Abbie Hoffman and Political Unrest in Lawrence Kansas During the Spring of 1970

Lawrence Kansas, 1970: a time of unrest

 

Even people who weren’t born yet are familiar with the shootings at Kent State University on May 4th, 1970.  On that date, students were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia when members of the Ohio National Guard fired on the protestors, killing four people and injuring nine others.  This incident caused a national outcry and fostered campus unrest across the country.  The shootings eventually led to a nationwide student strike, causing more than 450 campuses to close down in the face of often violent protests.

 

A month earlier, violence erupted in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, culminating in the bombing of the Student Union at the University of Kansas on this day, forty years ago.  This liberal campus town was the midway point between San Francisco and New York, and was a destination for both gentle hippies and violent militants intent on social change.  Unrest gripped Lawrence and KU since February, and many citizens in this small university town were shaken by their proximity to a danger that culminated in the deaths of two Lawrence teenagers that summer.  This incident is not as well remembered as the Kent State Massacre, but lifelong residents of Lawrence will never forget the spring and summer of 1970.

 

 

An age of unrest and activism

Abbie Hoffman spoke at KU in 1970.  It was believed his speech contributed to the violence to come
Abbie Hoffman spoke at KU in 1970. It was believed his speech contributed to the violence to come
On April 20th, 1970 the Kansas Memorial Union was firebombed.  No one was ever charged with the crime
On April 20th, 1970 the Kansas Memorial Union was firebombed. No one was ever charged with the crime
Weapons were said to move freely throughout Lawrence in anticipation of a violent upheaval
Weapons were said to move freely throughout Lawrence in anticipation of a violent upheaval
A protest march from downtown Lawrence to Oak Hill Cemetery took place in July 1970
A protest march from downtown Lawrence to Oak Hill Cemetery took place in July 1970
John Lennon wasn't against change, but he wanted to know what the plan was.  Change for the sake of change wasn't enough
John Lennon wasn't against change, but he wanted to know what the plan was. Change for the sake of change wasn't enough

Abbie Hoffman, a call to action and violent upheavals

 

Like the rest of the country, Lawrence residents were concerned with the Viet Nam War and the armed forced draft, but the main issues in Lawrence also involved racial equality.  In February of 1970, members of KU’s Black Student Union protested the university’s refusal to print a BSU newspaper by throwing 6,000 copies of the University Daily Kansan into Potter’s Lake.  The paper allegedly espoused militant causes, instructed blacks to learn self-defense and included information about weapons, ammunition and guerilla tactics.  Many believed left-wing radicals were heeding the call for a revolution and Lawrence seemed headed for an armed confrontation. Guns, explosives, and other weapons flowed freely within the community. Street people, radicals and vigilantes along the outskirts of campus and in east Lawrence were believed to be stockpiling weapons. By mid-April, the protests trickled down from KU to Lawrence High School.  Security was increased as the high school was “visited” daily by militants whose intent was keeping tensions at a fever-pitch. 

 

Abbie Hoffman, the social and political activist who co-founded the “Yippie” movement, delivered a speech to 7000 students at Kansas University’s Allen Field House on April 8th.  Some believed he came to campus to lead a revolution and waited for instructions.  While his profanity-laced speech fell short of telling people what to do, his message was not peaceful and many were convinced his presence contributed to the violence that gripped Lawrence in the months to come.        

 

Fifty black teens locked themselves in the Lawrence High administrative offices on April 13th, demanding more black teachers and an expanded black studies curriculum.  Two days later, black students gathered in Veteran’s Park (across the street from Lawrence High School) while white students amassed in the parking lot adjacent to the high school cafeteria.  The police patrolled the grounds but fights broke out despite their presence, and five students were hospitalized.  On April 16th a downtown furniture store was gutted in a fire, and authorities found a firebomb among the wreckage.  The high school closed on April 17th to address the issues, and on April 20th the High School Administration Building and the Kansas Union were firebombed.

 

The bomb planted in the Kansas Union went off at 10:38 PM.  Every member of the Lawrence Fire Department was called to the scene.  The firefighters attempted to protect the unburned side of the building from the blaze while students ran in and out of the Union, saving artwork and furniture.  Despite these heroic efforts, the top two floors were destroyed and more than $1 million in damage resulted.  Although evidence proving the fire was arson was uncovered, no one was ever charged with the crime.   

