MAYDAY 1971 by Lawrence Roberts


A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America's Biggest Mass Arrest
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A participant in a crucial anti-war demonstration recalls the tension and peril of the moment.

In May 1971, investigative editor Roberts, then a 19-year-old college student, joined in a huge protest against the Vietnam War that resulted in the arrest of more than 12,000 people, the author included. Making his book debut, Roberts offers a perceptive, thoroughly researched accounting of the intense, often divisive movement that led to an event marking 10 years from the time John F. Kennedy sent “a few hundred soldiers and advisers to South Vietnam.” By the time of the protest, more than 2 million Americans had served, and 275,000 still were deployed. Lyndon Johnson expanded the war, costing him the presidency, and Richard Nixon inherited the conflict, advised by his hawkish national security chief, Henry Kissinger. Protests, begun in 1965 with a teach-in at the University of Michigan, had grown year by year. By spring 1971, several organizations worked to strategize for “ambitious antiwar demonstrations”: the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice, the Mayday Tribe, the National Peace Action Coalition, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The Nixon White House, the FBI, and Washington, D.C., police also needed to strategize, confronted with a conglomeration of “1930s-style radicals, back-to-the-land hippies, campus intellectuals, would-be revolutionaries, middle-class liberals, black-power evangelists,” and young radicals known as Yippies. Because the groups had no designated leader, law enforcement agencies found it difficult to keep track of who was who, where they were, and what level of violence they endorsed. Drawing on government and private archives, news articles, and many interviews with participants, Roberts creates a tense, brisk narrative covering 10 weeks that began in March with a bomb explosion in the U.S. Capitol and ended with lawyers’ efforts to free the thousands arrested. He offers sharply drawn portraits of key White House personnel and of many protestors, including Yippies Stew Albert and his girlfriend, Judy Gumbo; activists Rennie Davis and David Dellinger; and John Kerry, a prominent member of VVAW.

A vivid history of passionate protest.

Pub Date: April 28th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-328-76672-4
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2020