Oct 262011

A self-guided walk/bike tour of scenes from the last revolution to hit Lexington

By Guy Mendes

In contrast to the Greatest Generation, which saved the world from the Nazis and the Fascists, the crowd of students who hit their college years in the late Sixties was what you might call the Provocative Generation. They prodded and poked and pissed off a lot of people in order to help us understand that war was not the answer. They were part of a nation-wide movement not only because their lives were in the balance, but also because the American Dream had been exposed as a myth that hid the duel-headed beast of racism and militarism. These Provocateurs were in middle school or high school when JFK was assassinated. They were in college when MLK and RFK were gunned down. They were turning 18 when that meant, if you were a male, you could be drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam, where many people on both sides were being killed in a senseless, brutal war. They were just beginning to vote when Washington was burning and race riots consumed Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago. And they were about to graduate from UK when they heard that antiwar protesters had been killed by National Guard troops on the Kent State Campus. Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, four dead in Ohio. It can’t happen here, right?

During the weekend of October 28-30, Lexingtonians are advised to be on the lookout for roving bands of hippie-dippie peaceniks, pinkos, radicals and bleeding heart liberals who have conspired to convene in Lexington during the last weekend of the month. This loose-knit band of sixty-somethings is re-grouping 41 years after some of them put Lexington and the burning UK Air Force ROTC Building in their rear-view mirrors. Others among them have been living here all along, quietly thinking their leftist thoughts, waiting for the next chance to march in the streets.

On Saturday, they’ll gather at the downtown YMCA (239 East High Street) at 10 A.M. for a walking/biking tour of their provocative past. Come join them on their tour, and afterwards head on down to Occupy Lexington to hear some of their stories.

Can’t make it then? No problem. Here is a guided tour of “the most dangerous moment in UK history” (so far). In the meantime, if you encounter someone Questioning Authority, or asking What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?, approach carefully, flash the peace sign and say, Right On!

High and Stone. Photo by Guy Mendes.

1. 1. The tour of insurrectionary sites begins at High & Stone. Not only is it a harmonic convergence of street signs and a good description of the Sixties, it’s across from the Downtown Y, where there are five yellow bikes available, thanks to director David Elsen.

2. 2. Go two blocks down High and turn south on Lexington Avenue. The spot where Sue Anne Salmon was arrested for burning down the UK AFROTC building was about halfway between Maxwell and Euclid, not far from the current Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge. Sue Anne was handcuffed on her porch and police confiscated what they said was a Molotov cocktail. One bystander yelled at her, “I saw you do it and I’m going to testify against you.” The next day front page headlines screamed COED ARRESTED FOR ARSON. Two weeks later, after a lab determined the bottle contained ginger ale, a small back page article said, Coed Exonerated. Sue Anne was a staff member of the blue-tail fly, so she later wrote a story about the ordeal.

Sue Ann Salmon in blue-tail fly. Photo by Guy Mendes of a photo by Larry Kellkopf.

Sue-Ann Salmon in blue-tail fly. Photo by Guy Mendes of a photo by Larry Kellkopf.

It was a funny and frightening piece, about a five-foot tall, 100-pound shy person being falsely accused and mistreated by a system that presumed her guilty from the get go. (Copies of the blue-tail fly can be seen online thanks to UK Special Collection—the page pictured here is from issue number nine.) Sue Anne died in January, 2010. Here’s a thoughtful obit that ran in the Herald-Leader: http://www.kentucky.com/2010/01/16/1097860/courageous-advocate-for-earth.html

3. 3. Turn left onto the Avenue of Champions and behold the art deco beauty of the House that Rupp Built—Memorial Coliseum, scene of numerous national championships and a few significant protests. In 1966 it was here that William Turner, a black student from Lynch, in the coalfields of Harlan County, set up a one-man picket line protesting Rupp’s all-white teams. Considering the sacred nature of Kentucky roundball, this was an act of bravery. I’ve always considered Bill and his fellow Black Student Union members Jim Embry, Theodore Berry, Chester and Ann Grundy and P.G. Peeples to be the first real activists on the UK Campus. Four years after Bill’s singular protest UK integrated its basketball team.

Memorial Coliseum was also the scene of an unusual, mind-messing protest against racist Alabama governor George Wallace, who came to speak as a presidential contender in 1968. While protesters dressed in coats and ties and nice dresses demonstrated against Wallace, a large group of bell-bottomed, tie-dyed crazies called Hippies for Wallace picketed with signs saying things like “Turn On With George.” During his talk the hippies sat high in the rafters and cheered everything he said, such as how he’d run over draft-card burning protesters if he had the chance to. As the hippies’ cheers grew louder, Wallace finally looked up at them and said, “I guess they’re for us up there!” Nothing like a little political theater to stir up some national attention. Who knows, maybe it even cost him a few votes among diehard bigots.

