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Anti-Vietnam War Movement, 1963-1973

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Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown

Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown, April 11, 1967. Photograph by St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press.

During the Second Indochinese War between communist North Vietnam and US-backed South Vietnam (1955‒1975), the US government escalated American involvement in Southeast Asia. In response, anti-war activists and university students in Minnesota, along with demonstrators across the nation, took to the streets to protest.

The US first intervened in Vietnam in the early 1950s, when it backed French troops during the First Indochina War. As the Second Indochina War began, the CIA and US government under Dwight D. Eisenhower backed pro-democracy South Vietnamese leaders. American interference in Southeast Asia continued as subsequent administrations slowly escalated the war throughout the 1960s.

Most Americans were at first supportive of the US government’s efforts to purportedly fight communism and ensure democracy in Southeast Asia. However, anti-war critics believed that this was the Vietnamese people’s fight—first for independence from colonial rule and then for reunification. The US was intervening in a conflict that was not its own, and it was causing more deaths than saving lives. This argument rang true for young college-age Americans who could be drafted into the army, had friends risking their lives abroad, or had already served and were disillusioned with the government.

Protesters across the nation took their concerns to the streets as well as the ballot box. In Minneapolis, anti-war demonstrators organized a march in Dinkytown in April 1967, carrying signs with slogans such as "War is darkness; peace is light." Later that month, activists attended a rally at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak out against the war.

Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota was also an outspoken critic of the war. Supported by young anti-war activists, he won a high percentage of votes at the 1968 New Hampshire primary. Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale (1964‒1976) initially supported the conflict but shifted his stance in the late 1960s. In 1965 he had visited South Vietnam, where he talked to reporters from newspapers such as the Minneapolis Tribune and revealed what was going on behind the scenes.

In response to President Nixon’s decision to send troops into Cambodia in April 1970, students on over 700 college campuses gathered to protest. On May 4, 1970, Kent State University students clashed with the Ohio National Guardsmen, which left four students dead and nine injured.

University of Minnesota (U of M) and Macalester College students organized protests in response to the invasion of Cambodia as well as the Kent State deaths. In May 1970, thirty people attended anti-ROTC demonstrations at Morrill Hall. Seventeen were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly. Faculty also got involved and released statements protesting the arrests. Another group of anti-ROTC demonstrators posed as wounded or dead war victims outside the doors of an All-University Senate meeting. Meanwhile, twenty to thirty students conducted an all-night occupation of Coffman Hall, which ended peacefully when policemen escorted them out of the building.

Students carried their protests beyond the campus to locations throughout the Twin Cities. On May 11, 1972, seventy-five demonstrators spent the night on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis and blocked traffic to make their point. Three hundred policemen and National Guardsmen, called in by Governor Wendell Anderson and Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig, told the demonstrators to clear the street. Most complied, though 150 students returned and were joined by more students. Although this could have become a violent standoff, the police eventually withdrew. 3,000 protesters had gathered by then, either reconstructing blockades along Washington Avenue or moving on to other streets (including Interstate 94).

A few days later, over 3,500 protesters marched from Northrop Mall to the capitol in St. Paul. Later that month, Minnesotans gathered at the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington for a “Dump the War” rally, which featured McCarthy, John Kerry (Vietnam Veterans against the War spokesman), and several Congressmen as speakers. It was considered the largest anti-war assembly in Minnesota to date.

Protests in Minnesota took place within a nationwide context of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, as well as other social movements that mobilized large numbers of people. Such acts of protest and resistance drew public attention and built up domestic pressure on the US government to gradually withdraw American troops from Vietnam by 1975.

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AV2006.41
KSTP-TV Archive
Moving Images Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10463671
Description: May 11, 1972, news coverage of antiwar demonstrations at the University of Minnesota. National Guard members march down the street and Bruce Lindberg talks to a crowd. Part of the “The Cause Is Peace?” videotape.

AV2006.41
KSTP-TV Archive
Moving Images Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10463674
Description: Eugene McCarthy speaks to students in front of Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota during a Vietnam protest. Part of Turner & Buehler's Stories - on U of M demonstrations, “The Cause of Peace?” videotape.

48659
KSTP-TV Archive, Moving Images Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10522864
Description: May 11, 1972 videotape of University of Minnesota anti-war demonstrations. Part of Turner & Buehler's Stories - on U of M demonstrations, “The Cause of Peace?” videotape.

48663, AV2006.41
KSTP-TV Archive, Moving Images Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10463677
Description: Videotape of Vietnam protest march to the Minnesota State Capitol on May 13, 1972. Speaker rallies the crowd on the steps of the building.

29800, AV2006.41
KSTP-TV Archive, Moving Images Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10463532
Description: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at an anti-war rally at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus on April 27, 1967.

