The World Was Watching
Both sides of the picket lines recall the most explosive student protests in UT history.
By Jack Neely
MAY 22, 2000: Even in its expanded form, Neyland Stadium has never seated a crowd like it did that day 30 years ago. In the west stands were H.R. Haldeman, Bebe Rebozo, Rosemary Woods, Maurice Stans, and Henry Kissinger. In the east stands were history professor and novelist Richard Marius; Brazilian student Peter Kami, who four months earlier had been charged with attempted assault; ordained ministers Charles Reynolds and Albert Minor; and a long-haired, bearded young man named Carroll Bible, who looked a great deal like Jesus. Many of them held signs that read Thou Shalt Not Kill. On the field were dozens of secret service men and policemen, including future mayor Randy Tyree. On a stage on the 20-yard line were Mayor Leonard Rogers, Sen. Howard Baker, Congressman John Duncan, evangelist Billy Graham, and President Richard Nixon.
Hardly any month since the Civil War has spawned so many stories as the month, 30 years ago, that the University of Tennessee made national headlines. The month that feelings about the Vietnam war and the Kent State shootings and President Nixon's appearance here provoked ordinary kids to march, chant, cuss, and anger 75,000 spectators in Neyland Stadium. Before it was over, dozens would be arrested and taken to jail: demonstrators in the stands, students in their bedrooms, professors in their offices.
An era rarely ends before the next one starts. In Knoxville, even the '40s and '50s weren't altogether over in 1970. Drive-in movies were still popular. Drugstores still had soda fountains. The Southern Railroad was still offering passenger service. The Tennessee Theater showed first-run movies, and the art-deco S&W cafeteria was booming. Knoxville didn't have one covered shopping mall. You could buy bottles of liquor in package stores, but it was still illegal in Knoxville to sell even a glass of wine in a restaurant.
To Richard Nixon, Knoxville seemed a safe place to come out into the sunlight. The month that had just passed had been the most difficult of his administration so far. He'd spent it holed up in the White House, surrounded by demonstrators.
He hadn't appeared on a college campus in almost a year, and certainly hadn't done so since the National Guard had killed four students at Kent State in Ohio just three weeks earlier. Across the country, hundreds of colleges reacted in anger and terror, closing campuses either by administrative order or by student-led strikes.
The heart of the most consistently Republican congressional district in America was in the South, and it had a big state university in it.
UT had a record of student unrest, sure enough. People had been seriously injured, even killed during moments of civil disobedience. But UT was different in ways Nixon might have respected. Most of the UT-area riots resulting in property damage and personal injury had been non-political: healthy kids running amok over a football game or a panty raid or a snow day.
However, 1968 and '69 saw several demonstrations at UT; most were peaceful, like the big march that started on campus and ended up downtown, with antiwar speeches on Market Square. Some were not; fall quarter of 1969 brought an unprecedented crop of bomb threats. It was enough to get the attention of law enforcement agencies. At the time, future mayor Randy Tyree was working as an intelligence officer for the KPD, working with the FBI, collecting faces and names. "We wanted to identify anyone that would be a threat, who had said or done anything in the past that may indicate they might do any physical harm to someone." He says he eventually collected maybe 40 names.
In late 1969, a group of about 25 demonstrators marched from campus down Alcoa Highway to the airport. The intent was to symbolically greet the soldiers who weren't coming home. "The only thing that really hurt," recalls organizer Charlie Reynolds, "is that one of the students insisted on carrying a North Vietnamese flag."
Reynolds was UT's ranking expert on demonstrating. An ordained Methodist minister and still a professor or religious studies at UT, he was new to campus. Born in Alabama, Reynolds had been involved in civil rights demonstrations there as early as '61. Since then, he'd been pelted with eggs in Boston and faced firehoses in Heidelberg. When Nixon came to town in 1970, Reynolds, finishing his first year at UT, would lead the opposition.
Another prominent leader was Student Government Association President Jimmie Baxter. In Afro and mod shades, Baxter looked the part of the radical. He was a commanding presence, of a size and demeanor that caught the attention of any crowd.
If he was an atypical student-government leader, Baxter was also an unusual antiwar demonstrator. He was an Air Force veteran. "I was a volunteer," he says. "It was the best decision I ever made. I had a very positive feeling toward the military." Baxter's destiny was even less typical. He's now a lawyer with offices in downtown Knoxville; his title is Assistant U.S. Attorney. He handles white-collar cases, like bank fraud.
