Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Spring in the Air . . .

Spring of 1964; I was finishing up high school in Findlay, Illinois and making plans for EIU that coming Fall. And I heard about the Eastern waterfights from my brother. Bob Johnson was two years older and an EIU student. He was also a student manager at the University Union Snackbar - a popular student hangout in those days.

He talked about being at work on the first night of disturbances (Tuesday, May 18th), and then being a spectator on Lincoln Avenue the second night when the action heated up. Students, mainly male, were marching down Lincoln Avenue, opening fire hydrants, and dumping buckets of water over the heads of officers positioned to 'protect' hydrants down the street. Water was surging down Lincoln Avenue. The rambunctiousness was over in a few nights. Bob told of being followed home from work to his off-campus room another night as a curfew was enforced. As he crossed the yard to his basement room, a spotlight came on, and a policeman told him to 'get his ass inside, and stay there' for the night.

Read about the historic riot in Charleston, and a similar riot in Champaign Urbana's campustown the following weekend:

(1995) Eastern Illinois University. Turner Publishing Company; p. 45.
"The year 1964 was probably the most controversial in Eastern's history. Campus police still recall the famous water fight, involving some 300 students, that began on May 18 and lasted through the week. The disturbance splashed over the campus and into the streets of Charleston. Fire hydrants were opened in downtown Charleston; dorm rooms were doused; and a university administrator was allegedly hit in the head with and empty water bucket. Campus and city police were needed to quell the crowds of students roaming the campus.
On the second night State Police and others set up a roadblock to prevent University of Illinois Greek organizations from answering an alleged challenge from Eastern's Greek Houses, which had been broadcast over a Chicago radio station, to join in a water fight. Doudna filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission and condemned the 'mob action' of the local students. By Friday, county and city law enforcement authorities had had enough; they promised arrests under mob action statutes if the disturbances continued"

Things were jumping in Champaign-Urbana too . . .
Fuller, Tony (May 26, 1964). 31 Disciplined in Riot. Daily Illini.
Thirty-one students will be disciplined for participation in Sunday night’s campus rock and bottle throwing incident. All of the students apprehended in the mob action, which one security official characterized as the meanest and nastiest for its size the he had seen, face possible expulsion from the University. The same official estimated the size of the crowd as being somewhere between 500 and 1,000. No injuries were reported resulting from the activities of the milling and somewhat formless group of students who began to congregate around 11:15 p.m. Sunday night. However, one source said that a member of the Dean of Mens staff did receive a nick on the side of the forehead from a horseshoe which was thrown by one of the participants.

University officials said that activities evidently had no central motivation or strong leadership. Although no serious bodily damage was reported, both eat Security Office and the Champaign police said that the mob did more damage to property than any of the waterfight groups of past years. In the past fights the mobs have concentrated more on opening hydrants and shoving people into the stream. However, the Sunday night groups was seemingly bent on property destruction. According to one law enforcement official the students hurled stones, bricks and pop bottles at home and cars. It was reported that Gaylord Hatch, assistant dean of men, has some of there windows smashed out of his car by flying pop bottles.

In addition, many street lights were smashed; Champaign City Manager Warren Browning estimated that it would cost slightly less than $ 100 to replace the damaged lights. One student was arrested by Champaign police. He is Jack D. Rubinstein, freshman in engineering; Rubinstein was charged with disobeying a officer. Officers said that he repeatedly refused to show his ID card when asked. Released on $ 25 bond, Rubinstein will appear in court on June 5.

The mob also opened about 13 fire hydrants. Security officials said, however, that the hydrants were opened with no apparent intention of doing anything with the water. Police had no trouble in closing them shortly after they were opened. The group began to congregate in fraternity park near Chalmers and Third streets in Champaign. From there they moved east to Wright Street and then back to the park. At various times there were sections of the crowd grouping around the MRH Canteen, Locust Street and Noble Hall, security officials said. While moving, the crowd made several stops at women’s residences and screamed we want panties. Most observers said the action seemed to lose force about 2:19 or 2:30 a.m. However, a false alarm brought fire trucks screaming to the burnt shell of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house about 2:30.  The Phi Gam house, 401 East John St., was demolished by fire over the Easter vacation.

Champaign Police Chief Harvey Shirley told the Daily Illini Monday afternoon that he had no way of knowing whether the mob action would reoccur. He did say that his police department and University officials had well worked out plans regarding the handling of any large mob actions. He reused to comment as to the plans content. Hatch, the dean who had his car windows smashed, said that people had to realize that the mob actions involved a very small minority of the total number so students. I believe that most students just aren’t crazy about the ideas of such irresponsible acts, he said.

In other events surrounding student rioting in the state Quincy Doudna, President of Eastern Illinois University, lodged a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission charging radio station WLS in Chicago with irresponsible broadcasting, giving out anonymous information and confusion in the town of Charleston, where Eastern is located. Eastern officials told the Daily Illini that WLS, on Monday of last week, began broadcasting a challenge, phoned in by an anonymous student at Eastern, calling on (University of) Illinois students to come to Charleston and participate in a watertight on Thursday. The officials said that the radio station persisted in making the announcements all during the week.

On Thursday evening the Eastern campus was the scene of a demonstration involving about 200 students. The gathering of students was characterized as a combination revolt and panty raid. Most of the students either went to women’s residences and cried, we want panties, or stood in groups yelling. Down with dictator tactics. There were no injuries reported. Officials at Eastern said that President Doudna consulted with the local sheriff who told him that he thought WLS could be held just as responsible as anyone for the demonstration. As a result the complaint was lodged. Representatives of WLS, contacted in Chicago Monday, refused to make any comment on the situation.

Another article excerpt from the Charleston paper:

CHARLESTON -- Eastern Illinois University officials and Coles County Sheriff Paul B. Smith charged today that Chicago radio station WLS was largely responsible for Thursday night's student demonstrations and general unrest in Charleston. Thursday night's disturbance followed outbreaks Monday in which students damaged a number of Charleston fire hydrants and staged water fights. A formal protest to the Federal Communications Commission was sent today by EIU President Quincy Doudna asking the FCC to investigate WLS in presenting stories in such a way that it would foment a disturbance. Doudna said no other media outlet reported that a water fight was expected on EIU's campus Thursday night. "I believe this station was the only one to accept statements from unreliable sources that Eastern students had challenged University of Illinois students to a water fight.” Doudna said...

Later in 1967-68, there were a few sparsely attended protest rallies on the EIU campus. One asked for a fired professor to be reinstated; I believe that there was a war protest or two. However student unrest of the Sixties did not touch EIU all that much. It was another few years before the EIU campus experienced a small uprising. It was not a threatening kind. Mild temperatures; an early Spring warmup led to streaking.

Another brief excerpt from the EIU history tells all:
(1995) Eastern Illinois University. Turner Publishing Company; p. 52.
“Streaking was a popular fad in 1974, as Eastern students graduated from the comparatively restrained panty raids of years gone by. Several students caught the craze, while several hundred others watched. In a statement released to the media in March, (President) Fite said: ‘While I am disappointed that Eastern students have failed to demonstrate their much-acclaimed maturity by joining this silly, juvenile fad. I am sure that our Health Service can handle any epidemic of sniffles resulting from the exposure.’ Health Director Jerry Heath said there had not been any case of students who caught cold because they had been running outside in the nude.”

An appreciative audience cheered on participants for a few nights. The streaking runs were on campus, so the Charleston Police were not involved. Campus cops were right there in the crowd of students and faculty, along with a few administrators and townspeople who came to watch.