October 21, 1967. Sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, a small group of protesters, including a group calling itself the “SDS Revolutionary Contingent” rushes the Pentagon building and are driven back by military police and federal marshals. Most of the dwindling crowd has gone home, however. In total. 647 people will be arrested (including Abbie Hoffman and Norman Mailer) and 47 hospitalized—a very small percentage of the estimated 100,000 demonstration participants (many of whom remained at the Mall instead of walking to the Pentagon).
Most of the mainstream US media condemns the activists’ actions as extremist, and Americans still agree 3:1 that antiwar demonstrations are “acts of disloyalty against the boys in Vietnam,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Photo: via USMarshalls.gov. Reference: An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era by Charles DeBenedetti.
October 21, 1967. Antiwar protesters participating in the March on the Pentagon include students, veterans, longtime radicals and pacifists, and many activists who have been or still are active in the civil rights movement, especially religious organizations.
One such religious organization is Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Viet Nam—National Emergency Committee (CALC), led by Rev. Richard Neuhaus, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Father Daniel Berrigan, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King delivered his ‘Beyond Vietnam" speech condemning the war under the CALC auspices on April 4, 1967 and accepted the position as co-chair soon after.
Dr. King did not support organized draft evasion, mass civil disobedience, or confrontational rhetoric, however. He is not present at the October 21 march, and indeed the larger civil rights movement is divided about how much to support the antiwar movement.
October 20, 1967. Across the US people are responding, especially on college campuses, to the escalation of protest and conflict over Vietnam. This clipping from the Austin American-Statesman newspaper was sent to LBJ by old friend—now Congressman—Jake Pickle.
It describes the efforts of eight “long-haired, casually attired” University of Texas students on motorcycles as they attempt to recruit students from Southwest Texas State College (LBJ’s alma mater. now Texas State University). The “UT peaceniks” are turned away by the SWT dean, to the delight of Cong. Pickle, and, presumably, the President.
Note, Jake Pickle to the President, 10/20/67, Ex HU 4, WHCF, Box 60, LBJ Library.
October 19, 1967. LBJ, assistant Joe Califano, and Attorney General Ramsey Clark meet to discuss preparations for upcoming protests at the Pentagon.
"The Justice Department had been monitoring and reporting to the President on the planned demonstration since early October, and it too was concerned about far left and Communist involvement. Johnson decided to prepare for the worst. He had troops, including regular Army soldiers, marines, and police, deployed or on the alert to protect the Pentagon, the Capitol, and the White House. Army troops were even secretly stationed in the basement of the Commerce Department, so they could rapidly assume positions surrounding the White House if such action became necessary."
Joseph A. Califano, Jr., The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years, New York, Simon and Shuster, 1991, p. 199. LBJ Library photo 7018-5, public domain.
October 17-18, 1967. Less than a week before the scheduled March on the Pentagon, antiwar protests across the nation have erupted in violence. Abbie Hoffman notwithstanding, the mood is increasingly tense.
In Oakland, California, twenty city blocks have been engulfed in violence after demonstrators block the entrance to a draft induction center, and police respond with an attack that hospitalizes 20 people. Hundreds are arrested, including Joan Baez.
Meanwhile, in Madison, 60 people are injured at protests of the University of Wisconsin’s defense-industry involvement, particularly with Dow Chemical.
Photo and more at the excellent University of Wisconsin archives.
'What do you guys think you're doing?'
'Measuring the Pentagon. We have to see how many people we'll need to form a ring around it.'
'It's very simple. You see, the Pentagon is a symbol of evil in most religions. You're religious, aren't you?'
Well, the only way to to exorcise the evil spirits here is to form a circle around the the Pentagon. 87-88-89….’”
Abbie Hoffman, Revolution for the Hell of It, New York: Simon and Shuster, 1970, p. 47. Image via Wikipedia.
October 11, 1967. LBJ assistant Marvin Watson learns that coordinated demonstrations are being planned for overseas in connection with the October 21 March on the Pentagon. It is a foreshadowing of the extensive overseas and domestic antiwar protests of the years to come.
Memo, Sither to Watson, 10/11/67, #47, “Demonstrations (October 20-21, 1967) [2 of 2],” Office Files of Mildred Stegall, Box 64a, LBJ Presidential Library.
October 1967. Government preparations for the Oct. 21 antiwar march ramp up, amid White House fears that the march will spark city-wide riots. like that summer’s violence in Detroit and Newark.
Despite efforts to identify the root causes of violence, especially after Watts, officials have made little progress on prevention—but they have gotten better at planning responses:
“It was our purpose to hold down the number of arrests, that is, the department’s purpose under the Attorney General. The thinking was that those who were marching on the Pentagon had as their purpose the creation of conditions which would lead to a large number of arrests. The number of arrests was approximately six hundred and seventy-six. That was a large number, but I think it was smaller than perhaps we had feared….
“It gave the federal government a chance to show the nation what orderly processing in a civil disturbance would be. It came not long after the very inadequate processing which was possible in Detroit, for example, where persons were held on buses for substantial periods of time following their arrest….
“One of my assignments was to make backup arrangements for the necessities of life—portable toilets, water, and first aid—in the event march leaders failed to carry out their agreed responsibility to provide such facilities. In fact, they did fail to carry out their responsibilities in that regard, and we had to provide some backup help.”
—-Steven Pollak, First Assistant, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice, in his oral history, page 33-34. Photo: the aftermath of the riots in Detroit, Bentley Image Bank, Bentley Historical Library via the Insititute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
October 1967. A somewhat different take on the planned demonstrations for October 21, from activist Abbie Hoffman:
"Spiritual purification is sought as an antidote to the demons present in all imperialist war machines. On October 21, in the year 19 and 67, we would launch our holy crusade to cast out the evil spirits dwelling in the Pentagon."
Abbie Hoffman, Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, New York: Perigree Books, 1980, p 129 Image from the Pentagon web site.
September 16, 1967. LBJ’s assistant Marvin Watson receives this memo notifying him of a planned march on Washington DC for October 21, 1967. At this time, details are sketchy—and most of the information reported in this memo will be proved inaccurate, or, for one reason or another, will not come to pass.
Memo, Sither to Watson, 9/16/67, #70, “Demonstrations (October 20-21, 1967) [2 of 2],” Office Files of Mildred Stegall, Box 64a, LBJ Presidential Library.