"My objection to the war was not an objection to the military," he says. "It seemed to me that our efforts in Vietnam were futile." He was thinking, "One day when it's over it's going to be very difficult to explain why so many were dying there."
Still not at liberty to discuss his years in the service, Baxter declines to say whether he ever served in Indochina.
His suspicions about the war weren't what motivated him on his seemingly unlikely quest for SGA president. "In 1969, I was simply a young man trying to get an education," he says. His major was economics.
In late 1969, UT President Andy Holt's resignation precipitated the strangest moment in UT's counterculture history. A committee of faculty members and students objected to the Board of Trustees' choice to replace Holt; Ed Boling, they thought, was unqualified to be president of a major institution.
Peter Kami, a Brazilian student, was the romantic hero of the student radicals; to some, he still is. (His friends pronounce his name Kay-me. Popular Daily Beacon columnist Vince Staten, the self-described "humor columnist for the revolution" claims credit for the nickname "Peter Commie" though he knows Kami didn't like it.
A soft-spoken, almost delicate young man, Peter Kami didn't throw bombs. "He was average height, but reedy," says Mark Grisar, then a psychology student. "He wore glasses that always slid down the bridge of his nose. He was a thinking guy, not a physical guy."
In 1970, Andy Holt Tower wasn't yet built, and the administration was centered in the Austin Peay building on the Hill. Kami showed up in front of the building with a crowd of allies and onlookers, and challenged Ed Boling to "hand-to-hand combat": an arm-wrestling match.
That's the most common version, anyway. The 30 years have bred almost as many different versions of the story. One witness insists it was a challenge to a lemon-pie fight. The rationale was that Boling should have to prove himself worthy.
"It was just a joke," says Baxter. "Peter was probably 120 pounds soaking wet." The consensus is that Boling could have taken him.
"The whole thing was a hoot, and was supposed to be," recalls Episcopal chaplain Albert Minor, "but the university took it much more seriously."
Administrators interpreted Kami, and the crowd he attractedperhaps over 2,000as a serious threat. Helmeted "riot police" swarmed over the Hill, arresting anyone they could catch.
A photograph of a black demonstrator wearing an afro and a headbandgrinning and flashing a peace sign as police in riot gear roam behindappeared in Esquire magazine later that year. It's one of the best student protest photos of the entire era. (One of several myths is that the subject in the picture is Jimmie Baxter himself. Baxter, who had disapproved of the demonstration's timing, did not participate except to try vainly to convince the administration to free its prisoners.)
The photographer was a young Daily Beacon regular named Don Dudenbostel. He still runs a photographic studio in West Knoxville. Neutral about the demonstration on the Hill that day, Dudenbostel says he observed UT security deputizing maintenance workers behind a building. They arrested 22 demonstrators, including Kami; inspired by the Chicago 7 trials, then underway, they became known as the Knoxville 22.
Police slapped the students they were able to capture with the serious charge of attempted assault.
There were more demonstrations that winter and spring, but nothing on the scale of what would come in May.
It might be hard to explain to a kid why Nixon was so hated in the first half of his first term in office. The war had started under Johnson's watch; for most of the duration of the war, Nixon hadn't even held public office.
And on paper, his term in office might look pretty good, even through granny glasses. On April 20, 1970, Nixon announced the withdrawal of 150,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam.
However, many of the students of 1970 didn't trust Nixon. Some were old enough to remember Nixon's early days as a McCarthyist cold warrior; though he seemed to have put that behind him, his often-clumsy personality could still get him in trouble.
His decision to attack North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia in late April of 1970 had been one of the most controversial moves in America's most controversial war; his speech justifying itin which he pictured a non-aggressive America as "a pitiful, helpless giant"struck many as a symptom of dangerous neurosis.
The invasion and Nixon's justification of it had prompted the biggest demonstrations of the war, burnings of ROTC buildings across the nation, and in some cases, calling out of the National Guard. At Kent State, guardsmen shot and killed four students, none of whom were guilty of the mayhem. Many blamed Nixon personally.
"People were afraid of Nixon and the direction he was leading us," recalls artist John Mayer. "We thought he was establishing a totalitarian government. I'm still not sure he wasn't." There were rumors that the Nixon administration was refurbishing the Japanese internment camps as concentration camps for dissidents.
