In 1970, the country witnessed rising anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in response to increased U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia. Two tragedies that year–the Kent State and Jackson State University Shootings–ignited protests at the University of Missouri–Columbia opposing the war and condemning the killings of dissenting students. MU students held several rallies, marches, class strikes, tagged the Francis Quadrangle columns, burned an effigy of President Richard Nixon, and left a casket on the steps of Crowder Hall, the Army and Air Force ROTC building.
In this interview, Bill Wickersham, a then professor, recounts the anti-war demonstrations unfolding at MU on May 11, 1970. Wickersham recalls how thousands of students and faculty gathered at the quad and sang peace songs. When protesters refused to end the nonviolent demonstration, police arrived on campus in full riot gear, arresting thirty people including Wickersham. A day later, the administration negotiated a “Joint Statement on Campus Problems” with students and faculty council members. The agreement laid out protections for peaceful assembly, provided a platform for anti-war discourse, and protected students engaging in demonstrations from disciplinary proceedings.
The anti-war protests had lasting effects at MU. The Board of Curators repudiated the “Joint Statement on Campus Problems,” enabling sanctions against the Sociology Department for supporting the protests, and the termination of Wickersham from his faculty position. These actions led the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to censure MU for its treatment of faculty and for violating academic freedom. The demonstrations, however, brought significant changes to the university. The protests paved the way for administrators to include student voices and participation in MU’s governance. A year later, McAlester Park became “Peace Park,” a memorial dedicated to the students killed at Kent State and Jackson State Universities. Most importantly, MU consulted with the AAUP to develop policies protecting students’ and faculty rights to free speech.
Subject: Anti-war demonstrations
Collection Name: The Quad: Stories from the Historic Francis Quadrangle
Contributing Institution: The Columbian Missourian
Type: Audio File