NU Declassified: When Classes were Canceled 50 Years Ago

Christopher Vazquez, Reporter

After the National Guard killed four Kent State University students for protesting the invasion of Cambodia in the Vietnam War, Northwestern launched a university-wide strike. Fifty years later, Eva Paterson reflects on trying to stop a war as a college student.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: I want to introduce you to someone. His name is Amos Brown.

AMOS BROWN: At the last newsbreak, temporary engineer Michael Miller mentioned the word P-O-T, otherwise known as pot. We dragged out of bed WNUR’s technical director … who will explain to you the meaning of the word pot.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: Here he is in 1970, working the graveyard shift with a friend at WNUR, Northwestern’s campus radio station.

WNUR ANNOUNCER: Pot is short for the word potentiometer which is used to raise and lower the level of stuff we’re shoveling out over the air. When you over-pot, that means you’re a bit high.

AMOS BROWN: What happens when you under-pot?

WNUR ANNOUNCER: Well, you don’t get as high.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: This might sound like a typical college radio broadcast, but it’s anything but. It’s May 10, 1970, and Northwestern University has been shut down for days. From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Christopher Vazquez. This is NU Declassified, a look into how Wildcats thrive and survive at Northwestern. With campus closed right now, we’re throwing it back to another time the University shut down. On this day/During this week, 50 years ago, a strike against the Vietnam War had just begun. A quick content warning before we get into it: This story contains descriptions of war, death and police violence. So first up, a quick history lesson. The war is raging on, and protests are unfolding around the globe.

RICHARD NIXON: Good evening, my fellow Americans.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: Then, on April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced that he authorized a new phase of the war — the entry of U.S. combat troops into Cambodia.

RICHARD NIXON: I have concluded that the time has come for action.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: It didn’t go over well.

KENT STATE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS: “Strike! Strike! Strike!”

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: By this time, anti-war demonstrations in the U.S. were nothing new. The Cambodian invasion and Nixon’s justification of it just sparked more of them, especially on college campuses. One of them happened at Kent State (University) in Ohio.

KENT STATE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: The tear gas first started down the commons. Then the guard moved up on both sides of Taylor Hall and forced the kids off the commons.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: During that demonstration, National Guard troops opened fire on the student protesters. Nine were injured. Four were killed.

KENT STATE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: And all of a sudden I heard them shooting, and then I saw people dropping in the ground.

EVA PATERSON: On that Sunday, I was part of a march for hunger. I walked 30 miles, which right now I’m going, “What?”

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: This is Eva Paterson.

EVA PATERSON: In 1970, I was Eva Jefferson.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: Today, she’s a civil rights attorney in Oakland, California. But that spring, she was Northwestern’s newly elected student body president.

EVA PATERSON: And I can’t remember how we learned about the murders at Kent State, but everybody knew.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: After Kent State, Eva flew to Washington D.C., where student leaders from around the country met and talked about how to respond. At that point, students were going on strike and shutting down their campuses. And by the time Eva got back to Northwestern, students had followed suit. People were already rallying on Deering Meadow in front of the school’s library, and the University had suspended classes for the rest of the week. It was official — Northwestern was on strike.

EVA PATERSON: There were a bunch of radical students who had torches who marched to Lunt Hall. Lunt Hall was the place where ROTC, Reserved Officer Training Corps, was housed. I was there and basically said something that in retrospect doesn’t make any sense, but it worked at the time. I said, “These torches remind me of torches and other places,” alluding to Ku Klux Klan torches and the like. Well, these students were radical. They certainly were not racist, but that just came to me and they ended up not burning down Lunt Hall.

EVA PATERSON IN ARCHIVAL AUDIO: People are beginning to think about the University. I’ve heard some people say what the University means to them. Nobody’s ever talked about that before.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: This is Eva talking about the strike to a group of Northwestern faculty members.

EVA PATERSON IN ARCHIVAL AUDIO: People have just been making assumptions about what the University is. This is the first time people are seriously talking about what’s going on.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: There was no shortage of ways to get involved with the strike. Some students went into Evanston and tried to educate the community about what was happening on campus.

WNUR ANNOUNCER: Did anything really strange or funny happen while you were out there petitioning? Any particular incidents?

STUDENT: Well, this isn’t funny. One of the other pamphleteers was in a store, and we were approaching the owners of the store to tape posters in support of the NU strike. While he was talking to the owner of the store, a man who was also on the premises came up and started just yelling and screaming at him, not just talking, about how awful it was that, “You were dissenting from the government. You have no right to be anything but a student,” far be it from us to question whether we should be soldiers. But as they discussed it, the man just started getting more heated and more heated, and finally said that he felt that he wished more people had been killed at Kent as an example to students that they cannot protest, whereupon he grabbed this young man who was talking to him and threatened his life. The pamphleteer ran out of the store.