It was a month of drought, as cicadas in numbers greater than anyone could remember emerged from their holes and left their shells on trees all around town.
In May 1970, Tennessee's senators were the energetic young lawyer from Scott County, Howard Baker, and the veteran liberal Democrat, Albert Gore, who had drawn fire at home for opposing the Vietnam War, and in particular Nixon's policies there.
Gore was up for re-election. So was Knoxville Mayor Leonard Rogers, who had a reputation as a good ol' boy.
That month, some of the younger folks were much more excited about another Rogers named Kenny, the bearded, radical-looking lead singer of a new rock 'n' roll band called the First Edition. Their hit, "Something's Burning" had been on the top 20 all spring. Kenny Rogers and the First Edition played that month at Chilhowee Park. Tickets were $3.50.
M*A*S*H was playing at the Tennessee Theater. Woodstock, the documentary about last summer's festival, was at the Fox. Let It Be opened at the Riviera.
On the afternoon of May 4, the news from Kent State spread across UT's campus. Only hours after the Ohio killings, someone filled five beer bottles with gasoline and firebombed UT's Army Reserve building, causing several thousand dollars' worth of damage (All of those we spoke with, including those who were arrested later, distance themselves from that incident, saying it had nothing to do with the organized antiwar groups.)
Baxter denounced the violence and called a meeting on the University Center plaza. A huge crowd of between 3,000 and 5,000 students appeared as Baxter called for a three-day strike.
He spoke deftly. "We're going to carry this strike out peacefully," he announced. "But if it's going to be peaceful, it's going to be up to us to keep it that way. This means if I'm standing in a crowd of students and the guy next to me picks up a brick and starts to throw it, I'm going to stop him."
"I thought it was a potentially dangerous combination," Baxter recalls today. "Not only were there so many students who wanted to engage in violence, there were many who were emotionally upsetand a few who just wanted to raise hell."
Hundreds of campuses nationwide held strikes, but according to one study, only 3 percent of those in the South did. UT was among them. Students and professors alike stayed out of classes; some rooms in the new Humanities Building were altogether empty, with the word STRIKE! chalked on the board.
Peter Kami, awaiting trial for attempted assault in the Hill incident, was one of the leaders, as was Al Minor, the Episcopal chaplain. Originally neutral about the war, Minor had run UT's Draft Counseling Service since 1966. Minor became a leader in the anti-war movement, but as a voice of moderation. Hearing some make threats about bombing the Armory buildingmost students didn't even know where it washe helped steer the crowd away.
Some 1,500 students marched to the Stokely Field House, which held ROTC offices. A cordon of ROTC failed to stop the students. The demonstrators surged past, to the flag, flying at full staff, and began to lower it. Conservative students feared they would burn it, but they didn't. They merely lowered it to half-staff, in honor of the students dead at Kent State. For the next several days, raising and lowering the flag would form a tug of war between the hippies and the conservatives.
Leaders distributed hundreds of tiny toy pistols, and marchers deposited them at the Field House. It was a peculiar gesture that some thought might allay the impulse to violence.
They weren't all student radicals. In the crowd were over-30 types with jobs, including Marius, Minor, and Gilbert Merrick, a former U.S. District Attorney General.
Marius, a 37-year-old father, urged peace. "If we spend time demonizing the police, we're going to lose someone we need," he said. "Underneath that uniform is a brother." Some of the radicals found Marius a little too square. Today, Tyree praises Marius' leadership. "Richard Marius spoke in a very responsible fashion," he says.
At the student center and up and down Cumberland Avenue, students wore T-shirts stenciled with a large red fist. Only the colleges of engineering and agriculture didn't pay much attention to it. Reynolds estimates 60 percent of the student population participated.
"There were four or five thousand," says Rev. Minor. "You'd never heard about it in the national press, but there were big demonstrations here." (For the record, in 1990, scholar Susanna Taipale wrote an extensive 235-page thesis on Knoxville's demonstrations in May, 1970, for the University of Tampere, Finland. Though a handful of colleges were famous for their early-blooming antiwar movements, she found that most American campuses were quiet until later. Her findings suggest that UTK was a typical American campus during the Vietnam period, and livelier in that regard than most of its Southern peers.)
