The photographs of Jay Cassidy; text by Alan Glenn
Photographer Jay Cassidy (with glasses) with Robert F. Kennedy, May 1968. (Photo: Andrew Sacks/saxpix.com)
What's it like to be an eyewitness to history? Ask Jay Cassidy. As a photographer for the Michigan Daily from 1967 to 1970 he was often no more than a brick's throw away from the action during the most tumultuous three-year period in recent American history.
"It certainly was an interesting time," says Cassidy, who now lives in Los Angeles and is an award-winning film editor who has worked on such motion pictures as "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Into the Wild."
Cassidy's collection of nearly 5,000 photos—available for free online viewing at the Bentley Historical Library's Web site—is an extraordinary window into a past brimming with historical significance. Cassidy was on hand to capture images of presidents and poets, of rock stars and radicals, of strikes, sit-ins, parades, protests, raids, rallies, and riots—the drama of daily existence in the late '60s, when life must often have seemed as though it were stuck on fast-forward.
A float in the homecoming parade, October 20, 1967
Cassidy got started in photography at age seven or eight when his grandfather gave him a camera as a gift. His interest in the subject grew, and when he enrolled at the University of Michigan in the fall of 1967 one of his first stops was the office of the Michigan Daily. "If photography was going to be anything more than a hobby, I needed to work in a professional environment," Cassidy explains. "The Daily was it. I applied to work there in my first week as a freshman.
"I think the pay was $2 per assignment," he recalls. "If you worked as the darkroom technician preparing the photos for the overnight print run of the next day's paper, the pay was $10."
Cassidy's first assignments for the Daily were relatively uneventful—award ceremonies, sporting events, student government meetings, the homecoming parade—everyday sorts of things that university photographers everywhere had been covering for decades
But the times they were a-changin'.
Robert F. Kennedy campaigning in Detroit, May 16, 1968
1968 was a year that many would remember as a turning point in history. From Saigon to Memphis, from Paris to Mexico City, the world shook with tremors of discord, rage, and violence that seemed to threaten the very foundations of society.
The presidential campaign that year was one of the most chaotic and contentious the U.S. had ever known. On March 31, Lyndon Johnson stunned the nation (and caused spontaneous celebrations to break out on college campuses across the country) by announcing on live television that he would not seek re-election. The Democratic nomination was officially up for grabs, and none wanted it more than Robert Francis Kennedy.
Jay Cassidy spent several hectic, exciting days as a credentialed member of the press on Kennedy's mid-May campaign swings through Indiana and Michigan. He remembers how in Detroit the boyish candidate was greeted by ecstatic crowds that seemed reluctant to let him go.
Three weeks later Kennedy was dead, felled by an assassin's bullet.
National Guardsmen firing tear gas at protestors on the Congress Street overpass, August 28, 1968.
The drama of 1968 continued to build until finally reaching an impassioned, deadly climax in late summer and early fall. In Czechoslovakia, Soviet tanks ruthlessly crushed the Prague Spring movement. In Mexico City, hundreds of protestors were massacred just days before the start of the Olympic games. In the U.S., thousands of demonstrators clashed with police at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Among the throngs descending on the Windy City that fateful week in August were a handful of staffers from the Michigan Daily, including Cassidy. "The big confrontation at Michigan and Balboa, where this line of cops just came into the crowd—I was right on the edge of that," he recalls. "But I was standing next to a truck, so it all sort of swept by me."
Cassidy's photos of the carnivalesque gatherings in the parks, punctuated by the images of bloody mayhem in the streets, seem eerily familiar today. "Occupy Wall Street is kind of a direct descendant of that, on a smaller scale," he says.
Student demonstrators await arrest in the Washtenaw County Building, September 6, 1968
But in those days it wasn't always necessary for Daily photographers to leave home to find something exciting to aim their cameras at. Ann Arbor was a key center of '60s radicalism that rivaled Berkeley, Madison, and Columbia, and it seemed like there was always a protest, demonstration, or the like taking place somewhere in the city.
Just a few days after the riots at the Democratic National Convention, a group of Ann Arbor area mothers receiving welfare benefits gathered at the Washtenaw County Building to protest the inadequacy of the funds allotted for their children's school clothing. During the discussions tempers flared and sheriff's deputies were called.
