives of President Nixon's grand jury testimony on June 23 and June 24, 1975.

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Mobile users: click here to listen to the recording

In the recording above, which can be found on the Nixon Library website, President Nixon picks up from a previous recording on the pre-dawn visit to meet students. He offers his version of the content and flavour of the conversations, which touched on the world's great capitals, architecture, and themes of the environment.

At one point, the students tell the president they are not interested in what the great cities of the world look like. President Nixon, sounding almost fatherly, recalls telling them that, in fact, he is talking about people.

"For the next 25 years the world is going to become much smaller. You're going to be living in all parts of the world. And it's vitally important that you know and appreciate and understand people, every place, wherever they are."

The recording above finishes with President Nixon describing how the encounter ended as "the first rays of the sun began to show."

There are about half a dozen audio recordings on the Lincoln Memorial encounter. They were recorded by the president and to be later transcribed for the attention of his chief of staff Bob Haldeman.

President Nixon recalls being able to see the protesters from the White House. He summoned a small group of secret servicemen and his servant Manuel "Manolo" Sanchez, a Cuban refugee who had never seen the Lincoln Memorial and sites of the capital, to join him in the pre-dawn visit.

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The recordings were made several days after the surprise visit to the Lincoln Memorial and more than a week after police shot and killed 4 unarmed students at anti-war protest at Kent State University. The Watergate scandal that would eventually end his presidency was still several year away.

The recordings cover a range of subjects: President Nixon complaining about how his staff reports back to him on the progress of administration initiatives. He admonishes his administration for a "PR failure" and not seeing on TV or in newspapers the story of rice that was seized by American troops in south Vietnam and distributed to starving Cambodians. "This is a great humanitarian gesture and a great deal could be made out of it," says President Nixon. In yet another recording, President Nixon orders his chief of staff to cut off department of defence funding to universities where the majority of the faculty oppose such funding.

But it is the encounter with students that President Nixon revisits repeatedly, at one point complaining about how his staff handled the Lincoln Memorial story and how it was shared journalists, none of whom were present during the president's meeting with students.


Richard Nixon's carefully planned 1958 tour of South America has been described as one of the "most important United States foreign policy events in post-WWII Latin America". [3] It was undertaken at a time of confused United States intra-hemispheric relations the role of Latin American states in the emerging American grand strategy of containment was unclear and ill-defined. However, a recent worldwide drop in commodity prices that badly affected South American economies, coupled with increasing Soviet overtures in the western hemisphere, made President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower determine that a tour by a major United States functionary was necessary to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region. [3] Nixon retrospectively wrote that he was uninterested in taking the trip. [4]

The tour was to see Nixon visit every independent country in South America except Brazil and Chile. [a] Brazil had been omitted from the itinerary as Nixon had visited that nation the previous year. The Chilean leadership, meanwhile, were scheduled to be out of the country during the time period of Nixon's visit. Nixon was accompanied on his trip by his wife, Pat Nixon. [4]

Early tour stops Edit

Nixon began his tour in Uruguay, arriving at Carrasco International Airport at 9:00 a.m. on April 28. There, he was greeted by senior Uruguayan officials. [5] According to an Associated Press report at the time, about 40 students protested on the street corner as Nixon's motorcade proceeded into Montevideo. [6] In Montevideo, Nixon made an unscheduled appearance at the University of the Republic and was generally well received by students. According to Nixon, he decided to make the unannounced stop because he felt that average Uruguayans would be receptive towards him, while scheduled and published visits were likely to attract organized demonstrations. This proved to be the case, and when communists arrived and tried to distribute literature, the students tore up the pamphlets. [4]

The visit to Argentina was billed as the major stop of the trip and four days were allotted to the country, instead of the two slated for the other visits. In Buenos Aires, Nixon attended the presidential inauguration of Arturo Frondizi and spoke to several student and organized labor groups. [7]

The first serious trouble on the tour materialized in Lima, Peru. Nixon's scheduled appearance at the University of San Marcos saw a large crowd of student demonstrators awaiting his arrival. In an event foreshadowing his famous visit to the Lincoln Memorial to meet anti-war protesters some years later, Nixon waded directly into the crowd of demonstrators, attended by only two staff members. Over the next few minutes Nixon spoke with the students, however, a second faction of demonstrators soon began stoning the group, hitting one of Nixon's staff in the mouth and grazing the vice-president's neck. The vice-president then withdrew and a later round-table with student leaders was canceled. Returning to his hotel, Nixon and his staff had to push through demonstrators who had encamped outside, during which Nixon was struck in the face. [8] [9] [3] Eisenhower cabled Nixon at his next stop, in Quito, Ecuador: [10]