It was somewhere in the vicinity of Memorial Coliseum December of ’69 that Don Pratt was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor by having kids sell copies of the blue-tail fly, in which there was a photograph of a nude. Don was the circulation manager of the fly; he worked with Sue Anne Salmon, who wrote for the fly.

4.4 Ride to the end of the block in front of the Coliseum, cross Rose and look back toward the shopping center on the corner. That’s where The Paddock was.

Photo from Lexington Free University archives.

The Paddock, which stood at the northwest corner of Rose and Euclid. Photo from Lexington Free University archives.

It was THE campus bar back then. It was a place where who knows how many schemes were hatched, and then forgotten the next morning. If you look up and over the little strip mall, you’ll see a still-under-construction, three-story building looming on the horizon. This is the Wildcat Coal Lodge—$7 million worth of proof that the University has sold it soul to the coal barons, and sold out the people of eastern Kentucky who have to live with the devastation of mountaintop removal.

 Photo by Guy Mendes.

Former site of the Paddock, with Wildcat Coal Lodge rising behind. Photo by Guy Mendes.

5. 5.Head back across the Avenue of Champions to the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. and there, where a new dorm complex sits, is where the AFROTC Building burned on May 5th, 1970. Historian Carl Cone wrote in his book about UK that this was the most dangerous moment in the university’s history.

Present site of UK AFROTC building that burned in May, 1970. Photo by Guy Mendes.

I disagree; I think it was a bit later that night, but more on that later. Meanwhile, I have to say that I did not burn the building. Nobody I know has ever told me they did it. I hear some people have bragged about doing it, but then disappeared from sight shortly after making their boasts. Forty-one years later it remains an unsolved crime, a real Lexington mystery. I think 98 percent of the people protesting that day were seeking peace, not chaos and destruction. I know for a fact that there was at least one undercover cop trying to get people to throw rocks through the windows of Beull Armory. And, obviously, someone did put the torch to the place.

Gov. Louie Nunn, sitting in a darkened car, is said to have watched the building burn and worried about the coeds in their pajamas who had to flee the adjacent Blazer Hall. He sent in the National Guard, equipped with live ammunition, to remove the protesters and cordon off the campus.

6. 6. Park your bike and go between the new Student Center and the old one, and you’ll see the grassy knoll where tear gas billowed, though billowed is not the right word, since Guardsmen were sticking the nozzles right in peoples’ faces, people like student government president Steve Bright, who along with many others, was forced to flee.

Photo by Frank Anderson. Reprinted courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader.

UK students move away from National Guard troops spraying tear gas on campus during a meeting May 7, 1970. Thirty-three students were arrested during the demonstration. Photo by Frank Anderson. Reprinted courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader.

While you are nearby, go to the top floor of the Patterson Office Tower and see where protesters were denied entrance to the Board of Trustees meeting, which was followed by a crush of people in the hallway and punctuated by former governor Happy Chandler punching a hippie, a grad student named Mark Greenwell.

Patterson Office Tower boardroom, 18th floor, where Happy "socked" a hippie. Photo by Guy Mendes.

Happy was roundly praised across the commonwealth, and the UK conflict intensified. Before you leave the P.O.T. top floor, check out the great view of Lexington.

Photo by Guy Mendes.

North view from Patterson Office Tower, 18th floor. Photo by Guy Mendes.

7. 7. Get back on the bike and pedal over to S. Limestone and the Lexington Theological Seminary lawn. On your way you’ll pass the old Alfalfa’s, which is now a hookah bar (you can’t make this stuff up). On the seminary lawn you get a good look across the street at Memorial Hall, which played a prominent role in both of the uprisings of ’69 and ’70.

Memorial Hall today. Shot from Lexington Theological. Photo by Guy Mendes.

The first Student Spring was a protest over student rights. At the time the concept of in loco parentis ruled. Students—who were over 18 and could vote and be conscripted into the military—were not considered to be adults with the due process of the legal system accorded to them. So when four students were busted for having pot in their lockers and summarily kicked out of school one week before final exams, the campus erupted. The four students were never given a trial. They were deemed to be “clear and present dangers” and banished. Thousands of students protested. 