 

The next day, Governor Robert Docking placed the city under a dusk-to-dawn curfew that was extended for two additional nights. Arson, firebombings, and sniper fire increased during the curfew period, and another fire was started at Lawrence High. Occasionally fire fighters responding to calls were shot at by snipers, and fire trucks were armed with shotguns in response.  On April 21st another confrontation ensued at Lawrence High with 150 students breaking windows until police dispersed them with tear gas.

 

The violence and subsequent curfew cast a pall over the city.  Lawrence was at war with itself, and people were confused and frightened.  On July 16th, a 19-year old black man was shot and killed by Lawrence police in an alleyway in east Lawrence.  Bombings, fires and shootings followed in the aftermath of this tragedy.  Five days later, an 18-year old white man was killed by police a short distance from campus.  On the day of the annual summer sidewalk sale in downtown Lawrence, protestors marched from campus to Oak Hill Cemetery in silent tribute to the young men who lost their lives during this most violent of summers. 

 

The city was again affected by violence when a bomb went off in Summerfield Hall on KU’s campus at 11:00 PM on December 11th, injuring three people and causing over $30,000 in damages.  Summerfield Hall housed the university’s computer center and was considered a major campus hub for data and communications.  Like the bomb that gutted the Kansas Union earlier in the year, the culprits were never caught.

 

Violence isn't the answer

I was twelve years old when these stories of unrest and violence occurred. My older brother was a student at Lawrence High and I vividly remember my parents concern for his safety in class each day. My father drove him to school every morning and ensured he made it inside safely. I recall wondering if it was safe to be in the front yard of my parents’ home. We lived only a few blocks from Oak Hill Cemetery—the destination of city-wide protest marches in July. My sister held a job on campus at Summerfield Hall. If she worked the night shift on that fateful December day, she would have been on duty when the bomb went off.

The causes may have been just, but (in my opinion) the world won’t be changed through violence; not in 1970 or 2010. We can create a climate of unrest and change, but it is better to build things up than tear them down. To use violence to destroy only begs the question of what will come next. John Lennon used to say, “We’re not against that; we’re for this. If you draw people into a situation to create violence, it is to overthrow what? It is to replace it with what?”

“Count me out if it's for violence. Don't expect me on the barricades unless it is with flowers. As far as overthrowing something in the name of Marxism or Christianity, I want to know what you're going to do after you've knocked it all down. If you want to change the system, change the system. It's no good shooting people.” --John Lennon from the Playboy Interviews, December 1980

I agree with John on this one.

You say you want a revolution

Comments 42 comments

ralwus 6 years ago

I remember those times well and it was scary at times. I was a young man then and sadly, I was elated at what our Gov. Rhodes did. I suppose what took place in Lawrence had some influence on his decision. I think after Kent State (which is not far from my home) these kinds of demonstrations pretty much stopped. Also Abby was not well received at Woodstock if I recall. Great hub sir. CC


William R. Wilson profile image

William R. Wilson 6 years ago from Knoxville, TN

Good hub. I didn't know about these incidents in Lawrence. While the past year has been hair raising, politically, I look back at the late 60s and realize that we've come through worse times as a nation and we can do it again.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Very well done. Great message. Great music. Great presentation! Thank you Sir!


kimberlyslyrics 6 years ago

Mike OMG horror, and our babies still now are not safe in their schools, it's just done now more randomly and spur of the moment.

If only there was a way to protect our schools, and I believe there is but the amount of money t would cost surely wouldn't be justified when compared to all the schools not attacked. Sick. This world. Sick.

Thanks for a wonderful hub

Kimberly


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

Great Hub. Thanks for bringing to our attention that part of recent history.


JannyC profile image

JannyC 6 years ago

Great write and educational. I did not even really know what the Ken state thing was about but the name did sound familar. Love how you put emotion into it too. I felt every word and learned at the same time.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Ralwus, thanks for stopping by. Those were strange and interesting times. If I remember correctly, Abbie Hoffman didn't get all that great a response at KU, either. I think he was eventually seen as an instigator without a real plan or vision. Things did slow down in Lawrence by winter--the bombing of the computer center was the last of that level of violence, and I believe you are correct--after Kent State, protests took a slightly different form.

