Saturday, May 9, 2015

President Nixon's Pre-Dawn Visit

poster, Berkeley, CA, May 1970. From Thomas W. Benson Political Protest Collection, Penn State University

On May 8, 1970, large numbers of student demonstrators arrived in Washington, D.C. to oppose the war in Vietnam and the killings earlier in the week at Kent State University. Numbers were estimated as some 75,000.

In the pre-dawn hours of May 9, 1970, President Richard Nixon and his valet, Manolo Sanchez, along with a group of Secret Service agents, drove to the Lincoln Memorial. Nixon told the students that in 1939 he had thought Neville Chamberlain was right, but that he soon realized Winston Churchill had been right. One student on the scene told reporters that when she told Nixon she was a student at Syracuse University, he talked to her about football; to a student who had come from California he talked about surfing.

The excursion was evidently thought to be weird, condescending, or completely out of touch.

In the White House, the 82nd Airborne had been summoned, and troops relaxed in basement corridors. Buses were parked bumper to bumper in front of the White House to prevent its being stormed by protesters.

photo and story at WETA

Robert B. Semple Jr., "Nixon, In Pre-Dawn Tour, Talks to War Protesters," New York Times, May 10, 1970.

Tom McNichol, "I Am Not a Kook: Richard Nixon's Bizarre Visit to the Lincoln Memorial," The Atlantic, November 4, 2011.

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