'All of a sudden, bricks started flying'

Jim Stewart recalls his role in UofSC student protest in May 1970

A half century ago, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and seismic shifts in American culture, the campus of the University of South Carolina became a battleground — between students and the administration, between a young generation and the establishment, between radically different worldviews. But the dramatic events of that spring, which came to be known as The Months of May, weren’t strictly destructive. The lessons of that era also changed lives and changed the university itself.

Jim Stewart spent 20 years as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, retired as a major, then spent 14 more in the civil service. In 1970, his freshman year, he was an ROTC cadet, a cub reporter with The Gamecock and a work study clerk at the Russell House information desk, where he witnessed the takeover.

That day at work I had my ROTC uniform on. But when I started to hear what was about to take place, I ran down to my fraternity house, changed out of my uniform, put on regular street clothes and ran back. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to be standing there in my ROTC uniform.

But I did not feel threatened or unsafe around the student activists. I was around them every day. Bill Heacox was my roommate in the Honeycombs first semester, and later he and his roommate had a Viet Cong flag in their window overlooking fraternity row. I didn’t approve of it, but it was their right to do it. We just haddiffering opinions.

At the time, I was probably naïve and a little ignorant, in the true sense of the word. I really didn’t know all that was going on globally, and in Vietnam especially. I had a cousin who was almost killed over there, a Marine, but I didn’t know as much about Vietnam as I should have. But I was also in ROTC, and my view was, “If you’re going to serve your country, do what you’re told.” So when Pete Strom came marching up the ramp, all I was thinking was, “How is this happening at the University of South Carolina?”

The students were nonviolent, at least at that point, but things got out of hand. Strom had his phalanx and his bullhorn and basically told everybody if they didn’t leave right then, they were going to get arrested. And they didn’t leave, so they got arrested. But they came in expecting to get arrested. They wanted to get arrested. Their intent was to publicize their cause.

It was a strange thing to see, eerie — the Horseshoe covered in tear gas clouds, the National Guard out there. Many of them were the same age as the students.

The following Monday, when activists descended on the Administration Building, Stewart and Gamecock editor Jim Wannamaker showed up, too — as reporters.

Our idea was to do a story to help calm things down. The students were on the Horseshoe, the Guard was in formation in the parking lot on the north side of the Horseshoe. And as I was standing there — I can’t remember if I was talking to a guardsman or one of the students — all of a sudden, bricks started flying. I have no idea who was throwing them. It may have been students, it may not have been students, but I bolted. Nobody wants to get hit by a brick.

At some point, the Guard moved to the top of the Horseshoe, in formation, and moved down the Horseshoe firing tear gas. The students started picking up the canisters and throwing them back, but pretty quickly the Guard cleared the Horseshoe. It was a strange thing to see, eerie — the Horseshoe covered in tear gas clouds, the National Guard out there. Many of them were the same age as the students.

For all the chaos on campus, one of Stewart’s most vivid memories happened off-campus.

Early one morning I get a call at the fraternity house from Jimmy Wannamaker. He told me to meet him outside. It was about 6, 6:30, and Jimmy pulls up at the curb. He drives me down through Five Points, then back up into the neighborhoods. He’s taking all these turns, trying to make sure we’re not being followed. I don’t know where I am. I’m still a freshman. I said, “Where are we going?” He just said, “You’ll see.”

We end up at this house, somewhere near Five Points, and when we go inside I see all these people, mostly student activists. I recognized some of them. Then I see this woman walk by and I do a double take. It’s Jane Fonda. Jimmy Wannamaker had somehow worked it out for us to have breakfast with Jane Fonda. Jimmy did the interview and I took notes.

This was before she was Hanoi Jane, before she sat for a photograph on an anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam. Since then, I have never had anything to do with Jane Fonda — I have not seen any of her movies since then and I won’t. But none of that had happened yet. She was still Barbarella [from the 1968 science fiction film of the same name]. That morning, Jimmy Wannamaker and I had breakfast with Barbarella.

Later that day or the next day she spoke in Maxcy Gregg Park and everybody went to see her. Then somebody threw a smoke bomb or something in the middle of the crowd and they had to hustle her off.

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