1973 Protest: Anti-War Demonstration
Controversial Guest Speaker
In the spring of 1973, Madison had finished the construction of Godwin Gymnasium. The administration invited a Virginia senator to speak at the dedication ceremony. This senator, Harry Byrd, was a conservative figure with a pro-war platform and a voting history in support of actions in Vietnam and Cambodia. Naturally, the students objected to the administration’s decision to invite him to speak on campus. They decided to hold a anti-war demonstration on the day of the dedication ceremony. The students registered their demonstration, carried out it out successfully, and did not raise much concern the day of the event.
In the weeks following the event, however, several students faced charges from the SGA and the Dean of Students. They accused the students of inciting riot and disrupting Senator Byrd. The charges angered the student body; there had been no indication the day of the event that there were problems with the activists’ behavior. Many railed against the corruption of the SGA and the administration in Fixer articles like this one. Eventually, the charges were dismissed because no complaints had been made during the protest. In fact, police officers vouched for the cooperation of the students at the event and Senator Byrd never indicated that he felt threatened by the protestors. Once again, Madison students were behaving and the administration overreacted.
Truthfully, this demonstration was no less threatening or violent than the Wilson sit-in of 1970. The students were still behaving appropriately, communicating their message, and remaining peaceful. The reason for the drastic difference in these events’ outcomes is that the nation was no longer in the midst of violent protest and chaos. In two short years, the social atmosphere had already changed drastically. Communities like Harrisonburg and administrations like the one headed by President Carrier no longer anticipated the worst case scenario of violent demonstration on campus. Radical activism was definitely on the way out, and while Madison’s administration still did not embrace their nonconformists, they seem to be less tightly wound over their existence. Revolution was settling down. Articles on the Byrd protest from the Fixer and the Breeze alike imply that the days of demonstrating were coming to an anti-climactic end.
the Fixer, Vol. 3 No. 24.