Besides Baxter and Kami, among the leaders was former UT student Carroll Bible. "He was always the center focus of everything," Minor says. With long hair and a beard, Bible was one of the minority of UT demonstrators who looked the part. (Bible still lives in the Knoxville area, but quietly; he prefers not to comment on the events of 1970.)
Throughout that May, vandals struck all over campus. An alcohol-based firebomb was discovered in time at the Music annex. South Stadium Hall was set on fire, but extinguished before it cause major damage. Windows were smashed in the Stokely Field House, the Humanities Buildings, the University Center.
With paint and knife slashes, someone defaced the huge mural that covered one wall in the University Center ballroom. Representing Tennessee history, it shows Memphis dockworkers and East Tennessee hillbillies. Some speculated that the assailant considered the depiction of blacks to be stereotypical. The artist who had painted it in 1954 was a woman named Marion Greenwood; her home was a small town in New York called Woodstock.
Billy Graham's long-planned Knoxville Crusade would have been memorable without Nixon. Only two hours from his home turf of Montreat, N.C., it turned out to be one of the best-attended crusades he'd ever mounted.
Lean and energetic at 51, with stylish sideburns and his hair a little longer than it used to be, Graham could have passed for a younger man. This Crusade, he said, would be directed at the youth of America. Much of his terminology borrowed from the hipster rhetoric of the day; he spoke of a Revolution for Christ. Youth Night was advertised in psychedelic-style lettering.
Though there was some antiwar leafleting outside the stadium, there'd been no trouble in the Crusade's first several days. Johnny Cash was there on May 24 with the regulars on his TV show: Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, the Carter Family. "It ain't worth it," Cash said of his own drug abuse. "I'd like to ask the young people to take it from a man who's been there and knows what he's talking about." Cash declared that appearance "the pinnacle of my career."
Leftists weren't the only ones protesting that month. Feeling abused by the city, some KPD officers were threatening a "Pray-In"; instead of handling crowds during the crusade, they might just stay home and pray. The strike threats had dissipated by the night the crusade opened.
Nixon's visit was a last-minute surprise. It was announced on Wednesday, May 27, that he would speak at the Crusade the following night. No sitting president had ever spoken to a Billy Graham crusade or any other mass evangelical meeting.
According to the Gallup polls of 1970, Nixon and Graham were the two most admired men in America. They'd known each other for 20 years. Nixon's mother had been an admirer of Graham's back in the '40s. The congressman and the evangelist met in Washington later, when they were both in their 30s; they became golfing buddies. Vice President Nixon appeared at a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles in 1957. Graham, the Southern Baptist, called the six-years-older Nixon "my Quaker friend."
Nixon, who enjoyed a strong drink and a strong word, was no evangelist, and he didn't look nearly as good under arc lights.
"There will not be anything politicalI hopein this visit," Graham said, and he may have been earnest.
At the time, CBS's Dan Rather was sharply critical of the timing of the visit, holding that Nixon had political points to win with it. The Nixon administration had enemies all over the South, on both the right and the left . Both Alabama's Gov. Wallace and Tennessee's Albert Gore had been thorns in the side of the Nixon administration, and both were up for re-election in 1970. Gore was well known for his anti-Nixon, antiwar points of view, and his young Republican challenger was Chattanooga millionaire Bill Brock, who was invited to sit on the stage with Nixon and Graham. Gore, who happened to be in Knoxville that day, was not.
Even Republican politician Tex Ritter declined an invitation to join them, because he thought such a political show at a religious event would seem improper.
Some scholars, including Billy Graham biographer William Martin, cite evidence that Nixon's appearance was a calculated political move. (Ironically, Nixon himself had been suspicious of the religious right and had counseled Graham not to mix religion and politics. Nixon had even declined Graham's offer of public support in his 1960 campaign.)
In any case, it incensed Nixon's critics. "Nixon figured he could get a free ride on campus under the guise of just attending a religious ceremony," says Grisar.
"It was inappropriate," says Rev. Minor. "The old Southern word is tacky."
"After Kent State, we didn't really want our university to get the reputation for being sympathetic to that," says Ken Newton, a professor of psychology who also headed the university's counseling center.
Baxter, leaving office after a year as SGA president, tried to prevent the whole visit. "I called the White House, asked that Richard Nixon not come to campus," he recalls. "He was not wanted by the students, and we thought his appearance could provoke violence."
