Many Portland State alumni wrote and called to share their memories of the violent clash between Portland Police and student demonstrators on May 11, 1970. Protests against the Vietnam War, the shipping of nerve gas through Oregon, the imprisonment of Black Panther Bobby Seale, and most notably, the infamous shooting deaths of four students at Kent State, came to a head that spring day. Here are accounts sent by e-mail that did not appear in the print version of the spring 2010 issue of Portland State Magazine.
Interesting photographs may be found on the website of former Vanguard photographer, Tom Geil '71. Photos by Mark Stanley '74 and Edwin Collier MAT '70 are posted on this site.
In addition, a 29-minute documentary, The Seventh Day, of the 1970 student strike at Portland State by the University's former Center for the Moving Image, is available for viewing in the PSU Library's Special Collections. The Library plans to make the film more widely available in the coming months.
I was a senior at Gresham Union High School with a scholarship to PSU in hand when we learned of the moratorium activities. Friends of mine and I had previously attended anti-war rallies in downtown Portland featuring Senator Wayne Morse but were in class that day.
The news accounts that evening of violence breaking out countered all our previous experiences at demonstrations. It was not until I attended my PSU Freshmen Orientation that summer, however, that I felt defeated and fearful as a film of the Tactical Squad battering students on that date in May was shown.
I would be remiss if I didn't quickly add that in my personal four years at PSU, those events were not repeated and of course that was largely in part due to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
Mary Lynn (Jordens) Fisher '74
I was a PSU student who watched the event from the sidewalk in front of Smith Hall. I watched it from the beginning until I could watch it no more. It was the most disturbing thing I think I'd ever seen people do in real life. It appeared to be very deliberate and well orchestrated on both sides. The combatants on both sides prepared in full view for an hour or more . . .in full view of each other. There was no mystery and no surprise about what was going to happen. Once finished and done, it had looked like some weird, Kafkaesque psychodrama meant to re-enact the ugliness and deadly futility of a battle from the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, or perhaps something from behind the Iron Curtain. But there was nothing put on or fake or theatrical about it. It was raw and primitive once the action began.
I wish someone would pull everything together into a book, all the back stories and dynamics, the Oregonian's role, Ivancie, Joe Uris, PSU administrators and faculty, lots of pictures, fill out the subsequent private life of those involved, analyze the group passions behind such a murderous and suicidal mob scene, take a deep look into the motives of the adults who permitted, and no doubt encouraged, this to happen on the stage of the Park Blocks.
Bob Maricle '71, '73
I was an older graduate student and my daughter, Ruth, was barely 17. She had attended night classes during the previous summer to earn enough credits for high school graduation, so she was able to skip her senior year and enroll at PSU shortly after her 16th birthday.
We were bystanders that day. Evidently, the students thought they had been granted more time to comply with the city's order to dismantle the first-aid tent. They formed a line in front of the tent and locked arms as they faced the PPD Swat team. I'm not certain, but I believe the students began to sing. When the officers moved in and started hitting the students over the head with their billy clubs, I lost it and started to shake uncontrollably and cry. Amid the confusion and screaming ambulance sirens, I had to pull myself together and at that point realized Ruth had disappeared. I then had to leave to attend class.
That evening my son, who was a Vietnam veteran and also a PSU student, brought Ruth home. He warned me to sit down before she walked in. Her head was wrapped in layers of gauze. She had joined the line of students at the last moment. Her name was not included with other injured students as a private party drove her to the emergency room of a small hospital in Sellwood (I think it was Rose City) and the papers didn't check this source.
We both attended a follow-up meeting with other injured students to learn if we could hold the police accountable or seek a legal recourse. (There were no citizen oversight committees in those days.) An attorney told us we didn't have a case as the police officers had removed their nametags and couldn't be positively identified.
We did see an interesting event that evening while we were on campus. Student activists were told they couldn't continue using Smith Memorial Center for their headquarters, so they were busy carrying out a mimeograph machine, typewriters, and supplies to the Koinonia House across the street. Two men dressed alike in light gray trench coats and hats were standing a short distance away watching this activity. I feel sure they were FBI agents as I had seen men in this same attire monitoring the Vietnam protest marches that started from the university and wound through downtown. During this time, J. Edgar Hoover was convinced the Vietnam anti-war movement was inspired, led, and funded by the Communists.
Margaret Moreland '70, MBA '74
In May 1970, I was living in the King Albert, two blocks from campus. It was one of several old apartment buildings recently opened by Portland Student Services, a grass roots movement to improve student housing. With cheap rent, a part-time job through Work Studies, and short-term tuition loans, I was able to stay in school and one step ahead of my draft board. They were closing in, however.
"Take the war to the streets" was increasingly heard during antiwar demonstrations after Kent State. Pickup trucks nudged barricades on the Park Blocks. I saw men in suits taking pictures of student protesters.
That day in May I was on the phone arguing with my sister in suburbia. She believed things like this could never happen in America. Suddenly a male voice interrupted our conversation: "Get off the phone, we're testing the line." Obediently we complied.
Afterwards I walked to campus and saw that Portland's finest had done their job. My sister never again suggested I was paranoid.
A couple of months later I moved to The Parkway, another Student Services apartment building. When I moved out a year later, I turned in my two keys, including one for the front door. "Oh, you got one of those," the manager commented. They'd been issued because more confrontations were expected during the American Legion Convention in August.
But downtown Portland was very quiet that weekend. Tom McCall had wisely Okayed Vortex. It was the perfect time for a wedding at the First Unitarian Church.
This summer my wife and I celebrate our 40h anniversary. We received our political education at Portland State. With our teaching credentials, we taught many years in the public schools system.