After the Daily's managing editor was roughed up and arrested trying to cover the story, four hundred university students marched to the jail to protest. The next day the students decided that they would join the welfare mothers in a sit-in at the county building.
Deputies "escort" a demonstrator from the county building, September 6, 1968
When the county building closed at 5:30 the fifty-odd students and townspeople still inside linked arms and sang "We Shall Overcome" as sheriff's deputies dragged them out one-by-one to waiting buses. The mass arrests served only to stoke the fire. On the third day nearly 200 were arrested inside the county building, while outside marched 400 picketers with a contentious crowd of more than a thousand looking on.
Bolstered by reinforcements from nearby police departments, Sheriff Douglas Harvey deployed riot-equipped officers with shotguns and attack dogs, as well as snipers with high-powered rifles and even a helicopter. As the situation threatened to spiral out of the control the mothers asked that the protests be suspended while they negotiated with county administrators. Two days later they were awarded a significant increase in clothing funds.
All told there were nearly 300 arrests made during the demonstrations. Most of the students pleaded nolo contendre and were sentenced to $50 fines and a week of public service.
Diana Oughton addresses a radical meeting at the UGLi, November 5, 1968
The 1960s produced a number of tragic figures, but perhaps none more so than Diana Oughton. The privileged daughter of a wealthy Chicago-area family, Oughton was by all accounts a winsome young woman, kind and generous to a fault. She enrolled in graduate school at the University of Michigan in 1966 and soon after went to work at the Ann Arbor Children's Community School, where she met radical activist Bill Ayers.
With Ayers she became a prominent figure in the increasingly militant protest groups on campus, and later took on a leadership role in the fanatical, violent Weathermen. In 1969 she left Ann Arbor and disappeared into the network of underground Weather collectives.
On March 6, 1970, a 125-year-old townhouse in Greenwich Village was destroyed by a tremendous explosion. The Weathermen had been using the townhouse to assemble anti-personnel pipe bombs, one of which detonated prematurely.
Among the rubble were found the scattered remains of three corpses. A fingerprint taken from a disembodied pinkie identified one of the victims as having been Diana Oughton.
Kurt Vonnegut at Canterbury House, January 21, 1969
In early 1969 popular underground author and raconteur Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was invited to spend two weeks on campus as Writer-in-Residence. The chain-smoking novelist started off well with a lecture at Rackham liberally sprinkled with his trademark wit and deceptively simple philosophy. "Be kind," he said. "Don't kill for any reason. Don't even kill out of self-defense. Don't take any more than you need of anything. Help others."
But Vonnegut perhaps started having second thoughts when he realized the true intensiveness of the WIR program. At an American Studies seminar he said, "I don't particularly like to talk to people, or listen to people." To which a student responded, "Why are you here?"
Soon thereafter Vonnegut announced he would be cutting his stay in Ann Arbor short by a week. Tossing back shots of scotch whiskey in his South Quad quarters, he said that he wasn't having a good time, and had run out of things to say.
"It makes more sense for me to go home and write more."
The MC5 at the Michigan Union ballroom on February 25, 1969
"Kick out the jams, m—f—," was the rallying cry heard in Ann Arbor's parks on Sunday afternoons in the late '60s, accompanied by the deafening roar of the MC5, one of the most outrageous and influential rock bands of the era. Though not to everyone's taste, the group enjoyed a loyal following among rebellious youth throughout Southeast Michigan.
The MC5 were managed by countercultural impresario John Sinclair, who in the spring of 1968 brought the band along with his hippie entourage from Detroit to Ann Arbor in an effort to escape police harassment. Over the next year and a half the MC5 became staples at the various rock venues around town as well as the free Sunday concerts in the parks.
On September 26, 1968, the band signed with Elektra Records for a $50,000 advance. Seven months later the label dumped them following controversy over the profanity on their debut record. A long series of setbacks led to the group's disintegration a few years later.
But the MC5's legacy lives on, as they continue to be cited as an inspiration by each new generation of loud, defiant rock and rollers.
"Freeks versus pigs" on South University, June 17, 1969
By the late '60s Ann Arbor was home to a large contingent of young street people—hippies, bohemians, vagabonds—or freeks, as many preferred to be called—attracted by the city's growing reputation as a countercultural Mecca where the dope was plentiful and the music free.