Dear Dick: Your courage, patience and calmness in the demonstration directed against you by radical agitators have brought you new respect and admiration in our country. I am certain that the vast majorities of citizens both in Peru and in the United States deplore the incident caused by a few. I note with satisfaction that the Peruvian Government has already expressed to you its regret. Indeed, I feel that every participant in the mob will finally come to feel a sense of guilt and embarrassment because of his failure to show toward a friendly visitor the ordinary measure of courtesy and hospitality. Give my love to Pat and warm regards to yourself.

Nixon's final stop before Venezuela and Colombia saw generally receptive crowds. At Bolívar Square in Bogotá, he laid a wreath at the statue of Simón Bolívar before a crowd of about 1,000. An Associated Press report noted that there were some hecklers in the audience, but they amounted to "about 80 youths" and observed that "generally . the Colombian crowds were friendly or enthusiastic". [3] [11]

Background Edit

Earlier in 1958, the disliked Venezuelan dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez had been overthrown in a popular uprising and had gone into exile in the United States. A military junta formed a caretaker government to rule the country until new elections could be held. Admiral Wolfgang Larrazábal, head of the governing junta, had announced his intention to stand in those elections his candidacy was backed by a coalition of parties, including the Venezuelan Communist Party. The United States' decision to grant Pérez Jiménez asylum and to award him the Legion of Merit on 12 November 1954 [12] [13] combined to create a charged atmosphere leading up to Nixon's arrival. The Caracas municipal council even passed a resolution effectively declaring Nixon persona non grata. [14] Prior to Nixon's arrival in Caracas, media reported on rumors that an attempt had been planned on the vice-president's life during his visit. [15] The CIA station chief in Venezuela, meanwhile, urged that this leg of the trip be canceled. [14]

In an interview conducted after he retired from government service, Robert Amerson, then-press attache to the United States embassy in Venezuela, claims that the demonstrators who disrupted the Venezuela stop on the tour "had been bused down by the professional agitators and organizers" affiliated with the Communist Party of Venezuela. [b] [17] This view was one echoed in a report issued by William P. Snow, acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, who wrote that "the pattern of organization and of slogans in all cases points to Communist inspiration and direction, as do certain of the intelligence reports". [3] Nixon, himself, also blamed Communist instigation. [4] A Universal Newsreel at the time characterized it as "another of the well-planned campaigns of harassment" and a "communist-sparked onslaught". [18] Venezuelan journalist Carlos Rangel has indicated the "Nixon carnival" was organized by the Venezuelan Communist Party as a way of demonstrating that it had the ability to "dominate the streets, that the Caracas masses were ready to be mobilized". [19]

Arrival Edit

Nixon arrived, via air, in Caracas on May 13, 1958. According to a U.S. Secret Service report of the incident, a crowd of demonstrators at the airport "purposely disrupted . [the] welcoming ceremony by shouting, blowing whistles, waving derogatory placards, throwing stones, and showering the Nixons with human spittle and chewing tobacco". [20] Reporting for the New York Herald Tribune, Earl Mazo wrote that "Venezuelan troops and police seemed to evaporate. The vice-president and the whole official party literally had to fight their way to cars behind a thin but sturdy phalanx of U.S. Secret Service agents". [1]

The original itinerary had Nixon moving from the airport to the National Pantheon of Venezuela where he was to lay a wreath at the tomb of Simón Bolívar. However, a United States naval attache sent ahead with the wreath reported a crowd that had assembled at the Pantheon had attacked him and torn up the wreath. At this point it was decided to proceed directly to the U.S. embassy. [17]

Attack Edit

For the first time on the South America tour, the Nixons traveled in closed-top cars, as opposed to convertibles, a decision later credited with saving their lives. [18]

As the Nixons traveled by motorcade through Caracas, the vehicle carrying the Vice-President was slowed to a crawl by heavy traffic. [c] A crowd used the stoppage to throng Nixon's vehicle, stoning it and banging the windows with their fists. [20] Nixon was protected by twelve United States Secret Service agents, some of whom were injured in the melee. [22] According to the Secret Service, Venezuelan police declined to intervene to clear the crowd. When the mob began rocking the car back and forth in an attempt to overturn it, U.S. Secret Service agents, believing the vice-president's life was in jeopardy, drew their firearms and prepared to begin shooting into the crowd. In an act described as "the kind of presence of mind for which battlefield commanders win medals", Nixon ordered Secret Service agent-in-charge Jack Sherwood to hold fire and shoot only on his orders no shots were ultimately fired. [8] [20] [23]

