Demands & Counterdemands (May 8-12)

Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm,
I know
It’s been comin’ for some time

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” Creedence Clearwater Revival

The days after the vigil were tense, due in part to the presence of State Troopers on campus. What had been a peaceful memorial had escalated into something viewed as dangerous and in need of suppression. At the very least, it required attention.

May 7 – Reaction

An editorial in the Crimson-White reveals that the campus was aware of how the the previous night’s events fit into the larger narrative of nationwide protest. It also shows that many students — if the newspaper staff is any indication — could find blame all around. (Click on the image to view it at full size.)

Newspaper article, full transcript as follows: Actions by a minority of students here last evening cannot be condoned by this newspaper. Though peaceful protest is a legitimate way to express grievances, taking over a building and stealing food leads only to chaos. The University of Alabama now has learned this fact. As of early this morning, UA President Dr. David Mathews had requested state troopers come to Tuscaloosa on a standby basis. About 6 a.m. the troopers moved onto campus. The request followed a fire set at Dressler Hall, the cause of which has not been determined, although the prime suspect is arson. Whether the presence of state troopers will lead to violence cannot be predicted. However, the Crimson-White cannot support Dr. Mathews' call for troopers as an answer to the present situation. The appearance of troopers on this campus will only worsen the tensions and could provoke real violence, the kinds which have erupted in ugliness across the land. The students who took over the Supe Store last evening had legitimate reasons for so doing. They are rightly concerned about the Indochina War and the killing of four Kent State University Students. Though we disagree with their tactics, we support their cause. We cannot support Mathews' call for troops. Certainly there are two sides to every issue, and David Mathews has his. However, if Dr. Mathews were the type of president he should be, then even with gloom of war hanging over campus, tensions would be lessened. For too many years, the same students have asked for the same things at this University. They want self-regulated hours for women. They want better food. They want free speech. They want a part of the decision-making process of the institution, etc. But their requests have been refused a fair hearing by a University president who does not care to listen. Mathews has refused to even recognize legitimate grievances held by students here. So, he, and the University system he runs, are as much to blame as the students for the ugliness of last evening. To far too many students here and elsewhere, the only answer the American people will recognize is violence or some show of power. Though this nation supposedly lives in peace, it continues its slaughter in Indochina. Violence, as Richard Nixon has said, begets violence. No matter how horrible and deplorable, however, violence is about the only thing that will bring a response. Students in increasing numbers are learning this fact every day. The Indochina War and the incident at UA and on other campuses are intertwined. Indeed, because of the war the universities are being killed and so are students. In their fight for peace, though, students have also seen that fights for justice within their universities are futile. Thus, destruction, rather than construction, becomes the result in too many instances. The University of Alabama has better chances than most institutions in working out its problems. Even with the events of yesterday and early this morning, UA is still a conservative school which will listen to the rule of reason. One group of people, however, can be expected to be reasonable for only so long. If students who try to be reasonable, continue to be met with unreason from their administration, then the events of this week probably are only a smattering of what is to come. Though Wednesday supposedly was a day set aside to mourn the deaths at Kent State, Thursday brought troopers to the campus. The original purpose of the day, even so, was not lost. The deaths at Kent State are indicative of the rotten condition of this academic world in which we live. Every issue raised is part of that world, Kent State will not be forgotten and neither will the war. But as the University sits at the brink of total disaster, the Crimson-White pleads with President Mathews to quit his uncooperative attitude. If he continues his present aloofness, then perhaps there will be no University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He is helping to perpetuate our own destruction. Both sides have been at fault in this week's incidents. Nevertheless, our concern should be toward the future. Stay calm. Cooperate with the Troopers. And from the divisiveness of the week perhaps will come a better University, a University responsive to the needs and legitimate desires of its students. Peace. Remember Kent State.

May 8 – Teach-in

Student hecklers lining both sides of the Boulevard cheered and clapped as 21 Alabama State Trooper cars rolled in front of the new Frank A. Rose Administration Building Friday afternoon.

