Year
1970
Month Day
May 09

President Nixon meets with anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial

In the early hours of May 9, 1970, a frazzled President Richard Nixon embarks upon what his Chief of Staff will describe as "the weirdest day so far" of his presidency. Preoccupied with the recent Kent State shootings and the unrest that has spread to college campuses across the country, Nixon makes an impromptu and bizarre visit to a group of anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial.

On the Friday after the Kent State massacre, in which Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine during an anti-war protest, Nixon was unable to sleep. Around 4 in the morning, after spending several hours making phone calls, he roused his personal valet, Manolo Sanchez, and asked him if he had ever seen the Lincoln Memorial at night. Knowing he would encounter a crowd of student protesters that had camped out on the National Mall, Nixon set off with Sanchez, his physician and a Secret Service team.

READ MORE: How Nixon’s Presidency Became Increasingly Erratic After Kent State

Nixon's account of the event differs greatly from that of the protesters, although both confirm it was a strange moment. Nixon described the students he met there as "overawed" and portrayed the conversation as a civil one. He told the protesters that he understood their hatred of the war, saying, "I know probably most of you think I'm an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel." Trying to start a friendly conversation, he asked where they went to school, and when some replied that they had come from Syracuse the president responded by talking about the school's football team. "Here we had come from a university that's completely uptight, on strike," one student recalled, "and when we told him where we were from, he talked about the football team." Nixon opined on the benefits of travel, particularly to Prague, Warsaw and Asia, but his audience struggled to follow along. "As far as sentence structure," one of them later told a reporter, "there was none."

The conversation lasted over an hour and both sides at least managed to explain their views on the war, although neither convinced the other. Nixon did not sleep that night, instead insisting he take Sanchez to see the floor of the House of Representatives before eating breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel. A diary entry written later that day by H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's Chief of Staff, corroborates the students' version of events: "I am concerned about his condition ... he has had very little sleep for a long time and his judgment, temper and mood suffer badly as a result."

READ MORE: Vietnam War Protests

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

the-pill-GettyImages-514867588

FDA approves "the pill"

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the world’s first commercially produced birth-control bill–Enovid-10, made by the G.D. Searle Company of Chicago, Illinois. Development of “the pill,” as it became popularly known, was initially commissioned by birth-control pioneer ...read more

Irish adventurer “Captain Blood” steals crown jewels

In London, Thomas Blood, an Irish adventurer better known as “Captain Blood,” is captured attempting to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Blood, a Parliamentarian during the English Civil War, was deprived of his estate in Ireland with the restoration of the ...read more

Explorer Richard Byrd claims to have flown over the North Pole

According to their claims, polar explorer Richard E. Byrd and co-pilot Floyd Bennett fly over the North Pole on this day in the Josephine Ford, a triple-engine Fokker monoplane. It would have been the first time an aircraft flew over the top of the world. The pair had taken off ...read more

Former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro is found dead

On May 9, 1978, the body of former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro is found, riddled by bullets, in the back of a car in the center of historic Rome. He was kidnapped by Red Brigade terrorists on March 16 after a bloody shoot-out near his suburban home. The Italian government ...read more

L. Ron Hubbard publishes "Dianetics"

On May 9, 1950, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (1911-1986) publishes Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. With this book, Hubbard introduced a branch of self-help psychology called Dianetics, which quickly caught fire and, over time, morphed into a belief system called ...read more

High-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring is captured by the U.S. Seventh Army

On May 9, 1945, Herman Goering, commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, president of the Reichstag, head of the Gestapo, prime minister of Prussia and Hitler’s designated successor is taken prisoner by the U.S. Seventh Army in Bavaria. Goering was an early member of the Nazi Party ...read more

Reporter breaks the news of secret bombing in Cambodia

William Beecher, military correspondent for the New York Times, publishes a front page dispatch from Washington, “Raids in Cambodia by U.S. Unprotested,” which accurately described the first of the secret B-52 bombing raids in Cambodia. Within hours, Henry Kissinger, presidential ...read more

House votes to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Nixon

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee opens impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon, voting to impeach him on three counts on July 30. The impeachment was the result of the scandal involving the bungled burglary of the offices of the Democratic National ...read more

Woodrow Wilson proclaims the first Mother’s Day holiday

On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issues a presidential proclamation that officially establishes the first national Mother’s Day holiday to celebrate America’s mothers. The idea for a “Mother’s Day” is credited by some to Julia Ward Howe (1872) and by others to Anna Jarvis ...read more

“Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show opens

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show opens in London, giving Queen Victoria and her subjects their first look at real cowboys and Indians. A well-known scout for the army and a buffalo hunter for the railroads (which earned him his nickname), Cody had gained national prominence 15 years ...read more

An unlikely challenger ends the Beatles’ reign atop the U.S. pop charts

Following the ascension of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to #1 in early February, the Beatles held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for three and a half solid months—longer than any popular artist before or since. Over the course of those months, the Fab Four earned three ...read more

Last episode of “The Honeymooners” airs

On May 9, 1971, the last original episode of the sitcom The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason as Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden, airs. Although a perennial rerun favorite in syndication, The Honeymooners actually aired only 39 episodes in its familiar sitcom format, ...read more

Andrew Cunanan continues murder spree

The body of William Reese, 45, a cemetery caretaker, is found in rural Pennsville, New Jersey, on May 9, 1997. He had been shot in the head with a Golden Saber .38-caliber bullet. Police soon determined that the killer was Andrew Cunanan, a 27-year-old man already wanted for ...read more

West Germany joins NATO

Ten years after the Nazis were defeated in World War II, West Germany formally joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defense group aimed at containing Soviet expansion in Europe. This action marked the final step of West Germany’s integration into the ...read more

Allies launch dual offensive on Western Front

On May 9, 1915, Anglo-French forces fighting in World War I launch their first combined attempt to break through the heavily fortified German trench lines on the Western Front in France. At Vimy Ridge, a strategically important crest of land on the Aisne River, in northwestern ...read more