On Monday evening, June 16, 1969, a small crowd of freeks blockaded South University Avenue and held a spontaneous party in the street. As the festivities continued through the night a number of plainclothes police watched from a distance but did not interfere.
The next day word spread that the party would be repeated again that night. Jay Cassidy was in town taking summer classes, so he stocked up on film and joined the dozens of other newsmen and the growing mass of freeks, students, and curious onlookers making their way to the South U. shopping district Tuesday evening.
Also planning to drop in on the party, uninvited, were the Ann Arbor police and the Washtenaw County Sheriff.
Police scuffle with a demonstrator on South University Ave., June 17, 1969
The night of June 17 found South University swarming with more than a thousand pedestrians of all sorts. Instead of a party, however, the gathering had become an occupation. Radical leaders were now demanding that the street be permanently closed and made into a people's park.
Police in riot gear massed at the east end of South University. The order was given to clear the street, and when none complied the officers advanced with nightsticks drawn. The crowd retreated, but some rocks and bottles were thrown. The police responded with tear gas and a general melee ensued.
"Tuesday night was like a play where everyone knew their role," says Cassidy. "And each side wanted the confrontation to become violent. Violence by the AAPD would give credence and justification to those soi-disant revolutionaries who vocally promoted the demonstrations in the street. And judging by my observation of the police, there was no small measure of satisfaction at getting to crack a few heads."
A police officer staggers after being hit by a projectile, June 17, 1969
Allegations of police brutality were many. A Detroit News photographer reported that he "saw 15 to 20 cops chasing one guy. One knocked the guy down and others ran up and began clubbing and kicking him."
But neither were the demonstrators innocent of violence. More than a dozen police were injured by projectiles. "One cop, a middle-aged guy, took off his mask and helmet and then got hit in the head with a rock," remembers Cassidy. "It really hurt him, and there's not much to say after witnessing that."
Eventually the crowds dispersed and the police withdrew. But the situation was far from resolved. The next afternoon student and local leaders held a rally on the Diag that drew a thousand attendees. Few seemed truly interested in establishing a people's park on South U., and when asked if they wanted to continue the occupation again that evening, most voted no.
From the attitude of some, however, it was clear that there would be more trouble.
A phalanx of policemen march down South University Avenue, June 18, 1969
On Wednesday night the crowds were back. But this time it was mostly onlookers who kept to the sidewalks. The South University corridor remained peaceful, and by 11 p.m. most of the lawmen had withdrawn.
Then, after midnight, a large group of youths returned and once again took over the street. Police were called back and the battle was joined. Nearly 200 officers swept eastward and westward in a pincer movement, rifles leveled, bayonets fixed. About 20 arrests were made.
Determined to break the cycle of violence, city officials persuaded police and sheriff's deputies to stay away from South U. on Thursday night. Instead Mayor Robert Harris circulated among the crowd, along with a civilian peacekeeping force of local activists, student leaders, and university faculty. Although the gathering grew boisterous at times, there was no further mayhem. The crowds gradually melted away and the streets were once again quiet.
The Battle of Ann Arbor was over.
Jay Cassidy getting a little too close to the action, June 17, 1969. (Photo by Richard Lee)
In Chicago, Cassidy had managed to avoid personal involvement in the conflicts he was photographing. Not so at the South U. disturbances in Ann Arbor. On Tuesday night, when most of the action took place, Cassidy found himself on the other side of the camera.
"In the charge, I got whacked by a police nightstick under the marquee of the Campus Theater, and another Daily photographer, Richard Lee, took a great picture of that painful event. I was wearing a Michigan State Police Press Pass so the Ann Arbor police had to let me through the lines, and when things settled down, I heard the officers talking about me, remembering that they had struck me a few minutes earlier. But because of the helmets and masks, I had no idea which officer did the deed.
"If you're behind the camera," explains Cassidy, "you're recording the event, and you have a reason to be there even though it may not be a particularly smart place to be."
