Thank you for your excellent article [in UB Today, winter 2005] on the spring of 1970. Those times will never be forgotten. I was the night collector at the U.S. Postal Services’ self-mailer on the Bailey Avenue side of the campus and I had many anxious times picking up the mail during the spring of that year. I am a combat veteran of Korea and World War II, so you can only imagine my reaction when the protesters were beating the sides of my post office truck. I never missed picking up the mail through it all.
My heartfelt feelings have always gone out to the Vietnam veterans who were sadly victims, as were we Korean veterans. Were the sacrifices our dead young people worth it all? I still live my experiences daily, as do all combat veterans. The spring of 1970 at UB had a lot of impact on reliving my combat service.
John C. Boyd
Cheektowaga, New York
I read with interest your comments about the tumult at UB during the 1970s. As a graduate during the “of Buffalo,” i.e., private university days, the pride we felt at the campus and its beauty are what rendered it very special, including, but not limited to, the old Townsend Hall that was at one time a mental facility. However, my husband attended nights when it was “at Buffalo” [following the merger with SUNY] and when the problems occurred at UB. The tenor was so different from when I attended; the lack of respect for the institution was also obvious.
My dad attended UB when there was only Hayes and Foster Halls, and Crosby Hall was being built, so we are a UB family. My daughter graduated from UB with a B.A.; my granddaughter was “early” accepted but could not attend due to a lack of money. So the tradition has sort of stopped, but I love attending the sporting events, “Go Bulls!” And keep pushing for prominence in the national rankings.
Alice Michalak Miller, A.A.S. ’60
Cheektowaga, New York
I graduated and was commissioned in 1969, but my best friend Chris Schmink from Williamsville, New York, kept me updated on the events of the spring of 1970, especially the destruction of the ROTC offices and the history of the Cadet Corps in Clark Gym, sending me copies of the Spectrum and the Buffalo Evening News, along with audiotapes. You may not be aware, but one of the graduates of those years, William Welser III, B.A. ’71, now serves as a Lieutenant General in the United States Air Force. We had a vibrant program, one that also produced Brigadier General Lawrence Kwiatkowski, B.S. ’67, and a number of officers who stayed in the Air Force and the Reserves. I would like to see you do a follow-up story on the ROTC program and its untimely end. Thank you.
Roger Helbig, B.A. ’69
I was just forwarded the Web site for the spring 1970 retrospective in UB Today (Winter 2005) by a friend and fellow UB. student. I was the Spectrum photo editor from 1967-1969, having taken a large number of photographs preceding the timeline of the article. Many of the negatives or photos were left at UB when I returned to New York City after 1970. However, I do have some original photographs that documented countercultural shifts and the anti-war/anti-administration activities on campus such as occurred during Nelson Rockefeller’s visit to Buffalo, scenes of the “Buffalo 9” draft resisters, Martin Sostre support posters, as well as many of the student teach-ins, demonstrations at the federal court houses, concerts by such legendary rock stars as Janis Joplin, MC-5, Joni Mitchell, etc.
I did photograph police storming Norton Union as well, and remember being frightened but able to fire off a few exposures and then retreating upstairs. Also, I recall going to the “March on the Pentagon” in 1967 with fellow students (an event made famous by Life magazine’s image of a protester planting a flower in the barrel of an MP’s rifle), sit-ins at Hayes Hall and the disruption of campus life in general, as the Vietnam War was being waged throughout the 1967-1970 time period. It was certainly more than anyone bargained for as an undergraduate student. However, these times defined our generation for years to come and left us with amazing stories for our children who now grapple with the U.S. “War on Terrorism” and its repercussions.
Unfortunately, I never completed my degree requirements at UB, leaving campus a few credits short of my B.A., having been rather alienated from the academic route that was to take me to medical or graduate school. I do have mixed emotions about this transitional period of my life and it is difficult for me to look back at this era. Currently, I reside in San Francisco and still practice photography in the Bay Area as a PR and marketing solutions imaging specialist.
UB student, 1965 to 1970
I was so glad to see that the era that is so burned into my memory was featured in the Winter 2005 issue of UB Today.
It was an exciting, difficult time—exciting because we thought we really could change the world, beginning with the university, and difficult because of the realities that attempt at change involved. Some of those difficulties were the community sentiment and the police presence.
I was an RA in Goodyear dorm that year, and what I remember most vividly is that one of my freshmen was arrested during a tense demonstration. To this day, I feel that he was merely in the wrong place. He was accused of intent to throw a spent teargas canister at the police, though he claimed he was merely curious. I was incensed at the accusation, but it fell to me to contact his parents.
The injustice escalated, for each time we called the parents with his bail amount, and they “made” bail, the judge would raise the amount. This went on for three days.