They marched through the Administration Building, and then occupied Memorial Hall. It was called the Mother-May-I-Revolution because it was all very polite. The university allowed the protesters to march here and sleep there, knowing full well that they’d all be gone after finals. Fortunately for the students, the protests went on long enough to force the cancellation of finals. And sure enough, most of the protesters headed home. But at least they had put the university on notice. Authority was being questioned.

In the same spot on the night of May 5, 1970, one day after the Kent State killings, it could have happened here. Protesters were encamped for the night on the seminary lawn. The campus was off-limits, though no Guardsmen were in evidence. One foolish dude decided to test the curfew and ventured across the street onto the Law School lawn. Suddenly, Guardsmen came running out of the shadows, lots of them, toting their weapons, running toward the protesters. One Guardsman tripped on a landscaping guy-wire and he fell forward, his gun pointing toward the crowd. He landed on his stomach with his gun stretched out in front of him. He did not fire, but it was clear to those who saw it that someone could have died if that Guardsman had pulled the trigger.

I vote for this as UK’s most dangerous moment. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How could you run when you know?

8. 8. Now head across Limestone to the big curved driveway leading to the Administration Building. When students converged here in ’69, they were angry about being ignored by UK officials, who were justifiably leery of addressing a revolutionary throng. For some of the demonstrators, marching through the building in orderly fashion was not their cup of tea, so they resorted to symbolic action, rocking the cannon out front loose from its pedestal and turning it to face the Administrators. When the Dean of Students did venture out he turned ashen and sweat popped off of his bald head. He muttered something about how it looked like the storming of the Bastille during the French revolution and he quickly retreated. This Question Authority thing was getting out of hand.

I suspect that not long after that incident the university had the cannon cemented back in its original position.

Cannon that was turned around during Mother May I protests. Photo by Guy Mendes.

Wouldn’t it be great if it were still moveable? How many re-enactors would it take to turn it now? Where would we point it—toward the Wildcat Coal Lodge, perhaps?

9. 9. You’re in the home stretch of the tour—ride back to Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, formerly known as Harrison Avenue. Head downtown and you’ll be following the path that the major anti-war demonstrations followed to get to Main Street.

Site of march routes, from present day Martin Luther King Boulevard. Photo by Guy Mendes.

The crowd was usually led by a former Marine who had fought in Vietnam and had witnessed things that tormented him. His name was Michael Lane. He was an art student who made silk-screened prints of a bleeding American flag. He also built a beautifully crafted wooden sign, a kind of totem really, that he carried in every march. It said,

“Michael Lane,
he’s insane,
he killed for peace
that never came.”

No word on Michael Lane’s current whereabouts. Michael, call home!

10. Cross the viaduct, check your brakes as you coast down to Main Street and hang a Ralph to visit with the Occupy Lexington protesters on the corner of Esplanade, outside the J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, which was one of the bad actors in the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. (They recently paid a $153.6 million dollar fine to settle a federal suit that alleged that JPM Chase stacked the deck so that they profited even when their investors lost money.} The current crop of protesters, who’ll be 40 days into their occupation by then, will be glad to see you. Grab a sign and make some cars honk their support.

Photo by Guy Mendes.

JP Morgan Chase Bank towers above occupiers. Photo by Guy Mendes.

For the last leg of the tour, ride down Main toward the old courthouse, the one where Clean Gene McCarthy, the peace candidate for president, addressed a big crowd of supporters in 1968.

Remember how back in 1970 you marched down Main Street with hundreds of others, letting your freak flag fly, chanting One Two Three Four We Don’t Want Your Fucking War.

Photo by Bill Hickey. Reprinted courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader.

UK students march down Main St., Lexington, KY May 6, 1970 after being forced off their own campus enroute to Transy campus, where they held a peaceful rally. Photo by Bill Hickey. Reprinted courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader.

Remember how that war seemed to drag on and on, but it did eventually come to an end five years later, in large part because of a change in public opinion. While several national demonstrations called “moratoriums” helped to turn the tide, it was the countless local protest marches—boots on the ground in places like Lexington—that helped bring the troops home from Vietnam. You can be proud of that, while at the same time recognizing that the peace movement still has plenty of work to do in the here-and-now.  

Full disclosure: Guy Mendes was one of the founding staff members the blue-tail fly, which published 11 issues between 1969 and ’70. Drop on by UK’s Special Collections Library and learn some of the region’s radical history. A full gallery of Mendes and archival photos accompany the online version of this article, found at noclexington.com.

