On May 4, 1970, 1,500 DU students gathered on the University of Denver campus to publicly mourn four students at Kent State University in Ohio who were shot and killed by national guardsmen. The protest also centered on President Richard Nixon’s foray into Cambodia which risked an extension of the Vietnam War.
This was a surprising development because DU was not known as a politically active hotbed. The protest on campus made national news and thrust the University of Denver into the national spotlight.
On the morning of May 6th, a group of angry DU students gathered in front of the General Classroom Building (Today’s Sturm Hall) and encouraged students to boycott classes. The throng marched across Evans Avenue to what is today Carnegie Green and, then, on to Chancellor Maurice Mitchell’s office. Chancellor Mitchell responded to the protest by plainly stating, “no one is free to interfere with the scholarly activity here”, according to the Denver Post.
But the student throng was undeterred by Mitchell’s statements. The editorial board of the Clarion came out with a one-line editorial: “On Strike, Shut it Down.”
The students began to formulate various forms of protest. A firebomb was thrown into John Greene Hall on the south end of campus and the University called a convocation on May 8th to recognize the growing unrest. Later that day, students started to erect makeshift camps on both sides of Evans Avenue that started with several hundred students, and added outsiders, community activists and radicals and grew to 2,000 participants. Marijuana flowed freely and one area of the camp was designated as ‘camp mellow’. Thus, the label ‘Woodstock West’.
By May 10th, over 80% of the protestors were non-students and Mitchell called in local police to break up the camps. Early the next morning, 200 local troopers and 40 Denver police were called in to surround the camp and demolish tents and structures. According to Denver Magazine, 18 DU students were arrested along with two faculty members.
The encampment was once again resurrected soon after and was dubbed, ‘Woodstock II‘.
The students demanded a permanent outdoor forum, academic reform, and establish a Woodstock residential area. But, the students and administration failed to reach an agreement. On the morning of May 13th, Chancellor Mitchell, working with then-Governor John Love, secured the National Guard to enter the camp for a second time, tear down the tents and structures and dispose of the shanty village. The university ordered front-end loaders and dump trucks to clear the grounds. During the duration of the entire protest, sources estimate the crowd ranged anywhere between 5,000-12,000 with students, faculty, and outside participants.
In the span of fewer than 10 days, the public insurrection came to an end.
At graduation, about 60% of the students wore armbands, displayed peace symbols, and refused to wear caps and gowns. Maurice Mitchell kept a healthy distance from the newly awarded graduates to reduce the incidence of any public conflict.
While no significant visible changes were made on campus following Woodstock West, politicians were witness to the discontent and frustration on college campuses. The US withdrew from the Cambodia incursions on July 18th, 1970. On January 23rd, 1973, President Richard Nixon finally called an end to the Vietnam War and withdrew US troops.
Top photo source: Wikipedia.com