Nixon would later recount that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Óscar García Velutini, who was traveling with him, was "close to hysterics" and kept repeating "this is terrible, this is terrible". According to Nixon, Velutini explained the police inaction was because the communists "helped us overthrow Pérez Jiménez and we are trying to find a way to work with them". [4] Nixon's longtime secretary, Rose Mary Woods, was injured by flying glass when the windows of the car in which she was riding, following Nixon, were smashed. Vernon Walters, then a mid-ranking U.S. Army officer serving as Nixon's translator, would end up with a "mouthful of glass", [23] and Velutini was also hit by shards of the limousine's supposedly "shatter-proof" glass. [8]

Two different accounts explain how Nixon's car was ultimately able to escape the mob and continue to the embassy. According to one version of events, the U.S. press corps' flatbed truck, accompanying the motorcade, was used to clear a path through the crowd. [20] In Nixon's remembrance of the incident, Associated Press photographer Hank Griffin at one point had to use his camera to beat back a protester who tried to mount the truck. [4] According to a second account, soldiers of the Venezuelan Army arrived and cleared the traffic, thereafter moving the mob back at bayonet-point to allow Nixon's car to pass. [24]

Embassy Edit

Shortly after the Nixons arrived at the embassy, the Venezuelan army surrounded and fortified the chancellery, reinforcing the small U.S. Marine guard force. Their assistance had earlier been requested by the U.S. ambassador. [14] That afternoon, members of the ruling junta arrived at the embassy and lunched with Nixon. The next morning, representatives of Venezuela's major labor unions came to the embassy and requested an audience with Nixon, which was granted. The union leaders apologized for events of the preceding day and disclaimed involvement, though, United States Air Force officer Manuel Chavez [d] – at the time attached to the embassy – wrote in 2015 that "they probably were the instigators or at least encouraged the actions". [14]

U.S. mobilization Edit

Upon learning of the incident, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke ordered the airlift of elements of the 2nd Marine Division and the 101st Airborne Division to staging areas in Puerto Rico and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The aircraft carrier USS Tarawa, along with eight destroyers and two amphibious assault ships, were ordered to put to sea towards Venezuela. [22] [25] The U.S. mobilization was code-named "Operation Poor Richard". [8]

According to U.S. officials at the time, the forces mobilized were being readied to enter Venezuela to "cooperate with the Venezuelan government", though later accounts suggest President Eisenhower was preparing to "invade Venezuela" should Nixon suffer further indignity. [19] [22] [25] Privately, Eisenhower was reportedly furious at the attack on Nixon and, at one point, told his staff "I am about ready to go put my uniform on". [26] [27]

Nixon was shocked after learning about the mobilization and wondered why they were not consulted, but later found out that communications between Caracas and Washington had been cut for a critical period immediately after the riot that afternoon. [4]

In response to the movement of American military forces into the region, Admiral Larrazábal pledged the Nixon party would be "protected fully" thereafter. [28]

Return to the United States Edit

Additional activities were canceled, and Nixon departed Caracas the next morning, seven hours early. His motorcade to the airport was protected by a major deployment of Venezuelan Army infantry and armored forces in the capital. [18] [14] Nixon described having taken the same route as before, whose streets were empty and heavily patrolled after the whole area had been tear-gassed. [4]

American reaction Edit

Eisenhower ordered that Nixon should receive a "hero's welcome" on his return all U.S. government employees in Washington, D.C. were given the day off work to turn-out for the arrival of the vice-president. Nixon deplaned before "a cheering crowd of 10,000" that included the congressional leadership and ambassadors from most Latin American countries. Eisenhower personally greeted Nixon at the airport and the two then traveled to the White House along a route lined by 100,000 people. [18] [29] [30]

Life credited Nixon for his "courage" and said "his coolness had been remarkable". [31] According to Pathé News, Nixon reflected "calm, rather than concern." [2] For weeks after the attack, Nixon received standing ovations "wherever he went . a new high in his life". [8] By contrast, The New Republic claimed the attack was a hoax set up to help Nixon's chances in the 1960 U.S. presidential election. [8]