These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis

  16 Responses to “The most dangerous moment in UK history”

  1. […] while you’re here, please check out Guy’s article The Most Dangerous Moment In UK History written exclusively for the Lexington newspaper, North of Center. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike […]

  2. I’m so proud and grateful for these students who risked their lives and college degrees and reputations to march for peace and fairness. We are a blue nation after all.

  3. i am so proud of them, peace is what the world needs

  4. I remember marching for this. I was 10. My father was a UK professor (and we were, and are, bleeding heart liberals). My younger brother was 5 or 6 and my father carried him on his shoulders. There was someone who could juggle and tried to teach my brother. We went up Woodland and around Clifton Park, then back toward the Student Center though – that portion isn’t on this list. There were a lot of people and I believe I thought it was more like a street fair than a protest.

  5. I was there, involved in what was supposed to be peaceful protest, but one which erupted into a violent standoff between students and national guardsmen in riot gear behind the student center. We were listening to rally speakers when surrounded and attacked with teargas, billy clubs and butts of rifles with bayonets fixed. I saw it, couldn’t believe it was really happening. I crawled into some nearby bushes, with my friend to escape the assault and we made my way back to our fraternity house. I saw the ROTC building burning that nigh. We were hearded onto the seminary lawn as a safe haven the next night, where we camped and held a candlelight candle vigil, while surrounded by police and guardsmen. It was somewhat tense, not knowing if they were going to assault the protesters again, but everything ended peacefully the next morning…just a bunch of idealistic, college kids thinking we could force the “establishment” to listen to our contempt for a “military action”, as it was called, that we didn’t want to die in …it happened, as this article says. Then we all had to grow up, get jobs, pay taxes…and become the establishment!

  6. It wasn’t just UK students. There were students from several area colleges and universities, including friends from Berea College. The idea was to generate numbers of one mind all together.
    This is a wonderful tour you have created, Guy. Thanks.

  7. I was there, it was really remarkable how many brave and noble people there were! I’d love to be there for the reunion march! Thanks for this article!

  8. great account, I was there for all of it and its accurate, the Blue Tail Fly was the ointment that severed the generations, I sent a subscription to My father who needed to soften up a bit, he was Archie Bunker…he cancelled it and let me know about it, with a few unkind epithets

    • Hey Gene,
      bob walther. Hope you are doing well. I now have 8 children and 9 grandchildren. Been trying to find Doug Stewart. Congential Heart defect cut me down 10 years ago after working as a multimedia contractor for P&G nearly 16 years. Two open heart surgeries, recently a pacemaker implant and Stage IV Renal failure. If you would, please answer, time is shorter every day.

  9. Not that it matters now, but the guy in Center of ‘Tear Gas’ pictures is me , bob walther aka the ‘Silver Bullet’. I can verify by the belt buckle and the silver Accutron watch. IF I remember correctly. Doug Stewart, myself, Julian ‘Peck’ Kennamer and one other were arrested near the Central Campus side of the Student Center after being blinded by Pepper Fog.
    Peace Love and Revolution
    Not necessarily in that order…

  10. I was finishing my years at U.K. in Spring of 1969 and was involved in that protest. I do not remember finals being cancelled. In fact I had mentioned re-occupying the Student Center for a study-in to Don Pratt, but I never followed up on it. I do remember “being allowed” to occupy the top floor of the Student Center on a Friday night. Was student teaching at Henry Clay that semester so missed most of the daytime activities. I did end up on front page of Cincinnati Enquirer the day after we surrounded the President’s house. Ironically, at the time of the 1970 protests, I had been drafted and was in riot control exercises at Ft. Hood Texas.

  11. Bob Walther is a personal friend and I am talking with him at this very second (Tuesday evening 9:50 pm 3/28/17) about his friends in the photo that was in the Herald Leader Newspaper. Bob is the kid in the center of the photo with his head down walking away from the tear gas.

  12. OMG. I can’t believe I just found this article! Not only was I at UK during the “Mother-May-I” revolution, I was very involved. I was on student government and ended up dropping out of Chi Omega sororiety when the housemother slapped me for voting to end the playing of Dixie at football games. (Yes, they really did play Dixie!) Guy Mendes, Sue Ann Salmon, Betty Ann Carpenter, Steve Bright, Bucky (now goes by Estill) Pennington, Don Pratt, and so many more that I remember so well from those turbulent years. I do so wish I had know about the October 2011 reunion! I would have certainly been there. I have so many stories to tell that only folks who were there and involved would appreciate. Guy, thank you so, so much for this wonderful article. It brought back so many memories. I cried AND laughed at the same time as I read it. Given what the country is going through right now with Cheeto Head, a new revolution is in order!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>