Thanks for reading, my friend!

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

William Wilson, I appreciate your comments. You're correct that when we put things into a historical perspective, it becomes easier to see hope for the future. That certainly does not diminish the challenges this country is currently facing, but it does tell us that we have seen difficult times before and have survived them. Hopefully we will someday emerge from our current crises as a stronger nation, as well.

Thanks again for reading.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Micky Dee, thanks very much for reading. I appreciate your kind words about my article, they are most gracious. Stop by again any time, my friend!

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Kim, thanks so much for your comments. You are correct about the safety of our schools--kids are still in danger. The threats are more difficult to identify and curtail, and that makes the situation that much worse. In 1970, the issues were far more clear-cut than they are now. Children now live in a world of isolation born in part by a social climate that expects them to mature faster than they reasonably should. Kids bear emotional scars from a lifestyle that folks my age would never dream of having to live through. There are so many differences, but one frightening similarity is the threats our kids face. It is sad to see.

Thanks so much, Kim, I am grateful for your comments about my article.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

suziecat, thanks for reading. Those were fascinating times in a lot of ways, and they deserve to be remembered. I appreciate your interest.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Janny! Thanks for reading. I was pretty young when this stuff all took place, but I knew about Kent State in part because I had already started to develop a fascination with the Nixon presidency. The tension in Lawrence was a real and tangible thing back then, and lots of folks were afraid. My brother had a friend who kept a gun in his car, not because he was a militant, but simply to protect himself. In that sense, I'm glad those days are over.

Thanks again, Janny, I appreciate your stopping by!

Mike


kimberlyslyrics 6 years ago

Mike your response to my comment should be added to your hub, so beautifully written like the rest and the truth rolls down my spine in what could/would be.

Thanks again, this is what hubs should be.

Kimberly


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Kim, your final words--this is what hubs should be makes me beam with pride. I am ten feet tall right now. It is even more special coming from someone I admire as much as you.

Thank you so, so much.

Mike


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I remember some of this. Scary times. Good job, Mike!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Habee, thanks for reading. These were very frightening times. As Ralwus suggested, it seemed in many ways that events in Lawrence and, more importantly, Kent State probably signaled the beginning of the end of this type of unrest and protest. The issues remained, but I think some started to question using violence as a tool.

Thanks for reading, Habee!

Mike


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

Terrific hub! It's like total recall. I remember those times vividly.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Paradise, thanks for reading. These were strange times that folks will never forget. If I were older I might have found them exciting (although I doubt that I personally had protestor's blood running through my veins), but I remember them more as frightening moments. Violence doesn't change anything.

Well, thanks again for reading.

Mike


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

Very well done, I remember reading about these incidents and Im sure it was a crazy time. Cheers sir.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Hi Mike, I agree with you and john Lennon, a violence with killings in the guise of change is not justified. I remember my college days, full of ideals and nothing to do during vacant hours in the state university in the Philippines, I joined cause oriented groups, Marxist inspired groups and joined rallies and also a student leader. I experienced tear gas, mob and dispersal by police anywhere when joining rallies -- against the US bases hehehe, sorry . I use to speak in front of many students, but after some time, I got tired of it, I guess I am not going anywhere and grades went down, my parents were strict and so I became inactive until I told myself this is not for me, I cant change the system, i need to be better myself first,

Thank you Mike for the share, Maita


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

ladyjane, thanks for reading. They were indeed crazy times. They were crazy and scary and unpredictable, and I still remember much of those times in great detail. I'm glad I don't have to live through them again, though!

Thanks again for reading, I appreciate your comments very much.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Maita, you were a radical student??? I am shocked (lol)!!!! You know first hand what all this is like then, I guess. I think social change is possible, but it will never be accomplished through violence. There are other ways to be heard besides killing people.

Thanks so very much for your comments, Maita. They are always appreciated.