Others thought it important to make a statement. Prof. Charles Weaver led the effort, with help from the incoming SGA president, John Smith. The statement, they agreed, should be conspicuous but silent. Some demonstrators would carry signs printed Thou Shalt Not Kill or Peace Now, but never heckle or chant; at the end, they would join the throngs for Billy Graham's "call," but they would stand, bow their heads, and hold two fingers in the air, a peace sign. That was the plan, anyway.
Anti-Nixon demonstrators were a diverse group. In an apartment up on Laurel Avenue, some 15 demonstrators met with the intent to stage a more violent event, perhaps a bombing. Names are hard to come by.
On Thursday, Smith got a call from the White House: an invitation to meet the president. He dropped out of the demonstration. "I was left without any other support," says Reynolds. "I called Richard Marius, asked if he'd help."
"It was to be a non-violent, silent protest," says Reynolds. "That was the plan. The non-violent part worked out. The silent part didn't last ten minutes." Reynolds and several hundred students gathered in front of the University Center for a rally.
Some took the silence to heart. Richard Marius even brought a book to read during Nixon's speech.
"I was carrying a heavy load of adrenaline that day," recalls Tyree. "There was no effort to make a show of force." Many, including himself, were there in plain clothes. "Everybody was uptight, because of the atmosphere. But it seems like people in responsible positions on both sides did not do anything to provoke the other side.
"Everything we were doing was along the lines of preventing a confrontation and letting people demonstrate under their First Amendment rights without it leading to confrontation."
He remembers Capt. Tom Hammer, standing near the demonstrators on the northeast end of the field. Hammer observed one of his younger officers, with his hand on a billy club, glaring at the crowd of demonstrators. Hammer said two words: "Son, smile."
Demonstrators were especially frustrated that, as they entered the stadium, police confiscated the small Thou Shalt Not Kill placards they meant to display. It incensed some, who pictured Nixon granted a huge sanitized crowd, free of even silent dissent. Though several signs were smuggled in, beneath gates and skirts, it seemed as if the silent protest would also be an almost invisible protest.
Some remember Carroll Bible standing on a car trunk outside the stadium, suggesting the time had come to make some noise. In long hair, a beard, and a white robe, Bible made a striking appearance.
Some 400 protesters inside, with and without their signs, it started while the choir was warming up. "They'd sing a hymn, we'd sing an anti-war song," Reynolds says. "The back-and-forth was good-natured."
Grisar went to the stadium and passed out antiwar leaflets. "I loved the spectacle of attending UT football games," says Grisar. "Nothing stirred me so much as singing the Star Spangled Banner before a game. Then being there in this very different way, but being equally patriotic.
"When someone said, 'Bow your head in prayer,' we would stop leafleting," says Grisar. "We spoke only when spoken to, very mild, very brief conversations. The crowd was subdued. Nobody was saying, 'What are you doing here, you hippie faggot.' It was polite."
"There was always a fringe element that wanted to go a step farther than I wanted to go. Politically, you could alienate people. Some of them were bad kids who didn't know how to behave. Maybe not Yippies, but Yippie types. In keeping with the Yippie credo they weren't very organized."
Meanwhile, Nixon arrived at McGhee Tyson on Air Force One, and rode down Alcoa Highway in a limousine, stopping at least once along the highway to shake hands with fans.
He entered Neyland Stadium with members of his staff, several of whom would be much more famous, or infamous, in years to come. Among them was his foreign policy advisor Henry Kissinger; Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans; Nixon's closest friend Bebe Rebozo; personal advisor H.R. Haldeman, and secretary Rosemary Woods. (The Watergate break-in was still two years away.) They didn't join Nixon on stage, but sat in the west side of the stadium.
Nixon and his wife Pat took their seats along with Graham and the all-Republican phalanx of dignitaries.
Graham stepped forward to introduce him, a long introduction talking about the difficult and unpopular decisions presidents have to make. He didn't mention the Cambodia invasion, but he appeared to be suggesting a parallel between it and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The demonstrators chanted: "Politics! Politics!"
By the time Nixon rose to speak, dozens were chanting, "One, two, three, four, We don't want your fucking war!"
"It was loud and disruptive," admits Reynolds.