All twelve agents of Nixon's Secret Service detail received the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service from Eisenhower at Nixon's request. [4]


On May 4, 1970, thirteen students were shot, four of them fatally, at Kent State University in Ohio by National Guardsmen as they demonstrated against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and U.S. incursions into Cambodia. One of the dead was Jeffrey Glenn Miller, who was from a New York City suburb on Long Island, which led to funeral proceedings in Manhattan and Long Island, which helped fuel local activism. In the days before the riot, there were anti-war protests on Wall Street and smaller clashes between construction workers and anti-war demonstrators. As a show of sympathy for the dead students, Republican Mayor of New York City John Lindsay ordered all flags at New York City Hall to be flown at half-staff on May 8, the day of the riot. [5] [6]

The U.S. labor movement was deeply divided over support for President Richard Nixon's Vietnam War policy. AFL-CIO president George Meany and most labor leaders in the United States were vehemently anti-communist and thus strongly supported U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia.

Peter J. Brennan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, was a strong supporter of the Nixon's policy of Vietnamization and ending American involvement in the war. [7] Brennan was also president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York, the statewide umbrella group for construction unions, and the vice president of the New York City Central Labor Council and the New York State AFL-CIO, umbrella groups for all labor unions in these respective areas. [8] [9] Brennan was a registered Democrat who had lobbied strongly for Democrats through the 1950s and 1960s, but increasingly supported Republican candidates as support for skilled labor unions decreased. [8] The building and construction unions were overwhelmingly white, Catholic, blue-collar and male. Although blue-collar whites were not generally more pro-war than upscale whites, the anti-war movement was particularly unpopular among blue collar whites. [10] In response to flag desecration within the anti-war movement and rejection of returning veterans, a disproportionate majority of whom were blue-collar, blue-collar whites came to oppose the anti-war demonstrators, who tended to be college-educated, a group which were disproportionately non-veterans. [11]

At 7:30 a.m. on May 8, several-hundred anti-war protesters, mostly college students, began picketing the New York Stock Exchange, and later held a protest and memorial at Federal Hall National Memorial for the four dead students at Kent State. By late morning, when some high school students, teachers, and others joined, the protesters now numbered more than a thousand. They were gathered in the street in front of Federal Hall and on the steps around the statue of George Washington. Paul O'Dwyer was among the speakers. [12] [13] The protesters demanded an end to the war in Vietnam and Cambodia, the release of political prisoners in the United States, such as Black Panther Party leaders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, and an end to military-related research on all university campuses. [14] [15]

Shortly before noon, more than 400 construction workers, many of whom were building the World Trade Center, converged on the student rally at Federal Hall from four directions. Some construction workers carried U.S. flags and chanted "USA, All the way", and "America, love it or leave it". Anti-war protesters shouted, “Peace now”. More than 800 office workers soon joined the construction workers’ ranks. Hundreds more construction workers arrived around noon, as the lunch-time crowd and onlookers in the streets exceeded 20,000. [16] [17] A thin and inadequate line of police, who were largely sympathetic to the workers' position, formed to separate the construction workers from the anti-war protesters. One spark might have been a protester, near the construction workers, who waved a Vietcong flag from the steps of Federal Hall. [18] At first, the construction workers only pushed but did not break through the police line. After several minutes, however, they broke through the police line and began chasing students through the streets. The workers attacked those who looked like hippies and beat them with their hard hats and other weapons, including tools and steel-toe boots. Victims and onlookers reported that the police stood by and did little. [19]

Hundreds of construction workers and counter-protesters moved up Broadway, making their way to City Hall Park toward City Hall. They pushed their way to the top to the top of the steps, singing City Hall as some chanted "Hey, hey, whattya say? We support the USA", while some held American flags, then attempted to gain entrance because they demanded the flag above City Hall be raised to full staff. Police on duty at City Hall, and reinforcement, were able to stop the men from getting inside. A few workers were asked to enter the building to calm tensions. A postal worker who was already inside went to the roof of city hall and raised the U.S. flag there to full mast. When one mayoral aide lowered the flag back down to half-mast, hundreds of construction workers stormed the area around City Hall, leading to melee like on Wall Street the hour prior. Deputy Mayor Richard Aurelio, fearing the building would be overrun by the mob, ordered city workers to raise the flag back to full mast. [20]