Bob Carrico MA '75
In May 1970 I was a student at PCC and took my classes at Shattuck Hall then a part of PCC. I was not there the day of the riot, but word spread quickly through news outlets and friends. Not a surprise actually given the emotion of the time and the desire to "demonstrate."
I was at Shattuck the next day, which was warm and sunny. A lot of people milling about, emotions still high and some remnants of the riot. Of note were the number of police and other law enforcement parked around the campus.
The months and years that followed included much political action. Many groups formed around important issues and added their voice to the anti-war effort. PSU was indeed an incubator of change in Portland.
Jim Underhill '74, MPA '79
Park Block streets blocked by barricades formed with park benches, garbage cans, and whatever else is lying around. Business as usual is not the order of the day. As a former PSU athlete, summoned to support President Wolfe and his administration during a meeting with the student protest leaders. Protest leader Peter Fornara's arguments make more sense than President Wolfe's. Consciousness begins to shift . . . Several days later, observing the activity in the park while standing on the east end roof of the Health and PE building. Portland Police SWAT team arrives and assembles in squads at the periphery of the protesters claimed space. Police phalanxes surge forward into the barricaded positions, beating, clubbing, and smashing anyone and everyone within reach. The world will never be the same as it was a few days ago . . .
Edward Gorman '69
You have asked for the wrong information.
While I fully support that everyone has the right to express their opinion, destroying campus property, riotous behavior, and taking on the police to state their point of view on the Vietnam War are memories that should be buried, not glorified.
The real question that should be put to the alumni is: How many PSU graduates fought in the Vietnam War and how many did not come home?
Delos E. Echlin '65
May 1970 was a time of conflict, controversy, confusion and consternation. Remembering that time brings back images of turned-over park benches in the streets surrounding campus to block traffic; students utilizing bullhorns and microphones to broadcast anti-war slogans encouraging other students to join in the protest of the Vietnam War; and groups of angry students yelling and marching in the streets.
When crossing the park blocks after work at the PSU Library one sunny afternoon, I was struck on the back of the neck by police attacking students gathered around a platform listening to anti-war rhetoric. The students had a permit to conduct the protest, but the police, protected by anti-riot helmets and suits and armed with guns and billy clubs, attacked nonetheless.
Looking back on this time in the history of PSU, and with the perspective that time and age bring, I now see that both sides were doing what they thought they had to do. It was an amazing experience to witness these events and be a part of the intense commitment the students had to ending the Vietnam War.
Margaret (Howell) Robinson '71
Spring of 1970 I was a freshman—theatre arts/speech major at PSU. At that time, the college had a professional company, American Theatre Company, in residence.
May 4, 1970—Kent State—and my 19th birthday. We were preparing to open a run of The Cherry Orchard. The company took a vote to suspend all rehearsals and production work for one week. I was by no means a student radical, but the horror of what happened at Kent State did change my way of thinking about Vietnam.
I finished my BS in 1973 and came back for a MS (1999). I was hired this year as an instructor/designer in the Theatre Department. I'm not sure how I feel about being on campus, teaching a class on the day marking the 40 years since what was a pivotal day for me.
Margaret Louise (Ball, Hetherington) Chapman '73, MS '99
Went to Grant High School and thought I'd send you folks some roots info. PSU was PSC when I was a probee, figuring out what to do with my life. Luckily I grew in stature and made some people think I could play football, they offered a scholarship in 1968. I started as tight end for the duration of PSU football and earned a degree. PSU was a local college for the workingman as PSU. I do believe that today's curriculum and student body owes a few beers to the sufferers from that time of turmoil.
During my first years at PSU there was a war called Vietnam (no one wants to discuss) sending bodies home in a plastic bag to both sides. I was on the roof of the PSU gym when war protesters were beaten with "Nite Sticks" by Portland's finest during this troubling time and would like to educate our younger generation. Although these were"“first aid" tents (but had smoke rising thru the roof) the right to assembly and voicing opinion were right up there with Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.
This was a time of great significance for our country and woke us up that people are created equal and might have a chance to live together in peace. There were other more publicized events around the country but our march on city hall in 1969 showed everyone that Portland lit their own spark for Homo sapiens.
We can all try just a little bit every day to make this an "Imagine all the people" reality. There are more of us than one can "Imagine."
Wars do suck.
Kurt Heinze '03
I remember May 1970 well. I was the co-director of the Student Tutor's Action Group along with Tess Fegel. We had an office above the student union.
The times were a sizzling and the pot boiled over when, first, Kent State, and then Jackson State were caught up in deadly fire. After those events, dozens of campuses around the country broke out in protest, including Portland State.
We put up a large tent, (borrowed from the outdoor club I believe) in the Park Blocks that we called the hospital tent and used for those who needed simple water and rest. It was manned by ex Viet Nam medics. Others and I built and manned barricades around the Park Blocks.
During one morning of the blockade a garbage truck deliberately crashed through and barely missed severely injuring a number of students. Later, on another day, a jock in a letterman's jacket threw a piece of construction litter from the garage that was going up across Broadway (yes, the now 40-year-old garage). It bounced off of the street and a nail wedged in my knee. I hobbled to the clinic where I was given a tetanus shot, ace bandages, and crutches whereby I went back. It was only as a result of this injury on the barricades that I was able to miss the final carnage when the Portland police came through the Park Blocks and completely destroyed the tent and smashed the skulls of a few students.
I later lost my deferment and enlisted in the Air Force. Nevertheless, May 1970 was a pivotal period in my lifetime just as it was a beginning to the end of the war itself. I do not see convictions for peace and justice in today's world to match what existed in the 1960s. It is unfortunate, but this country has taken such a hard turn to the right that it will take significant movements for us to bring our keel back in line. I can only pray.
Bill Beyer '78