WNUR ANNOUNCER: Wow, that’s — you’re right, it wasn’t particularly funny.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: Remember Amos Brown? This interview with student leafletters is from the radio station he worked at, WNUR. They were on air with news coverage 24 hours a day, every day, as long as the strike continued. Most of those broadcasts are still in the University Archives. Their digitized collection starts on May 8, the day that students and faculty would vote on whether to continue the strike.

STUDENT: We’ve made ourselves a home here. Like, this is the free state of Northwestern University.

STUDENT: I think it’s a very necessary thing. I think it’s necessary for the strike to continue to show the people that this isn’t just something that kids do anytime they’re upset.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: These students were at Deering Meadow, where daily rallies were held.

EVA PATERSON IN ARCHIVAL AUDIO: We need the extra time to decide what we can best do in this community to stop the war in Cambodia.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: This is Eva again.

EVA PATERSON IN ARCHIVAL AUDIO: It deserves to live for four more days, because wow, I’ve never seen this community together before. Look at the people out here. We’ve got everybody on the campus out. Every type of person’s been working on this.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: When Eva was done talking, a professor took to the mic, condemning the war and decrying people who weren’t in sympathy with students or with the strike.

PROFESSOR: The statements made by the president and vice president of the United States about the deaths at Kent State University reflect an appalling lack of sensitivity to the principles of a demoncratic society.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: Then, just a couple of minutes after this professor references the killing of four Kent State students at the hands of National Guardsmen, something happens.

WNUR ANNOUNCER: An unconfirmed United Press International report has just come across announcing that Gov. Richard Ogilvie has ordered National Guardsmen into armories in the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston.

WNUR ANNOUNCER: We have an actual confirmation from the National Guard that a thousand more guardsmen have been activated. Five hundred of them have been sent into Evanston.

WNUR ANNOUNCER: The guard is going to an off-campus location somewhere in the city of Evanston.

EVA PATERSON: There had been a rally and I was sitting down in Scott Hall. It must have been by phone or maybe there was some kind of loudspeaker but they said the National Guard is marching on Dyche Stadium. I believe students were going to be there as well. Just think about this. Students had been shot dead by the National Guard at Kent State, so I was terrified. My big contact at the University was a man named Franklin Kreml. I think the University really liked me because the school wasn’t burning down. So I’m sure I got to him or maybe somebody else in the administration to say, “Do not have the National Guard go to Dyche Stadium.” I don’t know if Dyche Stadium still exists. And somehow the National Guard went somewhere else. That was a terrifying little stretch of time.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: That night, Eva was at Dyche Stadium — now Ryan Field — announcing the results of that day’s vote on Deering Meadow. By a 6-1 margin, the University opted to keep the strike going.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: I actually have a bit of the audio from WNUR of you giving that speech. Would you mind if I just played that for you?

EVA PATERSON: Oh my god. Yeah, because I had a Minnie Mouse voice at that time so this will be fun to hear.

EVA PATERSON IN ARCHIVAL AUDIO: The silent majority is not silent anymore. A lot of them are here. A lot of them are the labor people who are out striking. And think about how we’re winning our country back. All power to the people.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: That was just a little snippet, but did you get that?

EVA PATERSON: I did. Oh my god. “All power to the people.”

WNUR ANNOUNCER: The scene in Evanston tonight is definitely a peaceful one. Let’s hear some music about peace.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: That’s not just one newscaster’s observation. It seems to be what most of these strikers were trying to get at — the scene in Evanston was peaceful. Contrary to what many thought at the time, the goal wasn’t to spark violence. It was to reframe the function of a university and of education itself in a time of crisis.

WNUR GENERAL MANAGER: So we want to hear the other side, at least most of us here.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: This is WNUR’s general manager.

WNUR GENERAL MANAGER: And we’re constantly learning. We’re constantly growing. I say “we” as a collective “we,” and this is what we are trying to treat this strike as.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: The following days were full of technicalities about grades and course credit. But a few days later, the University would once again vote on whether to continue the strike.

WNUR REPORTER: How do you think the vote will go?

STUDENT: Well, the National Guard, I’ve heard, is due to be called in and will forcefully open the University tomorrow morning if the lockout is voted to continue.

WNUR REPORTER: The count, Eva Jefferson is just reading it to a meeting in Harris 107.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: On May 12, 1970, Northwestern voted to end its strike.

