May 6, 1970

May 2015 marks an important anniversary in the history of America’s war in Viet Nam, and the counterculture protests that occurred across the United States, and especially on college campuses — including the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

This image (below) of four students was taken at WU on May 5, 1970.  The student on the upper left holds a sign that reads “4 students were killed yesterday” — in reference to the shootings at Kent State, May 4, 1970.  It was an event that pushed the already growing campus protests forward.



The ROTC program buildings, Quonset-hut structures on the edge of Washington University’s campus, were a focus of protest at WU in the late 1960s.  And two days after the shootings and tragic deaths at Kent State on May 4, 1970 these ROTC buildings were set on fire in protest.

Pictured below is the Air Force ROTC building, shortly before the fires.


And as it burned, 45 years ago today:


The Class of 1970 included this event in their end of year “Year Bag” providing a tongue-in-cheek  ‘build your own ROTC building’ complete with matches (image below).



In 2001 the student members of W.U.L.F (Washington University Liberation Front) reunited on campus, and lobbied President Clinton to pardon then student Howard Mechanic for throwing the firecracker deemed to have started this fire in 1970.

Following the burning, ROTC became a non-credit program and moved off campus.  Only in 2014 did the program return to offering credit-based courses.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.