Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Mayday

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Mayday

Photography Exhibit and Author Discussion Mark Anniversary of Largest Mass Arrest in U.S. History, in the spring of 1971

Fifty years ago, Washington experienced the most intense series of protests in its history. These protests tested the constitutional right to dissent as well as the direction of the country. 

(The Washington Star Photo Archive, ©The Washington Post, DC Public Library) 

In April and May of 1971, people from all walks of life descended on the nation’s capital to pressure Congress and President Richard M. Nixon to bring all the troops home from Vietnam. The finale of these demonstrations took place from May 3 to May 5. Thousands of antiwar protesters launched a traffic blockade of the city’s streets and bridges, and held sit-ins at the Justice Department and the Capitol. The Nixon administration summoned 10,000 active duty troops to back up thousands of city police and National Guard. 

More than 12,000 people were arrested over three days. All jail cells were filled. A football practice field outside Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, and the Washington Coliseum became makeshift detention camps. 

Federal courts eventually declared the overreaction of the police, at the orders of the Nixon administration, unconstitutional. Protesters won millions of dollars in compensation for improper detention. 

The story of the 1971 protest is told in photographs, stories and discussion from the Library’s People’s Archive. Nearly two dozen photos will be mounted and displayed throughout the month of May in the front windows of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. A companion online exhibit will display additional images from those events. 

Author Talk - Mayday 1971: A Conversation with Lawrence Roberts
Monday, May 3, 7 p.m.


In “Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest,” journalist Lawrence Roberts chronicles the largest act of civil disobedience in U.S. history, in Richard Nixon’s Washington. The blockade of the nation’s capital would mark the final and most audacious chapter in one of America’s most important social movements. As Roberts explains, the intense cluster of protests against the Vietnam War in the spring of 1971 “bequeathed consequential changes to American law and politics. They set lasting precedents for individual rights in the heat of dissent, including rules for protesting today in the heart of Washington, D.C.” And these events produced many revelations about the people and the forces roiling the country during the volatile 1960s and 1970s.

This virtual program includes a talk and slideshow presentation of images and resources used in the publication, including Washington Star photographs from the People's Archive.

  Exhibit: Mayday 1971

The story of that protest is told in more than two-dozen photographs from the People’s Archive. Images were curated from The Washington Star Photograph Collection photo archive. The Washington Star was the newspaper of record in D.C. from the late 19th through the mid-20th century. The collection has been kept together intact, therefore national and international images can be found as well as local D.C. The exhibit is housed on Google Arts & Culture, an online platform of high-resolution images and videos of artworks and cultural artifacts.  

Learn More About Mayday 1971 and the Vietnam War from the Library

The Vietnam War: A Series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
An immersive documentary film series directed by acclaimed filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, tells the epic story of one of the most divisive, consequential and misunderstood events in American history, as it has never before been told on film.

Vietnam War - U.S. History: Gale in Context
Learn more about Vietnam War Protests from U.S. History: Gale in Context. American history from pre-colonial times to the present is pretend through historical documents, maps, images and timelines.

Washington Evening Star 
The Washington Star was the newspaper of record in D.C. from the late 19th through the mid-20th century.  Search and browse "scanned" copies of every page of every issue of the Star, long considered the "hometown paper of record" for the Nation’s Capital.