After a chorus of pro-Nixon boos from the sympathetic majority, Nixon opened with a joke. He told about how great it was to finally be on a football field; at Whittier, 35 years before, he'd spent his four years on the bench. "Even if we are on the 20-yard line," he said (as he was), "we are going to be over that goal line before we are through."
The demonstrators in prime football seats responded with their own punchline. "Push 'em back! Push 'em back! Way back!"
They kept heckling, but Nixon had been heckled for 25 years; some say he seemed to draw strength from it. Without notes, Nixon gave a speech that Time would call one of the greatest of his presidency.
"I'm proud to say that the great majority of America's young people do not approve of violence. The great majority of American young people do approve, as I do, of dissent..."
It sounded like a campaign speech; lots of vague promises, no particulars, and, Billy Graham was disappointed to note, only a few vague and unspecified references to "spirituality."
"His remarks were not as forthright a witness for Christ as I had wished for," recalls Billy Graham in his 1997 biography, Just As I Am. "[B]ut I rationalized that he was extremely tired from carrying many burdens..."
Nixon continued with a peculiar line quoted later in Fawn Brodie's well-known biography: "we can have what can be described as complete cleanliness and yet have a sterile life" without spirituality.
"He was coming across like a little god," says Minor. "I was discouraged that Billy Graham got taken in by the appearance of the alignment with power."
The hecklers were heckled themselves, by an increasingly hostile pro-Nixon crowd. Interestingly, many assumed the demonstrators were outsiders: "outside slime," as one shouted. Taipale's studies indicate that most of the demonstrators were native Tennesseans, and almost all were Knoxville-area residents.
Newton uses a surprising allusion to describe his memories. "The worst part was being surrounded by people who didn't like you. We were like 200 Christians in a stadium with 90,000 lions."
Alarmed by the unruliness of their own group and the obvious hostility of the larger crowd, Marius and Reynolds met in the stands and opted to change plans, to end the demonstration by filing out after Nixon's speech. Though some interpreted the mass exodus as a sign of contempt for Graham's message, Reynolds, the Methodist reverend, says they didn't want to disturb the religious portion of the ceremony. "My own feeling was, if we'd stayed there it would have been just a melee." As they filed out, some sang John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."
Predictably, many disobeyed the directive, and stayed, perhaps 50 in all. About 30 of those went through with the original plan, appearing on the field in front of the president and Billy Graham, standing with heads bowed, holding peace signs high above their heads.
Police arrested nine on the spot, most of them for disrupting a religious service. Unaware they'd broken any law, leaders were surprised that any were arrested. No one expected that in days to come, many more would be. But they had noticed, with some unease, that UT employees were taking photographs of them.
Jimmy Baxter wasn't there at all, and he laughs ruefully when he explains why. The new president, John Smith, told Baxter they were both going to get to meet the president. The incoming SGA president told the outgoing president to meet him in the UC just before the Crusade, and they'd get a private audience with Nixon. Baxter went to the UC that afternoon as his allies were rallying outside, and waited. As they marched into the stadium, he waited some more. "By the time I realized he wasn't coming, it was too late to get close to the stadium," Baxter says. "The next time I saw John Smith, he was on TV, talking about how great it had been to meet the president." That Smith had done, in the privacy of Air Force One at McGhee Tyson, after the Crusade.
"To his credit, he acknowledged that he had lied to me," Baxter says of Smith. "He didn't want to jeopardize his chance to meet the president." Baxter looked like a radicaland he was, after all, the one who had called the White House asking that Nixon not come. It was Smith who was interviewed by Dan Rather for CBS news when he stepped down from Air Force One. Smith had been involved in organizing the anti-Nixon demonstration, but given the chance, he told the world that while the SGA president and the USA president had "a slight disagreement...on the Cambodia issue," his impression of Nixon was mostly positive. For some time, Smith was the goat of UT's counterculture.
"The evening proved to be less than the total triumph Nixon and his advisers hoped for," author William Martin assessed later.
The following Tuesday, police surprised Reynolds in his Religious Studies office in McClung Tower. Unlike other faculty members, he was handcuffed. Ken Newton, then a 49-year-old elder statesman for the group, was also arrested at his office. "There had been university personnel taking pictures of us," he says. "I had a lot of white hair at the time, and I'm sure I got identified pretty easily."
