By Shauna Blackmon, Sabrina Liedtke
October 5, 2009
In the past few years, being an eco-friendly hippie has changed from
a lifestyle accepted by few to a widely marketed trend accepted
nationwide. Though it is possible to spot a genuine hippie from the
'60s and '70s on Massachusetts Street, for the most part, the
references in our generation can be seen solely in peace sign-covered
graphic tees telling one to recycle or go green.
This year's homecoming theme is "Peace. Love. Jayhawks.", a theme
very much tied to Lawrence's hip, liberal community. Despite the
popularity of it all, however, much of the energy of the 1960s and
1970s gets forgotten. These decades were about a lot more than just
fashion and drugs; they were about a revolution and finding, or
creating, a place in society for those who didn't fit into the
standard box. Similar to areas like the Haight-Ashbury district in
San Francisco, Lawrence was a place for young people to come and
voice their opinions.
The Vietnam era is frequently associated with nationwide drug
experimentation, especially the spread of marijuana usage. Along the
Kansas River, miles of marijuana were grown, protected and harvested
by a group that came to be known as the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers.
Dan Bentley was in his early 20s when the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers got
started. He remembered them as a small group with a large social presence.
"It seemed more like a theatrical thing used by people for whatever
ends they had, or just to raise hell," Bentley said.
Maps were conveniently sold to these hemp havens in many of the
town's most popular hangouts and head shops, including the Rock Chalk
and the Gaslight.
"The ditches were full of hemp," Bentley said. "But most of it was
worthless. They were growing a lot of hemp to make rope for the war.
I'm sure some people sold it, but it wasn't worth anything."
Though marijuana usage was prominent in Lawrence, students were not
distracted from standing up against what they perceived as the
injustices of the University and the United States. In March of 1965,
hundreds of students participated in a "sit-in" in front of
then-Chancellor W. Clarke's Wescoe office protesting racial exclusion
as well as The University Daily Kansan's use of racist
advertisements. Around the same time, women's rights issues were
surfacing and becoming a cause for protest on campus. Back then, KU
women endured strict regulations, including a mandatory three years
in the residence halls, restrictions in parking privileges and a
required course in lady's etiquette and manners.
In the early 1970s, things went from heated to a full-on war between
the students and the establishment. Between April and June of 1970,
approximately 50 bombs and acts of arson occurred in Lawrence.
Bentley recalled one night when the violence was particularly bad.
"It was a really foggy night and you could just see the glow of all
of the burning buildings and hear the gunshots," he said.
The largest of these bombings occurred in the spring of 1970, when a
bomb was placed in the elevator of the Kansas Union and set to
detonate in the ballroom during the middle of the night. Dave
Meredith, 1973 graduate, was at a friend's apartment just off campus
when the bomb exploded.
"We heard sirens, not just one siren, but many fire engines and
police vehicles. We went up to campus to see what was happening and
as we walked up to the Union, we saw flames and smoke," Meredith said.
Seeing fires and violence was nothing new around Lawrence, but this
"I think the only thing that people generally felt and still feel was
that it was not a student that had started the fire; it was
definitely somebody that knew what they were doing and were
responsible for that," Meredith said.
Though no one was killed in the union bombing, after a year filled
with revolution and violence, the University had finally had enough.
"I think the administration at the University thought the best way to
handle the situation was to send everybody home," Meredith said.
"They spread the word that all students and faculty members were to
convene at the football stadium and Chalmers came out and explained
that they were thinking of ending the semester early and were going
to give students the option of either taking a final or going home.
Well obviously not many students wanted to take their finals."
The vote was taken by a vocal yay-nay system. The yays won by a landslide.
"Literally within a few days everybody had left and that did the
trick. It temporarily ended what was going on at that time." Meredith said.
A few months later in July, however, the violence returned. Rick
"Tiger" Dowdell, a 19-year-old African-American student, was shot by
a police officer after police were called to investigate gunshots
heard from what was known as the Afro-House. Dowdell and Frankie Cole
were seen leaving the premises in a Volkswagen when the police
started to follow the car. Dowdell and Cole ran two stop signs and
refused to pull over after the police turned on their sirens. Dowdell
then got out of the car and started to run while the exchange of
gunfire occurred; it was then that he received a fatal shot to the
back of his skull.
Only a few days later, Harry Nicholas Rice, a white 19-year-old
student, was shot and killed while participating in a protest of
Dowdell's murder. These frequent acts of violence between youth and
authorities only increased the tension and widened the division
between the two generations.
Things got so heated in Lawrence, that in August 1970 President
Richard Nixon was forced to send some of his men to evaluate the
sources of violence in Lawrence, as well as ordering National Guard
troops to help reinforce the local police.
Arguably one of the most defining moments in Vietnam-era Lawrence
history occurred in 1972, when 30 women took over the East Asian
Studies building, located a bit south of Corbin Hall at the time,
barricaded the doors and demanded equal rights for female students.
The demands of the women's affirmative action negotiation team
included a women's studies program, female staff on the financial aid
committee, women's health care, free childcare and basic equality,
all of which were met 13 hours later. This group of women came to be
known as the February Sisters.
According to Ryan Weaver, recipient of the graduate certificate in
Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the whole event was very spur of
the moment. The day before the takeover, Robin Morgan, an
internationally known radical feminist, spoke on campus and helped
students decide how to face the injustice they were dealing with.
"It is amazing to me that the event, which was organized in less than
24 hours, was carried out successfully. I sometimes wonder if the
organizers were themselves surprised with how successful they were on
that day," Weaver said.
Homecoming is about having fun and enjoying our youth, but the past
should not be forgotten. What the men and women of the 1960s and
1970s did greatly affects our day-to-day existence.
"I think Lawrence is still a socially conscious place to go to
school," Meredith said. "I know my son graduated from KU and he was
involved in a lot of political organizations. I think some of that
might have begun back in 1969."