I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates
to catch up.
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When NIU was rocked by rioting
By Barry Schrader.................................May
Considerable damage was also reported to campus buildings
and vehicles, mostly windows. There were 115 police called out,
and 37 were arrested.
Those living in DeKalb or attending Northern Illinois University
in May 1970 probably have specific and contrasting memories of
what happened in the wake of the Kent State shootings that brought
campus unrest to a head around the country.
I had mixed emotions about what was going on at NIU, as well
as the blame in the May 4 incident at Kent State, when members
of the Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine
others. I had graduated from NIU seven years earlier and was
back in DeKalb at the Daily Chronicle, covering the protests
and rioting that caused one of the biggest rifts ever in town
and gown relations.
On May 5 student violence spilled over into downtown DeKalb,
causing the city to call for aid from state police and the National
Guard. NIU President Rhoten Smith shut down the school for two
The first night of violence caught officials off guard as 300
to 500 students crossed the Kishwaukee River bridge and randomly
broke windows in stores along Lincoln Highway.
NIU president Rhoten Smith (in NIU cap) sat down among
students at the Kishwaukee River bridge on West Lincoln Highway
during one night of confrontations between students and police
in May 1970. (File photo courtesy of NIU Media Relations)
It was a different story the next night, May 6, when an estimated
5,000 to 8,000 rallied on campus and took part in a mostly peaceful
march. But DeKalb Mayor Jesse Chamberlain imposed a 10 p.m. curfew
on the city. In addition to a large police presence, there was
a contingent of National Guard troops standing by at the Sycamore
Armory. But fortunately they were not needed.
calmed down after that, and students going home for the weekend
helped reduce the tension. But more unrest began May 18 when
students marched to the bridge on Lincoln Highway but were stopped
by police. NIU President Rhoten Smith mingled with the students
at the bridge, trying to talk them into returning to campus.
He even sat down on the roadway among the students, which seemed
to calm the tense atmosphere. The next night some 300 student
protesters headed for the bridge again, but scores of police
moved to break up the crowd before they got there. About 54 arrests
were made and some injuries reported both among students and
law enforcement. Four state vehicles were set on fire around
campus but attempts to set building fires were thwarted by authorities.
Then the university was closed again.
On the next night, May 20, more violence occurred after students
learned that their attempts to remove the ROTC unit at NIU was
voted down in a campus-wide referendum. The University Village
shopping center on Lucinda was the target of vandalism, as well
as Williston Hall where the ROTC program was headquartered. Earlier
threats to torch the building were not carried out,
but several windows were broken. State troopers and local police
guarded the bridge into town, and no major confrontations happened
that final night of protesting.
Pharmacist Jim Lehan, now retired, recalls the attacks on the
shopping center where his store, The Campus Corner, lost the
most windows but nothing inside was stolen. Sally
Stevens, then secretary to President Smith, remembers a sit-in
at the Lowden Hall offices of the president. She found herself
surrounded by angry students who occupied both her office and
Smiths. She recalled they were taking things off her desk
and milled around her, but she started talking with them and
everything was returned to her when they left. But,
she added, a pair of silk-lined leather gloves disappeared
from my coat in a nearby closet, and I wonder if they are framed
on someones wall.
As a result of the outbreaks, 30 people were appointed by the
mayor, NIU and student government to discuss ways to repair the
damaged relations between town and gown. The idea of such a committee
had been proposed two months earlier by NIU Student Association
President Pat McAtee. I served on that committee 40 years ago,
and today I cant recall what was accomplished after several
There is so much more to the story and my NIU classmate Jerry
Smith helped my memory by providing copies of the DeKalb County
Journal from 1970. Along with the articles and photos in the
Daily Chronicle, this would make quite a documentary. Maybe a
film-making class at NIU can make it a project.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115