Big Mama Thornton (left) and B. B. King at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival, August 1, 1969
1969 was the year of the music festival, and the big event that summer was of course Woodstock. But for thousands of serious music fans the place to be in August was the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. No less an authority than Downbeat magazine went so far as to dismiss the mammoth affair in Bethel in favor of the smaller Ann Arbor fete, calling it "without doubt the festival of the year, if not the decade."
The enthusiastic crowd spread out on Fuller Flatlands was treated to a stellar lineup of blues masters the likes of which had never been seen before, or would ever be seen again. B. B. King, Luther Allison, Son House, Big Mama Thornton, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf—a living history of the blues, past, present, and future.
Cassidy was there to snap pictures but also to enjoy himself. He was glad to see so many people awaken to authentic roots music. "Probably not many Ann Arborites knew Clifton Chenier before the festival, or Roosevelt Sykes," he says. "They sure did after it."
Joan Baez at Crisler Arena, August 12, 1969
Joan Baez's first visit to Ann Arbor was in 1961, when as a 20-year-old fledgling songstress she strummed and sang for a small gathering of devoted folkies at the high school auditorium. Eight years later she returned as a heroine of the radical protest movement, to talk about draft resistance and play a benefit concert for the Ann Arbor Tenants Union in front of a sell-out crowd at the 15,000-seat Crisler Arena (then called the Events Building).
The Tenants Union was formed in 1968 by university students who were fed up with the high rents they were paying (some of the highest in the country) for often sub-standard housing. In early 1969 the union launched a rent strike that would last for nearly two years, tie up hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent, and ultimately win concessions from most of the targeted landlords.
The Tenants Union continued to assist local renters until its demise in 2004, when an uninterested Michigan Student Assembly withdrew financial support.
Attendees at the moratorium rally in Michigan Stadium, October 15, 1969
By 1969 U.S. troops had been fighting in Vietnam for almost a decade. Back home opposition to the war was stronger than ever, with polls indicating that a majority of Americans thought it had been a mistake to ever get involved. That summer the New Mobilization to End the War began planning a massive nationwide moratorium in which protestors would absent themselves from work or classes on October 15 to register their disapproval of the war.
The idea caught on, and millions of people ultimately took part. In Ann Arbor there were dozens of lectures, symposia, panel discussions, and protests. Canterbury House offered a film series, and Allen Ginsberg spoke at Hill Auditorium.
The main event was an evening rally at Michigan Stadium in which 20,000 people turned out to hear an impressive roster of luminaries—including U.S. Senator Philip Hart and U.S. Representative John Conyers—speak out against the war, and against President Nixon. It was one of the largest single gatherings in the country that day.
Tom Hayden speaking at the moratorium rally in Michigan Stadium, October 15, 1969
Concluding the rally was a speech by Chicago Seven defendant Thomas Emmett Hayden, returning to his activist roots in Ann Arbor. In the early '60s he had been editor of the Michigan Daily and was instrumental in developing Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), ultimately the era's biggest and most influential radical group.
At the time of his speech in Michigan Stadium Hayden was free on bond while on trial in federal court for his involvement in the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He took the stage to a standing ovation and, like most of the speakers that evening, proceeded to sharply criticize President Nixon.
At one point a heckler came out of the crowd to spit on the former Ann Arbor radical. Hayden made no reaction for fear of having his bond revoked.
In response to reporters' questions a Nixon aide said the Moratorium Day demonstrations would not affect the president's policy on the war.
Jubilant fans storm the field following Michigan's upset victory over Ohio State, November 22, 1969
"SUCK IT UP, FAT BOY!"
So crowed the headline on the Sunday sports page of the Michigan Daily for November 23, 1969. "Fat Boy" was Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, and what he was to suck up was his supposedly unbeatable team's upset 24-12 loss to the Maize and Blue the previous afternoon.
A record crowd of 103,588 was in attendance at the Saturday game with millions more watching on television (including President Nixon). After the final whistle blew hundreds of jubilant fans poured on to the field and tore down the goal posts. Parts of the posts were later found on the Diag, resting on the big M in front of the Graduate Library.
The victory was a feather in the cap of rookie coach Glenn Edward "Bo" Schembechler and also a ticket to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately the California sun would prove distinctly unhealthy for Wolverines that year. USC took home the trophy, and Bo's indigestion turned out to be a mild heart attack.