Chaduvula, Raju. “9 Photos of the University of Minnesota’s Massive 1972 Anti-war Protest.” Minnesota Daily, October 3, 2016.
http://www.mndaily.com/article/2016/10/9-photos-of-the-university-of-minnesotas-anti-war-protests-in-1972

Furst, Randy. “Vietnam War Era Activists Reconvene at Macalester College.” Star Tribune, May 4, 2016.
www.startribune.com/vietnam-war-era-activists-reconvene-at-macalester-college/378033081/

Gettleman, Marvin E., Jane Franklin, H. Bruce Franklin, and Marilyn B. Young, eds. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. Young. New York: Grove Press, 1985.

Isserman, Maurice, and Michael Kazin. America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Nathanson, Iric. “Martin Luther King’s ’63 and ’67 Minnesota Visits Are a Study in Contrasts.” MinnPost, January 16, 2012.
https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2012/01/martin-luther-kings-63-and-67-minnesota-visits-are-study-contrasts/

Nordahl, Jeffrey. "Why I Protested The Vietnam War." Minnesota Remembers Vietnam: The Story Wall. A Minnesota PBS Initiative.
https://www.mnvietnam.org/story/why-i-protested-the-vietnam-war/

O’Neill, Hannah. “Eight Days in May.” U of M Radio on Your Historic Dial (podcast), May 23, 2017.
https://www.continuum.umn.edu/2017/05/eight-days-may/

Phillips, Kimberley L. War! What Is It Good For?: Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq. University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

PUM-10872928
Walter Mondale Oral History Interview, June 16, 2011–October 26, 2011.
Moving Images Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10872928
Description: Portion of interview with Gary Eichten and Mr. Mondale regarding Vietnam.

Sandbrook, Dominic. Eugene McCarthy: And the Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.

Sieg, Kent G. "The 1968 Presidential Election and Peace in Vietnam." Presidential Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1996): 1062-80. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27551671.

University of Minnesota. Fact Sheet II on University of Minnesota Activities During the Nationwide Campus Anti-War Movement, May 25, 1970. University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://hdl.handle.net/11299/122371

University of Minnesota. Fact Sheet III on University of Minnesota Activities During the Nationwide Campus Anti-War Movement, June 8, 1970. University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://hdl.handle.net/11299/122373

Wells, Tom. The War Within: America’s Battle Over Vietnam. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994.

Related Images

Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown
Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown
Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown
Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown
Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown
Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Paul
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Paul
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Paul
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Paul
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Paul
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Paul
University of Minnesota student protest
University of Minnesota student protest
University of Minnesota student protest
University of Minnesota student protest
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Protest button
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Protest button
Protest button
Protest button
Protest button
Eugene McCarthy anti-war button
Eugene McCarthy anti-war button
Demonstration at the 1968 Democratic National Convention
Demonstration at the 1968 Democratic National Convention
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Fundraising party for Student Mobilization Committee
Police pursue and attack a student protester with clubs
Police pursue and attack a student protester with clubs
Blockade of Interstate 94
Blockade of Interstate 94

Turning Point

The Nixon administration’s decision to expand war to Cambodia in April 1970 sparks nationwide protests on university campuses, including ones in Minnesota.

Chronology

April 11, 1967

Anti-war demonstrators march in Dinkytown (Minneapolis) to call for peace.

April 17, 1965

The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) lead a March on Washington to End the War. 15,000–25,000 college students and anti-war activists participate in the largest peace protest up until that point in American history.

April 27, 1967

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks out against the Vietnam War on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus—a controversial move for the Civil Rights leader.

November 30, 1967

Eugene McCarthy, senator of Minnesota, announces his presidential candidacy and runs on an anti-war campaign.

January 30, 1968

The Tet Offensive, a surprise attack by North Vietnamese troops, is a major American defeat. Public support is already low, and the majority of Americans turn against the war.

August 26-29, 1968

10,000 anti-war protesters demonstrate at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Their clash with policemen, who use tear gas and clubs on protesters, is nationally televised.

November 5, 1968

Richard Nixon narrowly defeats anti-war Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey (former Minnesota senator) in the presidential election.

November 13, 1969

News of the My Lai massacre, the mass shootings of unarmed Vietnamese civilians (including women and children) by a company of American soldiers, sparks nationwide protests.

April 30, 1970

President Nixon decides to send US forces into Cambodia, though the administration had already started secret bombings there earlier in 1969.

May 4, 1970

Students on over 700 college campuses, including the University of Minnesota, protest the US invasion of Cambodia. National Guardsmen and policemen kill four white students at Kent State.

May 9, 1972

A series of protests in and around the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus begin. They become known as the “eight days in May.”

May 11, 1972

Senator Eugene McCarthy gives a speech before U of M students in front of Coffman Union.

May 27, 1972

A “Dump the War” rally is held at the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington. At the time, it is considered the largest anti-war assembly in Minnesota.

January 27, 1973

The Paris Peace Accords officially end the Vietnam War, though US troops remain in Vietnam until 1975.