When we finally got him out, we celebrated, but our lives were changed, as were our opinions of the justice system. No longer did we trust that the innocent would be treated as such till proved guilty. As students, we were not welcome in the community after this chain of events. We felt a prejudice based on “what,” rather than who, we were.
I remember, too, that it seemed to be the philosophy grad students who led many of the debates, made the speeches and got events to happen.
I visited the old campus once in recent years and was saddened to see the physical state of the area, as well as the remodeling that had been done to Norton Union [now Squire Hall, home of the UB School of Dental Medicine]. The attempt to erase the site of all the speeches and debate, by eliminating the steps at the front of the building was bizarre!
Virginia Jones, B.A. ’70
I was grateful to see your article about the campus protests in the early ’70s and I was surprised at how much anger it awoke in me ... anger that has been dormant since those days, but not yet healed. As a member of the class of 1972, I was present at most of what happened during those turbulent days by default, rather than by intent, yet those events were a critical and shaping part of my life. I want to congratulate your writer for doing the hard work of preparing the article, and also point out that some voices and viewpoints were either neglected or missed.
I entered UB in 1968, a politically naďve and unsophisticated freshman, and graduated four years later, a hardened veteran of stressful and difficult times. I came to UB largely unaware of the Vietnam War as anything other than background and a reason to stay in school, thereby avoiding the draft. I left UB in 1972, aware of more of the dark side of that war and my country than I had bargained on.
The article didn’t mention some things that I believe deserve to be remembered. The unrest on campus happened in a context of political repression not limited to the campus ... the events on campus were affected by events off campus, including the treatment by the authorities of draft resister Bruce Beyer and his supporters.
I’d like to share some of the things I experienced, because I feel the article went a little too lightly over this side of events. One of my clearest memories of that time is the first page of the student newspaper—a full-page photo of a Buffalo policeman walking away, his back to the camera, giving “the finger” over his shoulder to the photographer. The photo fit my experience of those days: there were student protests, but the only riots I saw were by the police.
My first experience of the turmoil was walking from Tower Hall through Norton Union on the way to class. Suddenly, a mass of people was running at me, and, looking over their heads, I could see a line of blue helmets and swinging billy clubs coming through Norton from the other side. These police were indiscriminately knocking people down and beating them regardless of whether they had been demonstrating, or were carrying books. Always quick to avoid danger, I turned and ran back to Tower ahead of the mob and saw the police spilling out onto the area between Tower and Norton.
After reaching Tower, I looked out to see a young woman with an armload of books descend the Tower steps. At the bottom step, a uniformed officer unleashed his dog on her and the dog attacked, bit her arm and took her to the ground. The sense of injustice and anger of the moment is still with me. Later that evening, I was in front of Tower when an unmarked police car drove through the area between Tower and Norton, and a shotgun with low velocity pellets was fired (they sting but won’t do much serious harm) into a group of students, but there was nothing seditious about this group of students.
My next interaction happened, in the early evening, when I was walking from Goodyear Hall to Tower with two friends. I looked ahead and saw a thick fog moving toward us. As the fog hit, I breathed in and nothing happened; when I breathed out, my face and lungs were on fire. The fog was pepper gas and it had drifted about a quarter mile from the site of a demonstration that we knew nothing about. Running into pepper gas is a really poor idea, as breathing deep takes it deep. By the time I reached Tower, I was in bad shape. I was pulled inside by students who held me down to stop me from running, and that only made me breathe harder and hurt more. They put cold cloths on my face and when I finally stopped struggling and could see, they sent me up on the elevator to help move others away from the fumes. I can’t remember how long this police riot went on, but I do remember holding a wet cloth in front of my face for what seemed like an eternity, helping others and then hearing glass break when the police fired another tear gas canister into the building (as high as the third floor).
I can still remember wondering what they thought they were going to accomplish shooting directly into student dorm rooms. Very few of us had been involved in whatever demonstration had been going on, but now we were all angry, and involved. Far from quieting student unrest, they had just hit a beehive with a stick, and, for the first time in my life, I was now part of something. I pushed my stereo speakers to my 11th floor window and played the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” at full volume as a statement that we hadn’t been beaten by what they had done. I can remember singing, “the time is right for fighting in the streets boy” out the window at the top of my lungs, my personal declaration of war. While I’m not sure that I admire the impulse of that moment, I can say, looking back, that that was a defining moment in my life. I would never again take freedom for granted, and never again be willing to look the other way when anyone in authority abused their power and injured innocent people.
