Protests at Mankato State College Inspire Change in 1972

Image from the 1972 protest

By Anna Freyberg

Inspired by the civil rights movement, radical student activism began to spread across America’s college campuses in the 1960’s and early 70’s. College students were some of the first groups to protest American participation in the Vietnam War. When President Nixon continued bombing raids on Cambodia and Laos in 1970, antiwar protests exploded on a massive scale, with protesters shutting down over four hundred college campuses and initiating more than 100,000 demonstrations. The riots at Kent State University following the expansion of the war resulted in the deaths of four students by Ohio National Guardsmen. A few days later, there were two more student deaths at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Both episodes of deadly force being used by governmental troops against unarmed protesters shocked the nation.

On May 8th, 1972, President Nixon announced that U.S. forces would begin mining harbors in North Vietnam. This quickly led to a new wave of protests and demonstrations. The war in Vietnam had been raging for seventeen years, and the draft lottery had been conducted three years ago; most people across America knew or knew of someone would had fought and died. About 3,000 student activists at Mankato State University had hatched a plan to bring the city of Mankato to a screeching halt to demonstrate their contradictions to Vietnam, as well as protest the lack of change in the Civil Rights Movement. The protesters’ plan sought to block access to the Main Street Bridge, the North Star Bridge, and the traffic on Highway 169 in North Mankato. The day of May 9th, 1972, included some startling violence, such as exploding bombs and dynamite that alarmed the Police department, as well as the marching of thousands across heavy traffic, shutting down highways and rerouting traffic. A more unruly part of the protests included students lighting fires and climbing light poles. The protesters, realizing the dramatic impact they had had on Mankato, reconvened at the end of the day and marched back up Val Imm and into the MSU campus. The next day, May 10th, a more peaceful march continued down Val Imm, through the downtown area, up Madison Avenue, and back up Victory Drive to the campus. Little violence occurred the second day, which was much more solemn.

With the ending of the draft in 1973, and great efforts being made to reduce American troops in Vietnam, most of the anti-war protesting ended. The student demonstrations at MSU left an impact on the city of Mankato and encouraged a generation of citizens who were willing to stand up to injustice. MSU students dedicated a memorial on the northwest corner of Morris Hall to the students killed in the Kent State-Jackson State riots in 1970. It’s plaque reads, “HATE, WAR, POVERTY AND RACISM ARE BURIED HERE.” The student protests across the United States during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement prove how the people can make a difference and inspire change. 

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