A crowd of demonstrators, 2,000 strong, march to city hall, February 18, 1970
The early months of 1970 were a tense time in America. Protestors and authorities seemed locked in an escalating cycle of conflict—one which soon would end in tragedy at Kent State and Jackson State.
On February 18 a series of disturbances broke out across the nation following the returning of guilty verdicts against the Chicago Seven (actually eight) for their part in the disturbances at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In Ann Arbor a rally was held on the Diag, to be followed by a march around campus that would end at City Hall.
The marchers went from the Diag to the dorms on the Hill, chanting "Off the pigs" and "Free the eight," and calling out for curious residents to join them. Soon the throng numbered in the thousands.
As the march turned toward South University the trashing began. Two passing police cars were hit with rocks. Then the Ann Arbor Bank's front windows were smashed—after having only just been replaced following a demonstration some days earlier.
Protestors in disarray following a police charge, February 18, 1970
As the march snaked through the business district more windows were broken, at banks and the Ann Arbor News building. At times the procession stretched for seven blocks. When the protestors reached City Hall they were confronted by 200 police officers armed with nightsticks and shotguns, some holding attack dogs. The police charged into the crowd, clubs swinging, and put the marchers to flight.
In his history of the AAPD Michael Logghe writes that he was told this was the only time the officers weren't ordered to restrain themselves when responding to protestors.
"You're dealing with a bunch of criminals as far as I'm concerned," police chief Walter Krasny told the Michigan Daily the day after the melee. "They should expect to get their heads busted." There were many injuries but only a handful of arrests.
Later that night some 1,000 demonstrators reassembled on the Diag. But they couldn't decide what to do next, and after a while simply went home.
Protestors march outside Hill Auditorium in support of the BAM strike, March 20, 1970
"Open it up or shut it down!"
That was the cry rocking the Diag in the late spring of 1970, as the Black Action Movement, an ad hoc coalition of several black campus groups, led students and faculty in a massive protest intended to force the university into guaranteeing a significant increase in minority enrollment.
For several years the administration had been attempting to increase the presence of minorities on campus, but progress was slow, and in early January the black students decided they had waited long enough. An escalating series of disruptions—including the rearrangement of hundreds of books in the Undergraduate Library—culminated in a campus-wide strike that kicked off on March 19.
In less than a week university operations were being seriously impeded. "With most of the other events around campus, if you wanted to avoid it and just lead your normal student life, you could," recalls Cassidy. "Not with the BAM strike."
BAM demonstrators on the steps of Hill Auditorium, March 20, 1970
First the School of Social Work closed its doors, followed quickly by the Residential College and the Institute for Social Research. Attendance in LSA classes was down by 60%, but the administration remained intransigent. "The students can strike until hell freezes over as far as I am concerned," said one regent.
As tensions rose and violence loomed, university president Robben Fleming and the BAM leaders faced off across the negotiating table, arguing long into the night. At one point Fleming threatened to call in the National Guard. Madison Foster, one of BAM's principal negotiators, replied, "Well, I guess we'll die," and the group walked out.
Finally on April 1 an accord was reached. The university would strive toward a goal—not a guarantee—of 10% black enrollment by 1973. (That goal was never quite attained.)
Both sides claimed victory. But the true winners were of course the innumerable young people whose lives were transformed and enriched due to the opportunities provided them as a result of the BAM protest.
Jay Cassidy (left) with Sean Penn, November 11, 2007 (Photo by Michael Bezjian)
Jay Cassidy left the Daily in the spring of 1970 to pursue a growing interest in motion pictures. After graduation he went to Washington, D.C., to work on political ads for George McGovern's presidential campaign. Later he moved to Los Angeles where he found success as a film editor, racking up an impressive list of credits that includes the Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
Cassidy has also developed a special working relationship with Sean Penn, having edited each of the movies Penn has so far directed. "Though he's not prolific," says Cassidy, "his choice of subject matter is from the heart." Cassidy received an Oscar nomination for his work on Penn's "Into the Wild."
The former Daily lensman is glad that his decades-old photographs are now a permanent part of the historical record. "A visual source can have as much value as a written document or other primary sources," he says. "It remains to be seen what future visitors to the Bentley do with them, but at least they are there, and irrefutable."