I’m working on an exhibit of photos dealing with the turbulent 60s and 70s at Ohio University. Given the choice between posting random photos as I’m editing them or letting the site go dark from time to time, I’ll opt for posting pictures with minimal copy.
The negative sleeve says February 22, 1968, so I must have shot them for The OU Post.
Must have been cold
It’s Ohio. It’s February, and people are wearing coats, scarves and gloves. That’s a pretty good indication it was being held outside where it was cold.
Must have been one of first
I transferred from SEMO to Ohio University as a junior in the fall of 1967, so this must have been one of the first of many protests and demonstrations I would cover over the next two years.
My Road Warriorettes have been coming through in a big way. A big box of cookies from Curator Jessica from the Athens County Historical Society and Museum arrived last week. This week it was a package of the best peanut brittle in the world that Anne Rodgers picked up on her way through Marianna, FL., on her move to Texas.
I got a text from Jessica this afternoon: “Awake?” She knows that I am a frequent napper, so she always checks before calling. When I gave her the OK, she made some small talk, then said, “OK, now for the bad news.”
I wondered if she was going to tell me that this sign was for her. I wasn’t looking forward to breaking in a new Curator Jessica. No, it wasn’t that.
No chance to take it easy
Then, I figured we had been turned down for a grant we had applied for. Nope, No news on that front.
The first time I met Curator Jessica, I was about three hours out of Athens when she called to ask if I could pull off a major exhibit on Martin Luther King’s National Day of Mourning in three weeks. I liked her spirit, and we did it.
Three weeks is doable, but three days is stretching it, cookies or no cookies.
A tailor in 1968
We agreed that one that focused on Athens downtown landmarks, particularly where I could contrast photos from the late ’60s and early ’70s with contemporary pictures would be something quick to pull off. That’s why you get to see tailor Frank Richey looking our over Court street on December 21, 1968.
Frank’s building in 2013
Frank is long gone, but the building his shop was in survives.
So, instead of a normal post, you’re going to see a huge data dump of the photos we’re considering. We figure the 100-plus photos here will cut down to about 30 when all is said and done. Not shown are two panoramas I shot last fall. They are going to be almost four feet wide by about 10 inches tall.
Waiting for Anne to call
If I see Anne’s Caller ID show up on my phone, I’m going to be slow to pick up. No telling what she’s going to want me to do for my package of peanut brittle.
Athens, Ohio, photo gallery
Click on any photo to make it larger, then navigate through it using your arrow keys.
Today is May 4. I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t hear from my old chief photographer, John J. Lopinot, today. He always sends me a message on May 4 that says, simply, “Never forget.” He’s referring to the killing of four students at Kent State on that date in 1970.
While I was killing time before speaking at a photo exhibit of my Martin Lutheran King National Day of Mourning pictures, I wandered around the Ohio University’s Main Green, feeling a lot like the old geezer in Catcher in the Rye who went back to his old school to see if his initials were still carved in a bathroom stall.
When I stood in front of Lindley Hall, a dorm on Court Street, I had a flashback to 1970.
May 15, 1970
After two nights of tear gas and rioting, Ohio University closed and students scrambled to get home.
Anxious parents descend on town
Frantic parents clogged all the streets in town trying to pick up their students. Every breeze would cause tear gas powder to rain down from the trees, causing red eyes for blocks. National guardsmen, some with bayonets affixed were spaced all over the downtown and campus area.
Incredible wave of emotion
I climbed to the landing where I had taken the photo above and felt an incredible rush of emotion. I was transported back to that time. I can’t explain why that particular location triggered the feeling.
Did something happen here?
While I was coping with that and composing this photo, two coeds ran squealing down the street and jumped on the back of a male student. There was much high-fiving and quite a reunion going on. Finally one of them saw me with a camera and gave me a friendly wave. I returned the wave and walked down to them.
“You know, the last time I stood on that landing and took a picture looking down Court Street it was May 15, 1970. Tear gas was wafting through the air and there was a National Guardsman with a rifle spaced about every 25 feet.”
“Really? Something happened here?” one of them asked, giving me a “is this old geezer harmless?” look..
If I don’t get the message from John, I guess it’s a sign that we really have forgotten.
My initials were gone
I didn’t carve my initials on the wall of a bathroom stall, but it was a tradition for the photo editor of The OU Post to put his (they had all been male up to that point) initials on the darkroom door. The white arrow, top left, points to my “KLS 68“. I was killing time waiting for that night’s demonstration or other madness to start when this picture was taken in 1970.
Baker Center, where The Post lived, is being remodeled and the basement where my initials were scrawled has been gutted no telling how many times over the years. That’s the way it goes.