However, the cheers and chuckles of “It’s a parade” were quickly hushed as the student demonstrators and spectators watched the approximately 50 helmeted Troopers line up military style with their riot sticks and tear gas equipment.

Doris Flora, “Protest Meet Disbands When Troopers Move In”

The students were gathered at Denny Chimes around 3 p.m. for the “teach-in,” but Col. Beverly Leigh, the University’s security director, told them he couldn’t guarantee they’d be safe:

“If you go ahead on out there, I am not going to say that nothing is going to happen. I am not bluffing.”

With the help of Glenn W. Stillion, Assistant Dean for Student Development, they were convinced to disperse.

Protesters regrouped at the Hillel Foundation, just off campus. By now a group of around 200, they discussed their options. Overall, they wanted to cause enough minor disturbances to keep law enforcement on campus and engaged — so as to keep the pressure on Mathews and the administration.

That day, a group of students presented 19 demands to Mathews, based on the list drawn up at the Supe Store. One of their demands was quickly rejected: there would be no disciplinary amnesty for the protesters.

May 9 – The Student-Faculty Coalition

Dr. Mathews met with several faculty members Saturday morning and later these same faculty members met with students who have been involved in the protest which started Wednesday.

Paul Davis, “UA Students Okay ‘Truce'”

Faculty had an interesting role in the events of these tumultuous weeks. In particular, some were part of a semi-formal Student-Faculty Coalition (SFC), which had been communicating between the students and administration. On May 9, it helped broker a truce.

Mathews had suggested the “cooling off” period. In a public statement, he tried to convey his perspective:

“I want to assure all students and faculty that I am seeking to avoid the tragic situations that occurred on other campuses and to find reasonable solutions to real problems.”

In light of this, he asked that the students re-think their demands, to give up broad and impossible requests like “free the Black Panthers” and “end the war in Vietnam” and focus on presenting issues he could actually do something about.

May 10 – The truce

With the truce agreed to, Sunday was quiet, with no activities planned on campus. Students did not meet or continue public protest activity. They planned to regroup on Tuesday, May 12, to give time for Mathews to respond to their demands.

For their part, as parameters of the truce, the students asked for all outside law enforcement to be removed from campus and a return to their right to assemble and pass out literature.

May 11 – Negotiation

Mathews met with the SFC on Monday, telling them that he didn’t feel it was right to have to respond to demands under duress.

Mathews said that all should be concerned “not to respond to these problems in such a way as to give any appearance of making disruptive tactics work…”

Doris Flora, “Won’t Be Pressured, UA’s Mathews Says”

Nevertheless, he talked about things his administration had already done to address concerns from women students and Black students.

He also made clear he would not be intimidated.

May 12 – The truce unravels

While at Foster Auditorium, students discussed Mathews’ reply to a list of demands presented to UA administrator during demonstrations last week.

Judging from student reaction to speakers, most of the group apparently reacted negatively to the statement.

Dolph Tillotson, “Reply is Unacceptable”

When students gathered to discuss the administrative reply to their demands, they found much to complain about, including what SFC leader Hank Hawkins called the “blatant lie” that there had been continued disruption during the truce. Both Hawkins and Black student leader John Gibbons condemned Mathews’s statement.

In addition to the usual crowd of activists, Black and white, this conclave involved a broader group of students. More moderate or even conservative figures like the president of the Inter-Fraternity Council and the Student Government Association president spoke in favor of continuing the “teach-ins.”

Holding a “teach-in” may seem like an innocuous gesture, but it was a deliberate challenge to the new rules against student assembly. However, a chorus of voices in leadership advocated adherence to peaceful tactics:

“Violence is ugly. … It’s something we don’t want to get into. We’re starting to move now, and we’re going to continue to move on this campus without violence.”

This group of groups ultimately decided to disband peacefully for the night, to take up the question of what to do the next day. But whatever their decision, it was clear that the truce was broken.


“Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival and written by John Fogerty, was released on Pendulum, December 1970


  • Earl H. Tilford, “May 1970: Days of Rage and Reason,” Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s, Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2014, pgs 190-208.