Mike


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

yes I am Mike hehe, I think they groomed me for it, as I was innocent, beauty looking and smart they say, so when I speak in front of stage,people will listen they say, then somebody will make my speech, but I dont follow it. I am more of a compassionate radical neo classical, neo colonial type. I speak with compassion and I get more claps LOL< in time of dispersal by police during rallies and gathering of course I was covered by big students, I get tired of it as I say as I want to work in corporate world not in the mountains, I got scared when somebody approached me and inviting me to join the Communist Party of the Philippines. They need students who can write books etc and lecture those people who dont know anything and poison their minds.

Thank you for your greetings, I am now 40, life starts for me? I am nervous though, the usual type question, Did I accomplish anything or Am I going to the right directions etc...although I can fool others, I look half my age, hehehe

I will cook today, Asian foods, I hope youre near, Thanks Mike, I just went to the church, Catholic -- thanks HIM above for the blessings! Maita


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Maita, I hope you had a great birthday. So you were hand picked to deliver messages in support of radical causes in the Phillippines? That is fascinating! I can certainly understand growing tired of political confrontation. I understand the desire to be a compassionate radical. I think it is better to be for something than against something. If radical change is only about tearing something down and getting rid of leaders, then how do we know if we are going to replace it with something better?

Life starts at 40, and if 50 is the new 40, then we are both ready for the years to come, right? I hope so. Once again--happy birthday.

Mike


Teddletonmr profile image

Teddletonmr 6 years ago from Midwest USA

This takes me back, Very well written and great details, I enjoyed reading and look forward to reading more of your work. Thanks!


Truth From Truth profile image

Truth From Truth 6 years ago from Michigan

It was an intense time, thanks for the story. I had forgotten some of that time. I also learned things I did not have knowledge of. Thanks.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Teddletonmr, thanks for reading. These events took place a long time ago and I was pretty young, but I still remember them vividly. Thanks for your comments, I appreciate them very much.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Truth, thanks for reading. It was indeed a very intense time, and in many ways I am thankful that America has found different (and less violent) ways of making their voices heard. I'm glad those times are behind us.

Thanks again, Truth.

Mike


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

I didn't know about any of this because I didn't live in the U.S. then. Very interesting. I agree with your sentiments.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Pamela, thanks for reading. The US was a most interesting place to live 40 years ago. Many people thought it was a wonderful, vibrant time when actions mattered and people could make a differnce in the world. Others saw it as a time of violence and fear, and are glad those days are long gone. Either way, they were certainly not dull.

Thanks again for reading, your comments are appreciated.

Mike


Just A Voice 6 years ago

Hi Mike...been away for awhile on my own personal trip. Good read. A very bad time and sometimes I worry that we have let time steal away our rememberance of the importance of it's lessons.

In the words of the Beatles:

"For every mistake we must surely be learning; still my quitar gently weeps.

Hope you are doing well.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Voice, how are you these days? I had been wondering about you lately--it has been awhile. I hope you are doing well, also.

These days so long ago were bad times, even while they stood for important things. I am not against change and progress, but I am against violence and killing. The lessons from those times are indeed important and must be remembered, so we might continue to learn.

Thanks for reading, and I hope everything is well for you.

Mike


Just A Voice 6 years ago

Doing okay...surviving...better than the alternative...

Well, that was just positively morbid and a total downer. Sorry.

Everything is okay, not how I would want my perfect world, but still way better than my worse nightmare or even some other peoples lives.

Just been feeling overwhelmed by life for a while, but am finally seeing past my self-imposed pity party.

Sometimes I just seem to have to take a break from social life and wallow around in misery until I get sick of my own self-pity and kick start myself back into society.

So here's to my coming out party on your hub. Last thing I wrote was so morbid I had to shut my computer off for a few days. But I think I'm past the wallowing around in the "life is a cesspool and poor, poor me" and ready to get back in the swing of things.

I'm so glad I found your hub. Even when I'm not communicating within this hub world, I often get on and just read. I may not comment because I just don't feel like talking, but I always come to your hubs first because I always enjoy the read.

Thanks for all the writings and I hope all is well with you also.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Voice, I appreciate your stopping by and letting me know how you've been. I will confess I was a bit concerned after reading what you wrote recently. I thought about sending you an email but didn't want to seem intrusive, so I am so glad you came by and said hello.