WNUR ANNOUNCER: It’s been a rainy night in Evanston. We hear more thunder in the background. We assume it’s not artillery. But, uh, well, it is not artillery.

WNUR REPORTER: We’re listening to each other, and this is one of the things that’s come out of the strike, is that the strike is about communication, being able to tune yourself into what’s happening on college campuses, being able to tune yourself into this anti-war movement and the movement against repression.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: But this isn’t the end of the story.

WNUR ANNOUNCER: I’ve just received a bulletin from our news facility. Ten students are locked inside Lunt Hall, headquarters for Northwestern’s Naval ROTC by security officers.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: This is the first day after the strike, and it’s hard to make sense of.

WNUR REPORTER: I’m on kind of the northeast side of Lunt Hall where there are approximately, I would say, 150 to 200 people gathered.

STUDENT: We were down in there. We started moving stuff out, and some of the officers of ROTC started hitting people. They dragged people down to the ground and kicked them in the head, and that sort of incited us.

STUDENT: There’s a big hole down in Lunt Hall’s wall, down in the basement, where a security kid pushed one of the people against the wall.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: More commotion broke out on campus that day, too.

WNUR REPORTER: We’re on the run now toward Rebecca Crown (Center).

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: It’s a little hard to make out, but that’s a WNUR reporter saying he’s on the run. Outside of Shepard Hall, Franklin Kreml — who Eva mentioned earlier — was talking to students. When they tried to stop him from leaving, security started pushing them around. And on Sheridan Road, a barricade that students had put up earlier on in the strike was removed. Protesters began forming a human barricade to replace it.

WNUR REPORTER: Policemen were all around the area, and students were all around the area, and then the policemen pushed them back to the sidewalks. They started letting the cars go through. I’m Joan Montgomery, and I’m going back right now to see what else is going on.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: On one hand, it makes no sense that chaos would erupt on campus after Northwestern held one of the nation’s most peaceful student strikes. On the other hand, it makes total sense. Demonstrations were turning violent across the country, so maybe it was only a matter of time before violence — largely perpetrated by police officers and campus security — found its way to Northwestern. And if there was one thing to expect from a college campus in the spring of 1970, it was a defiance of expectations.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: And so I’m not sure what you remember of that day, but I guess, if you do remember it, what were you making of it, especially after the strike had ended so peacefully?

EVA PATERSON: These are all incidents that are new to me. I do remember, of course, that Sheridan Road was reopened, but I don’t recall how it happened. But those incidents, I don’t recall.

STUDENT IN ARCHIVAL AUDIO: I did get to talk to Eva. Eva was very depressed about everything right now. She just said, “Don’t tell them to do anything in particular but just stay around.” She’s very, very low on things, and her emotions are just shot.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: Of these three episodes — the incident with the vice president, the Sheridan Road barricade coming down and the Lunt Hall demonstration — the Lunt Hall demonstration seemed to shake people the most. The next day, students and administrators met to discuss the University’s response. One of the students who was at Lunt got up to speak.

STUDENT: I think we’ve all got a stake in what’s going on with America, and I think we are being patriotic by standing up for what we believe. I think Northwestern may be setting a trend for an academic revolution of understanding and communication in the United States and hopefully in the world today. Thank you.

EVA PATERSON: When you’re 21 years old, 20 years old, you’re immortal. Nothing bothers you. You don’t need sleep. I’m sure I was running on pure adrenaline because it was such a strange time, so… I don’t think you’re conscious of that. It’s only in retrospect that you go, “Wait, I walked 30 miles in clogs and had blisters and then flew to Washington, D.C. because four students were killed and then came back to the University and people were trying to burn down a building and I persuaded them not to do that and every day I worked a board job, made toast, got on a motorcycle and then went to help lead 5,000 students figure out how to peacefully protest the war. It’s just what you do. It’s just, and I don’t know — how old are you?

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: I — right now, I’m 20.

EVA PATERSON: So you know, just, the world is your oyster. You just do what you do. You just keep moving ahead. It’s just, you respond to the moment.

CHRISTOPHER VAZQUEZ: Thanks for listening. This episode was reported and produced by me, Christopher Vazquez. The audio editor is Molly Lubbers, the digital managing editors are Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava, and the editor-in-chief of The Daily Northwestern is Marissa Martinez. Special thanks as well to Bill Healy for guidance on this story and to Kevin Leonard, Charla Wilson and everyone else at the University Archives, where I got a lot of the audio you heard on today’s episode.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @bychrisvazquez

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