Police escorted him to a squad car. One officer said, "You don't seem very upset." The 49-year-old Newton answered, "I've never been arrested. I don't know how to act."
"They were very polite with me," he says. "But they were very rough with the students. I stayed there with them for four or five hours." He says police berated them with foul language, "pushing rather than telling them" what to do. "With me, they were almost apologetic."
Police awakened Mark Grisar in his Fort Sanders apartment one morning and took him to jail. He remembers how odd it was to be escorted out of his door and a young reportera former UT student Grisar had known in a poli-sci classasked him for a statement.
Eventually, at least 43 (47, by some accounts) were arrested for their part in the protest. Among them, though some don't even recall his being there, was the "little hero" of the previous winter, Peter Kami. Most were charged under a new state law forbidding disruption of a religious service.
Tyree wasn't in charge of it, but says, "I vaguely remember that. I'm thinking that was sort of a nip-it-in-the-bud kind of deal."
For weeks, Nixon supporters believed the demonstrators had been humiliated and put in their places. Both Knoxville dailies editorialized against them; the Journal referred to "the unspeakable nastiness of a handful of undisciplined brats." However, much of the national press seemed more sympathetic. Even Nixon seemed surprised to hear about the arrests. Prompted by UT student and faculty pleas, a White House representative wrote Mayor Rogers that Nixon "considered their actions rude, but not violent or substantially disruptive..." adding that law enforcement should be "judicious" in handling the cases, and not let the arrests interfere with final exams.
Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover sent an official FBI report about the Knoxville demonstrations to Vice President Spiro Agnew, the president's hatchet man, who collected such evidence for the administration's use.
Much of the national press questioned the appropriateness of the political/religious event, and especially of the arrests. Well-known author and journalist Gary Wills wrote a long feature that appeared later in Esquire magazine. Its title gives a good sense of its tone: "How Nixon Used the Media, Billy Graham, and the Good Lord to Rap with Students at Tennessee U." Snide in spots, the article is harshly critical of UT's administration and Knoxville's city government.
"The city pushes on where even Nixonor John Smithwould hesitate," Wills wrote. "It has a growing, quite justified certitude that something has unsettled this hill country's central hearth. Outside forces, alien, professing strange beliefs, have taken their campus away from Big Orangers. And the outsiders are their own children."
Eventually, most charges were dismissed, many when defendants held that Nixon's speech in Neyland Stadium was not a religious service. The case of Charles Weaver, who was convicted on disturbing a religous service, was one of the longer ones to be resolved. It made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where in 1974 Justices William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, and William Brennan wanted to hear Reynolds vs. Tennessee, to consider whether Tennessee's law against disrupting services was unconstitutional. The majority of justices, though, denied it a hearing.
"It gave me and many young people a moral focus," Grisar says today, "that I feel has stayed with me through my life."
"It was an energetic and a very challenging time," says Minor. "Many people's lives were molded by those times. We realized that things just might not be what we were told they werethat government tells people what it wants them to know, not what they need to know."
The early months of 1970 did mark the lives of many Knoxvillians forever, but none so much as Peter Kami. Worried about going to prison for as much as five years, Kami skipped his bond and left the country in late 1970. Over the last 30 years, he has been rumored to be in Sweden, Holland, Canada, Brazil. Old activists talk about Kami the same way that romantic Scots talk about Bonnie Prince Charlie. Zoe Hoyle encountered Kami on a London subway in 1974. They spoke for about half an hour; he was still nervous about being captured. In 1975, Kami contacted Baxter and asked if he returned to Knoxville, if he'd still be in trouble; Baxter contacted the attorney general, who said hell, yes. Reynolds was in touch with Kami around 1990, and says he was still in the U.K., working for a charity of some sort. Some say he's in Bristol, England.
Today, Baxter, now assistant U.S. Attorney, "seriously doubts" that Kami would have any serious charge hanging over his head if he were to return.
UT's counterculture didn't die then, but after that May, it was different. The following fall, students selected the Beacon's paper-bag-wearing columnist, Vince Staten, as Homecoming Queen.
Marion Greenwood's painting was fully restored, but then covered with paneling. The Ewing Gallery curators uncover and clean it occasionally, but it has not been on public display since May of 1970.
Richard Nixon, re-elected two years after his Knoxville appearance, resigned the presidency in 1974. He died in 1994; his old friend Billy Graham spoke at his funeral.
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