My life had been permanently changed. That night of police riots was the beginning of a thirst for knowledge about activism, and especially non-violent activism, which has been a part of my life ever since. What I learned in classrooms at UB, helpful as it was, was never equaled by what I learned because of what happened when the police showed what they were capable of. In the 33 years since I graduated, I have continued to volunteer time to political, social and spiritual avenues of bringing peace and justice to this country.
In all the events I witnessed during these times, I never saw students try to injure policemen, except in self-defense or after prolonged and repeated abuse by police. I saw students express anger at the treatment they had received at the hands of police by breaking glass in police cars. I saw policemen in various situations attack unarmed, outnumbered and often innocent students with a level of violence that I still find hard to believe. While I can say that much of what I saw students doing in reacting to the war, was immature and even pompous, I can also say that the violence arose more from the police than the protestors. A different response could possibly have resulted in less, rather than an increase in, violence.
History is wasted if we don’t learn its lessons. The administration of the university (and of the country at that time) seemed unable to understand that the immediacy of the students’ demands was more than the passion of youth; it was the passion of those faced with death. I hope that we have learned from the history of UB that political spin can’t satisfy the needs of those faced with injustice, and I hope we have learned that open and honest dialogue with those who disagree is the best path to avoiding violence in the future.
Thanks for the memories and the opportunity to continue the healing.
Douglas MacIntyre, B.A. ’72
Rochester, New York
While I did not attend UB until the fall of 1970, many of my friends lived through “A Stormy Spring,” title of your UB Today cover story (Winter 2005). I seem to remember a movie being shown on campus in late 1970 that chronicled these events. I’m curious whether you came across it while researching the story.
Mike Sadowsky, B.A. ’74
Editor’s note: Other readers have inquired about this film, which was made by then-undergraduate student Marty Sadoff, as an outgrowth of his work for Professor Fred C. Burke’s experimental course, “Scratches on the Mind,” when the unrest occurred in the spring of 1970. University Archives does not have a copy of this film and requests that anyone who knows the whereabouts of a copy please contact University Archives, 420 Capen Hall, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260-1674, or phone (716) 645-2916.
Clifton Park, New York
I was there—spring 1970—and your story, even with the occasional comments from other students, seemed very one-sided. My roommate and I were working with a graduate student project called American Revolutionary Media (ARM), which was about using “revolutionary new media” like the first-generation of portable video recorders to document current events. We hadn’t counted on having such a series of dramatic events so close at hand. We were all over the campus during these “stormy times,” filming and observing.
I was a freshman undergrad living in Goodyear Hall. Before the strike and the police occupation, I was a middle-left Democrat. Afterwards, I was a committed anti-war activist with much stronger left-leaning politics. What changed me? How about coming down the elevator of my dorm one morning and finding armed police in the lobby.
Was there some student-initiated property damage? Yes. Did some windows get broken and slogans spray-painted on walls? Yes. This was noting compared to the violence perpetrated by the Buffalo Police and Erie County Sheriff’s department.
I saw fellow students get tear-gassed and clubbed. We witnessed Buffalo police using spotters with binoculars to pinpoint individuals on the campus lawn to target them with tear gas canisters. Tear gas that was intended for crowd dispersal was redeployed as a weapon against unarmed college kids. That’s violence against a person. Only when some students picked up the still-smoking canisters with Hi-Li rackets and returned them to the police and the wind shifted did this episode end.
Your sanitized recollection of events missed a great deal. You missed the atmosphere of Norton Union with daily speeches by not only SDS, but also the Black Panthers. Does anyone else remember Angela Davis and Bobby Seale speaking? Having these committed, and yes imprisoned (out on bail) revolutionaries calling on young suburban kids to stop “talking the talk” if they we’re willing to get arrested to do it, had an impact.
You talked about the spiral of violence as if escalation was invented at UB. Where were you during the ramp-up of the Vietnam War and the invasion of Cambodia? We were sending more and more young men and women to die for a questionable cause, while domestic needs for housing and education were sorely neglected. The war didn’t just “wind down”—the student protests and the shooting at Kent State raised the stakes. Were our parents and lawmakers really willing to kill off a sizeable number of their own children for a war that was oversold and misrepresented?
Sure, the events of the spring of 1970 disrupted campus life. Classes were cancelled and administration buildings were shut down. But consciousness was raised.
I’ll end my rant with one more image—which your writer missed. At the mock funeral for the “Death of the University” on March 9, after thousand of students tossed their printed death notices into the coffin, it was carried to Hayes Hall. When the cover of the coffin was removed, out jumped my classmate Bobby Faust—a small man with long hair and a heavy Brooklyn accent. He delivered a stirring speech that echoed the tone of the Yippies of Chicago. The university as we knew it may have been “dead,” but we in the protest movement were very much alive.
Daniel Shimberg, B.A. ’73