Rioting construction workers also attacked buildings near city hall. Many were Catholic "white ethnics". Several workmen ripped the Red Cross flag down at nearby Trinity Church, because the flag was associated with the anti-war protestors, though it was planted to signal a first aid haven. Several groups of construction workers stormed the newly built main Pace University building, smashing lobby windows and beating up students and professors, including with tools. Ironically, Pace was a conservative business-oriented school where the most popular major was accounting -- hardly a hotbed of activism. More than 100 people were injured. The injured included seven policemen. Most of the injured required hospital treatment. The most common victim was a “22-year-old white male collegian” and the worst injuries were to the “half-dozen young men beaten unconscious”, but about one in four of the injured were women. Six people were arrested, but only one construction worker was arrested by police. [21]

During a press conference that evening, President Nixon tried to defuse the situation before tens of thousands of students arrived in Washington, D.C. for a scheduled protest rally the next day. Before dawn, the next morning, Nixon told some protesters that "I understand just how you feel", and defended the recent U.S. troop movements into Cambodia as aiding their goal of peace. [22] [23] [15] [24]

Mayor Lindsay severely criticized the police for their lack of action. [25] New York City police leaders later accused Lindsay of "undermining the confidence of the public in its police department" by his statements, [26] and blamed the inaction on inadequate preparations and "inconsistent directives" in the past from the mayor's office. [27]

The next week, Brennan claimed "the unions had nothing to do with it", and that workers allegedly "fed up" with violence and flag desecration by anti-war demonstrators, and denied that anything except fists had been used against the demonstrators, though police records showed tools and some iron pipes were used. [28] Brennan claimed telephone calls and letters to the unions were 20 to 1 in favor of the workers. [29] One man, Edward Shufro, of the brokerage firm Rose and Ehrman, saw two men wearing grey suits directing the workers. [30] The NYPD "buried most records of police malfeasance", according to Kuhn's The Hardhat Riot, and in August 1970, the NYPD published a report that largely acquitted itself of any collusion with construction workers though its own records were decades later shown to undercut that report. [31] The construction workers and police were both mostly "white ethnics", lived in the same neighborhoods, and socialized in similar establishments many were also veterans of World War II and Korea and both were also disproportionately likely to have family and friends in Vietnam. [32] On Sunday, May 10, Nixon's Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman wrote in his diary, "The college demonstrators have overplayed their hands, evidence is the blue-collar group rising up against them, and [the] president can mobilize them". [33]

Several thousand construction workers, longshoremen and white-collar workers protested against the Mayor on May 11, holding signs reading "impeach the Red Mayor" [34] and chanting "Lindsay is a bum". [35] They held another rally May 16, carrying signs calling the mayor a "rat", "commy rat" and "traitor". [36] Mayor Lindsay described the mood of the city as "taut". [35]

The rallies culminated in a large rally on May 20 in which an estimated 150,000 construction workers, longshoremen, and others rallied outside city hall. When the workers later marched down Broadway, many office workers in surrounding buildings showed their support by showering the marchers with ticker tape. One magazine coined the day, "Workers' Woodstock". [37]

On May 26, Brennan led a delegation of 22 union leaders, who represented more than 300,000 tradesmen, to meet with President Nixon at the White House and presented him with several ceremonial hard hats, and a flag pin. Nixon said he sought to honor those “labor leaders and people from Middle America who still have character and guts and a bit of patriotism”. Nixon general counsel Charles Colson, who organized the meeting and was later in charge of developing a strategy to win union support for Nixon in the 1972 presidential election, identified Brennan as a friendly labor leader due to his role in organizing the counter-protests in the weeks after "Bloody Friday". [38]

Brennan later organized significant labor union political support for Nixon in the 1972 election. Nixon appointed Brennan as his labor secretary after the election as a reward for his support and he was retained by President Gerald Ford into 1975, following Nixon's resignation. [39] [40] The book The Hardhat Riot wrote of the riot that it was the day when the Old Left attacked the New Left, because "two liberalisms collided that day, presaging the long Democratic civil war ahead", and that the riot and demonstrations after captured the "era when FDR’s everyman first turned against the liberalism that once had championed him" and Nixon "moved the Republican Party from blue bloods to blue collars". In their reviews of The Hardhat Riot, the New York Daily News wrote that the riot "changed American politics, perhaps forever" and, in the New York Times, Clyde Haberman characterized the riot as "a blue-collar rampage whose effects still ripple, not the least of them being Donald Trump’s improbable ascension to the presidency". [41] [42] [43]

Watch the video: Rebel Without Applause: The Anti-War Protestor Who Left Nixon and the White House Speechless (July 2022).


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