President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed Sunday, April 7, 1968, as a national day of mourning for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I wrote back in January about a class project at Ohio University that put me in an ideal position to cover the event in front of the John Calhoun Baker University Center as both a student and photo editor of The Ohio University Post.
Next weekend is the 100th anniversary of The OU Post and some of these photos have my colleagues in the background. I won’t be able to make it to Athens for the reunion, so this is my contribution to being there in spirit.
Students filled the street
Hundreds, if not thousands, of students filled the street in front of the student union and spilled out onto the Main Green.
OU President Vernon Alden spoke
The Kennedyesque OU President Vernon Alden, center, wearing a black armband, spoke.
Religious leaders were present
All of the local faiths were represented.
Crowd was solemn
I was struck by how seriously everyone took the ceremony.
A salt and pepper group
The front ranks were heavily represented by black students, many wearing signs that said “In Mourning.”
Not your normal gathering
Most of the white students in the back were dressed more casually, but this wasn’t your normal student gathering.
The mood was solemn and there was no laughing or calling across the group.
I had been to many protests, concerts and gatherings on the Main Green, but this one had a feeling of dignity about it.
Instead of being your normal batch of campus radicals, you had a mixture of jocks, sorority girls, frat boys, professors and townspeople all coming together to try to make sense of what had happened.
The racial mix on this day was probably proportional to the school’s makeup.
The ceremony ended
After the formal ceremony ended, the crowd started to disperse. Many of them walked a block north to Court and Union, the main intersection in town.
A small group of students sit down
A small group of students sat down in the middle of the intersection.
The crowd grows
More and more students joined the sit-in. Again, uncharacteristically, this wasn’t your normal group of rowdy drunk students who block this intersection on the first warm spring night after a cold winter. You can tell from the expressions that this is a serious occasion.
All of downtown is blocked
Finally, the whole intersection for at least a half-block in all directions was full of students.
James Steele addresses crowd
James Steele, who was one of the speakers at the formal ceremony, addresses the crowd.
I should explain something before we get to the part where things turn ugly. Ohio University was founded in 1804, so the local police have a lot of experience in dealing with unruly students.
Usual procedure was to see if they’d break up on their own. If not, a half-dozen cops would show up in “bats and hats,” somebody would read the riot act over a bullhorn, then there would be some pushing and shoving, followed by everybody heading back on campus.
Rarely were any arrests made. Some bricks and bottles might get thrown and a few windows could get broken, but I never heard of any looting of the downtown stores. The police didn’t even use teargas at any event I covered until the spring of 1970.
Captain Charlie Cochran didn’t follow script
Athens Police Captain Charlie Cochran, always a hothead, didn’t follow the script. Instead of giving the normal order to disperse and having enough officers present to enforce it, he waded into the demonstrators and literally threw them off “my street.”
Seriously misread crowd
Charlie didn’t realize this wasn’t your normal unfocused mob of kids out for a good time. These folks had seen their national leader gunned down. They were hurting and looking for a place to direct their anger. They didn’t take kindly to being manhandled on a day of mourning.
Cooler head prevails
A friend grabbed the fellow who had been thrown to the ground just before he could retaliate. If the two had tangled, I’m convinced the whole crowd would have joined in and someone would have been seriously hurt.
Chief, James Walen works out compromise
Before things could get out of hand, Police Chief Fred James, left, and James Walen, university vice president for administrative affairs, right, worked out a compromise.
The chief agreed to allow the students to continue the demonstration for a “reasonable amount of time” and the students agreed to leave peacefully after that.
Charlie didn’t look happy to have me part of this confab, but this isn’t the first nor the last time that we’d have an awkward moment together. I’m not sure who the concerned citizen in the middle was.
Before long, intersection open
The bulk of the crowd retreated to the corners, then, after a “reasonable time,” everyone else moved on.
“Where do we go from here?”
A writer in The Athena, the university yearbook, penned, “The King is Dead! It echoed in microphones; and hearts were horrified throughout the campus, country, and world. Martin Luther King Jr. started a dream, but a bullet couldn’t shatter it. Now, where will his dream go?
“We talk about the coup d’etats of South America and the street riots in Europe, but when will we stop destroying our Kennedys and Luthers? Let us not scatter after the black arm bands have been put away.”
I’ve included a wide variety of photos. If you were there that day, you might want to share them with your grandkids. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.
Post and Athena folks, I’m pretty sure I’ve spotted Clarence Page, Joyce Halasa, Ed Pieratt, Todd Schofer and Tom Price. (Now that I think of it, I think this is a class I flunked because I didn’t turn in an assignment. Wonder if I could submit this for extra credit 43 years late.)