Speaking Out: Protests in 1969

June 13th, 2019

Rising against issues such as the Vietnam War, racial justice, women’s issues, and gay rights.

Virginia State College students march along Bank Street at the State Capitol | Photograph courtesy of The Valentine
Virginia State College students march along Bank Street at the State Capitol | Photograph courtesy of The Valentine

Protests throughout the nation were mostly peaceful but sometimes violent, on world issues such as the Vietnam War and concerns closer to home, notably racial justice, women’s issues and gay rights. Responses from the powers-that-be were all over the board, from thoughtful to reactionary. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on several student demonstrations in 1969.

  • About 100 students from the University of Virginia protested at the state Capitol, joined by students from Mary Washington College and Virginia Commonwealth University. Demands included greater desegregation in higher education and improved state employee wages.
  • Approximately 2,200 Virginia State College students marched peacefully at the Capitol on issues affecting the college.
  • In Farmville, black students from Moton High School, joined by students from Hampden-Sydney College, went on strike, demanding better resources, reinstatement of a popular white teacher and black representation on the school board. (Moton had reopened in 1964 after five years of no public school, Prince Edward County’s strategy for avoiding racial integration. The students were primarily black, since whites were attending the whites-only private school.) A few months later, The Washington Post reported, “In addition to one town policeman, the six deputy sheriffs and some rescue squad members, there are now two Negro justices of the peace, a black on the three-member draft board, a Negro Democratic committeeman, and perhaps most significant of all, two Negroes on the six-member school board.”
  • Students at Hampton Institute occupied the administration building to assert demands for improved faculty conditions.
  • Black students at VCU petitioned for the ouster of rector Virginius Dabney for his “segregationist tendencies and racial philosophy.”
  • Giving us today a sense of déjà vu, discussions also arose on gun rights and the display of the Confederate flag – though supporters of the song “Dixie” seem to have lost their battle.

The Collegian, University of Richmond’s student newspaper, ran a commentary in the Oct. 17 issue by student Url Richardson on the nationwide Vietnam War Moratorium Day.

I listened to some fellow striped in black arm bands reading 800 names of Virginia’s Viet war dead and I recognized the names of a couple of old friends. One buddy in particular … he was a good guy.

Good Lord, I thought, every one of those 800 is somebody’s good guy …

There I was standing under a waving American flag calling for an end to the war, lost in a crowd of students and faculty, most of whom, it seemed to me, weren’t listening to the names. They were just standing there feeling very moral …

At Monroe Park near the VCU campus I found the Moratorium mood much the same as UR’s: saintly, arrogant and more geared to black arm bands than the problem of the War …

How could so many people be so sure that the war is senseless, I wondered? It made me feel sick and indecisive. I don’t want guys like my friend to die in Vietnam, but neither do I trust our enemy’s motives … My friend died thinking he was fighting for freedom of the South Vietnamese. Who am I to spit on his grave? …

By mid-afternoon I had decided I wanted always to be free and that I wanted everybody to have the same opportunity I have.

I took the band off and left Monroe Park.

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