Bulldog and Panther: The 1970 May Day Rally and Yale

Panther! Bulldog! Protest!

May Day rally attendees on the New Haven Green photograph by John T. Hill.


As Friday, 1 May, dawned on the New Haven Green, members of the Chicago Seven—indicted, tried, and acquitted along with Bobby Seale for conspiracy relating to the riots that accompanied the 1968 Democratic National Convention in that city—held a press conference at the Center Church on the Green. The afternoon rally itself attracted approximately 15,000 people. Speeches and music dominated the weekend, with speakers including among others local Black Panther leaders, Chicago Seven defendants Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and French author and activist Jean Genet.  


At the encouragement of local and Yale officials, the National Guard, deployed by Connecticut Governor John Dempsey, maintained a discrete but ready presence several blocks from the Green armed with loaded rifles and tear gas.


Much of the violence during the May Day weekend took place on Friday and Saturday nights. Local police and National Guard troops used tear gas to control demonstrations, which involved bottle and rock throwing, and several bombs exploded towards the end of a rock concert at Yale’s Ingalls Rink, though there were no injuries.  In downtown New Haven, windows in some businesses were broken and several suspicious fires occurred.  


Yale student marshals were essential in communicating with protesters and keeping the peace. The New Haven FBI office maintained a large presence and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent daily reports on the rally to top Nixon Administration officials.  Despite pre-rally rhetoric and fears the rally was, for the most part, a non-violent protest.