I understand taking a step back once in a while and just feeling your own feelings. I do that quite often, actually, and sometimes I'm not really in a proper frame of mind to communicate with the outside world, either. There are occasions when the outside world just needs to wait until I'm ready to deal with it. I certainly understand your feeling the same way. I am also very pleased that you come by to read, even when you're not in the mood to communicate. One of the nice things about what we do here is that we leave a little bit of ourselves in each hub for others to connect with. I'm glad you find some freedom and some peace connecting with my humble words.

Be good to yourself and take care, okay? If you ever wish to, feel free to email. Take care. Hopefully it helps having a weekend here.

Mike


Just A Voice 6 years ago

You are a good man Mike. Have a great weekend yourself.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Thanks for stopping by, Voice. Take care.

Mike


MidknightMarauder profile image

MidknightMarauder 6 years ago from Indiana

I brought Steal this book, I wish there were more people like Hoffman today


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Midknight Marauder, thanks for reading. Hoffman was an important figure in the history of America during that era because he was a symbol of change. In the 21st century, there is no one comparable. I'm not for the violence he so often advocated, but I am not against change. Folks like Hoffman helped us see that there could be a different path to take--a very good thing.

Thanks again for reading, I appreciate your comments.

Mike


David Taylor 6 years ago

I just happened to run across your story on the internet, thanks for writing. I have some stories about Abbie Hoffman to share myself. My parents were both professors at Kansas Wesleyan Univ in Salina, KS in 1970 and were picked to host Abbie Hoffman at our house before he gave his speech at KWU (similar, I'm sure, to the speech he gave at KU). I was 11 years old at the time and my brother was 13. The first thing Abbie did when he arrived at our home that afternoon was play basketball and football with my brother and me in our driveway and yard. There were a couple of things of note that Abbie said to me that I still recall vividly. First, he said that the only reason he was speaking at KWU was because his favorite band, The New York Rock Ensemble (great band...by the way!), had played in Salina a few months earlier. Second, he taught me how to spin a basketball on one finger and told me that he wanted me to tell my teacher and classmates in the fourth grade that Ho Chi Minh taught him how to do that trick. Finally, when he finally left our house to give his "speech" that evening, he took my basketball and dribbled it as he entered the speaking stage at KWU (I believe he used this basketball dribbling gimmick in a few subsequent speeches). What's important is that Abbie made sure that the student body president at KWU returned the basketball to me the next day with a note saying "thanks for letting me borrow your ball".

I realize these are just trivial anecdotes to the life and times of Abbie Hoffman and the turbulent years of late 1960's and early 1970's in our country. However, they gave me a perspective that through out all of the violence, violent rhetoric and chaos of these times, some of the main characters of the day were just young men and women expressing and enjoying their youth and freedom. Although it doesnt excuse some of their actions, it does give a more rounded view of who they were as just people like you and me. Thanks for hearing out my story.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

David, thanks for reading. Your story is terrific, and makes a great point that we often forget--these larger than life figures are also regular people. As you so aptly express, Hoffman and others were "just young men and women expressing and enjoying their youth and freedom." This is an interesting and touching story about someone remembered for advocating change through violence. It is fascinating to see him through your eyes as someone willing to play ball with kids in the yard, and thoughtful enough to make certain a young boy who loaned him a basketball got it back. Your memories add considerable light to his character, and I greatly appreciate your willingness to tell this story. Thank you so much.

Mike


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

In 1970 (after a tour in Nam) we spent weeks training for riot control at Camp Lejeune. I have no idea how realistic our scenarios were but one was that I would be on top (I suppose it may have been a standard scenario) of the White House with an M-60 machine gun. So I would have fought "for" my fellow citizens and "against" them? We were loaded onto trucks one day and just sat there for most of the day. I still don't know what was going on. This was the spring of 70. I put in for another tour of duty in Nam. I couldn't stand stateside duty. I was stopped this time in Okinawa. War is an ugly three letter word. People are targets. Be as it may- I'm not sure how rigid I would have been with that concept on top of the White House.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Micky, the 70's were strange times and there was a lot of confusion as folks sought change. The government's use of the military to keep the peace was understandable, but frightening at the same time. What would it have been like if you were expected to use that M-60 on American teenagers? It is a staggering thought.

War is indeed an ugly word, and I realize I'm naive in hoping for days when war will no longer be necessary or an answer to problems. Here's hoping the day arrives soon.

Mike

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