Many colleges and universities across the United States experienced an extended and often violent period of student unrest during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, memorialized in an iconic photograph from the Kent State shootings by John Filo. Student outrage here at Maryland against U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia peaked between 1970 and 1972. These protests prompted Governor Marvin Mandel to declare a state of emergency and send the National Guard to maintain order. That brings us to the next post in our UMD123 series: 3 is the number of times Governor Mandel dispatched the National Guard to campus.
May 4, 1970
In response to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, thousands of students across the country protested. Here in College Park, on May 1, 1970, after a noon rally on McKeldin Mall, student protesters vandalized the ROTC and AFROTC offices and proceeded to block traffic on Route 1. Prince George’s County police could not contain the students, who returned to campus to throw bricks, rocks, and bottles and slash tires. Over the next two days, students continued to block traffic on Route 1. The Washington Post reported on May 4, 1970, that the protest had grown to the “largest and most violent in the university’s history,” involving 1,000 -2,000 students and 250 police officers. Later that day, after students set fire to the Main Administration building, Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel declared a state of emergency. He sent 600 National Guardsmen to campus and placed Adjutant Major General Edwin Warfield III in command of operations on campus.
Protests continued even after the governor declared a state of emergency. When students attempted to overtake the ROTC armory, they were met with National Guardsmen armed with M16 rifles. The Guardsmen never loaded their weapons and students left peacefully, but the administration cancelled classes indefinitely. Students continued occupying and damaging buildings on campus, and the National Guardsmen remained on campus for nearly five weeks.
May 5, 1971
Tensions were high as the university held an 11 AM memorial service for those killed during protests at Ohio’s Kent State University the previous year. Students no doubt recalled the violent protests that occurred here at the University of Maryland as well. After a noontime student rally on McKeldin Mall, the student protesters spread across campus towards Route 1 and blocked traffic. In his official statement on May 6, 1971, Chancellor Charles E. Bishop informed the campus community that state police had been ordered to clear the highway but “could not contain the situation and requested assistance from the National Guard.” Governor Marvin Mandel again declared a state of emergency and sent 1,000 Maryland National Guardsmen to campus.
On the morning of May 7, 1971, the governor issued an executive order restricting access to University of Maryland’s campus, including its grounds, roads, and buildings until further notice. Hours later, Chancellor Bishop addressed the student protesters on Route 1 from a sound truck informing them about the presence of the National Guard, the ultimate authority of General Warfield, and the immediate evacuation of multiple buildings on campus. Although these restrictions were eventually lifted, the National Guard remained on campus for 12 days as students continued to demand the dissolution of the ROTC and the cessation of arrests. In total, the National Guard arrested 48 people on the first day and 73 people over the course of their 12 days (May 5 – May 17) on campus.
Anti-war protests resumed in mid-April 1972 and on the afternoon of April 20, General Edwin Warfield ordered 800 Maryland National Guardsmen to a “practice mobilization … exercise to determine the ability to collect, assemble, and organize the troops on very short notice.” He noted that this was an annual exercise and that although none of the troops were on campus, 600 were located at the nearby fire station. Later that evening, Warfield restricted access to campus to students, faculty, and staff and instituted a 9 PM-6 AM curfew.
Warfield’s assessment of student tensions was correct. The National Guard was called to campus on April 25 following protests against the escalation of bombings in North Vietnam and withdrawn five days later. On the anniversary of the killing of students at Kent State, May 4, 1972, students marched on the campus ROTC building and threw rocks and bricks at the structure. Students once again continued from the ROTC building to Route 1, where 150 students blocked access to the highway. Warfield announced from a helicopter at 11 PM that a curfew was about to go into effect and that any protester defying curfew would “face arrest.” General Warfield ordered 800 National Guardsmen and 125 state troopers to patrol campus. In the Washington Post, Warfield commented on May 6, 1972, “… after three years we have learned … not to overreact, not to seek a confrontation. As recently as last night we were reluctant to put the guard on campus…” mainly at the request of local merchants. He was convinced by the time of the statement that protests had subsided.
You can find more details about these events and many of the University materials referenced in this post using the Vietnam-Era Protest Activities on the University of Maryland, College Park Campus finding aid.
This is a post in our new series on Terrapin Tales called UMD123! Similar to our “ABC’s of UMD” series last semester, posts in this series will take a look at the university’s history “by the numbers.” New posts will come out twice a month throughout the semester; on the Terrapin Tales blog search “UMD123” or use the UMD123 tag. You can also check out Twitter #UMD123. If you want to learn more about campus history, you can also visit our encyclopedia University of Maryland A to Z: MAC to Millennium for more UMD facts.