Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary.
In the 1960s and 70s, NIU had a strong base of student activists who were intensely engaged in anti-war and civil rights movements. An early anti-war protest took place in February 1967, when students objected to recruiters from DOW Chemical being on campus because they manufactured napalm being used in Vietnam.
The student body, however, was not unanimous in its opposition to the Vietnam War. Pro-war demonstrators marched on campus, too. And when anti-war protestors campaigned to remove the Army ROTC from campus, they were soundly defeated in a student referendum. But escalation of the war in the late 1960s, coupled with police violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, turned an increasing number of students, faculty, staff and community members into anti-war activists.
On October 15, 1969, an estimated 2,000 students staged a torchlight parade, carrying kerosene-soaked rags wrapped around sticks, rolls of burning toilet paper, candles, flashlights, flares and railroad lanterns. They marched west down Lucinda to the edge of campus, then headed back to the Carl Sandburg Auditorium to hear anti-war speeches.
One observer noted, “Participants seemed to be in good spirits, buoyed by the large turnout and the knowledge that they were taking part in a nationwide movement.”
The size of the peaceful march marked it as a historical turning point in NIU student demonstrations, but not all demonstrations would remain peaceful. Next episode, we’ll look at NIU protests following the Kent State massacre of May 1970.