1970: Iowa State protests after Kent State shootings

Iowa State Daily photograph of the 6 May 1970 protests on Lincoln Way

50 years ago this week, thousands of ISU students and staff and local residents marched to protest the war in Vietnam and the recent Kent State massacre. Throughout the spring, small protests had been a regular occurrence, but after Kent State, the scope became much bigger. This was also leading into VEISHEA weekend, making for a tense event as many colleges were trying to keep protests from getting out of hand.

Monday, May 4

The Ohio National Guard at Kent State University opened fire during a mass protest against the bombing in Cambodia by United States military. Four students were killed and 9 others wounded.

Iowa State Daily from 5 May 1970

Tuesday, May 5

About 50 students demonstrated on campus and attempted to do a sit-in at the Armory, but it didn’t last the night. The same day, the Government of the Student Body (StuGov these days) called for a 24-hour student strike on Wednesday. In the Iowa State Daily, a Saturday protest in downtown Ames of about 400 people demanded the military to get out of Cambodia.

Midway through the march, the group, consisting of students, faculty members, administrators and other interested persons, sat down in the street. For nearly 15 minutes the group remained seated, sang “give peace a chance” and chanted “peace now” and “we don’t want Nixon’s war.”

Iowa State Daily, “400 Ames protesters peacefully demand ‘out of Cambodia,’ 5 May 1970.

Wednesday, May 6

At the campus protest, more than 3,000 students met on Central Campus. (Enrollment was around 19,000.) Some went to disrupt an ROTC drill was while others moved to the intersection of Beach Avenue and Lincoln Way where they initially sat in the median but soon went on to block traffic. (At this time, this was a key intersection. Lincoln Way was Highway 30 as the route it now takes south of Ames wasn’t built until 1974. University Boulevard wasn’t built yet, and 13th Street and Ontario weren’t connected, meaning there were few options to get from one side of Ames to the other.) The students later marched to the Selective Service building (“the draft building”) near downtown.

The Iowa State Daily the next day:

A noon rally yesterday on central campus spread itself to downtown Ames as more than 3,000 persons voice opposition to the Indo-China war and the killing of four Kent State students.

The four-hour demonstration gathered spontaneity, as it winded its way from central campus to the ROTC drill field to the Armory to the Beach Avenue-Lincoln Way intersection to the draft headquarters downtown.

Plans for the rally were hastily put together Tuesday after local students joined the wave of campus protests being staged throughout the nation.

Initial plans called only for speeches and dialogue but more than 2,000 demonstrators were less than hesitant to head for the drill field with plans of disrupting an AFROTC drill.

“Rally becomes march as thousands protest military and shootings,” Iowa State Daily, 7 May 1970.
Iowa State Daily from 7 May 1970

Thursday, May 7

At this time, there were no classes on the Thursday or Friday of VEISHEA week. A handful of demonstrators stayed at the Selective Service building overnight, so when it opened in the morning, they attempted to prevent entry and then congested the space to prevent operations. 22 were arrested and tear gas, Mace, and clubs were used when a few refused to go peacefully. The Iowa State Daily reported:

A number of dean of students officials ⁠— including Dr. William Bell, Art Sandeen and Lynn Jennison ⁠— attempted to persuade the demonstrators to leave.

The building was evacuated and Assistant Police Chief Tom Lyttle broke open a canister of tear gas in the lobby of the building. Lyttle reportedly got a strong whiff of the fumes in the process.

Thirty seconds later the demonstrators ⁠— ⁠who had formed a solid wedge inside by locking arms ⁠— came stumbling, gasping and coughing out into the bright sunshine. Ames Police, Story County Deputy Sheriffs and State Bureau of Criminal Investigation personnel chased them down.

Some resisted arrest by lying on the ground and were dragged or carried to four squad cars. Robert Trembly, Econ 4, and Loras Freiburger, Aer E 1, clutched each other in an embrace on the ground. Police officers ⁠— unable to dislodge them by force ⁠— sprayed mace in their faces.

“Tear gas, Mac, clubs used by police officers,” Iowa State Daily from 8 May 1970

The clubbing and use of Mace went unmentioned in the Ames Daily Tribune’s coverage.

Iowa State Daily from 8 May 1970

Friday, May 8

About 100 show up at the Selective Service building in the morning, but it remained closed because of the tear gas lingering. Protesters called it a victory.

Saturday, May 9

VEISHEA went on as scheduled but weapons were banned, including for the ROTC marching in the parade The celebration’s events included performances of Oliver! and Twelfth Night and a José Feliciano concert. After the parade was the “March of Concern” where 2,000 protesters from all types of campus groups marched. ISU President Robert Parks spoke to them and stated that Iowa State will remain open, unlike the other two Regent schools (and many colleges across the country), which gave students the option to end the term early.

Parks’ speech was recounted several years later:

“If the university is not concerned with deep human problems such as bringing peace, then what should it be concerned with?” Parks asked, denouncing the violence at Kent State and admitting that he, too, would like to see peace.

“A Cyclone Century,” Iowa State Daily from 8 Dec 1999

Sunday, May 10

GSB passed a resolution asking for classes be made optional so students can “participate in non-violent and informational activities.” The grade a student had on May 6 would be their final grade for the semester. The Regents stated that giving students the option to leave was in the school’s best interest because it ensured students’ safety.

Monday, May 11

President Parks announced he was urging professors to “work understandingly” with students who were actively involved in either protesting or supporting the Vietnam War. Classes weren’t going to be canceled.


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