This month’s historical object is a composition notebook filled with the eyewitness account of a University of Denver (DU) History professor, J. Donald Hughes. Hughes filled the notebook during the course of one day (May 14, 1970) during a student protest that became known as “Woodstock West.”
“Woodstock West” was the name that DU students gave to the shantytown that they built on the University of Denver campus in May of 1970. This protest was one of the few peaceful student protests in the Vietnam Era, which saw so much unrest on college campuses. Woodstock West evolved out of campus reaction to the shootings at Kent State University in Ohio (May 4, 1970). Kent State’s protests had been a reaction to President Richard Nixon’s announcement on April 30th that the U.S. had invaded Cambodia, a signal to many that he had chosen to escalate U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
By the time Hughes began to write down his own account on May 14th, Woodstock West had already been built (May 8th), demolished by the Denver Police Department and rebuilt by DU students (May 11th), the National Guard called in and the shantytown demolished again (May 13th). Hughes’ account for the May 14th includes KLZ radio announcements of military deaths in Vietnam, but he notes that “yesterday’s events” had “seemed to usher in an ‘era of good feeling'” largely because “everyone is proud of the fact that no violence resulted on either side,” and that “we are in the opening years of the Age of Aquarius.”
Hughes is a noted scholar of environmental history, a Evans Distinguished Professor, and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Denver and now lives full time in Princeton, New Jersey.