In 1969 there was quite a surprise in the election for SGA (Student Government Association) President.
Jimmie Baxter became the first black president of the student body at Tennessee - in the heart of Republican East Tennessee it seemed that the progressives and radicals indeed had a chance to prosper. Jimmie's election poster seen in the picture above was silk screened on an aluminum foil background in bright dayglow colors and over the Spring it seems that they adorned most of the dormitory room window and every phone pole on campus.
Jimmie Baxter won that election after the first vote was thrown out and there was a second election.
John R. Long was a fraternity brother of mine and I was one of his campaign managers in that election but the following Spring in 1970 I found myself nominated a the Student Power Coalition Candidate to replace Jimmie Baxter.
Baxter had done a phenomenal job in the wake of the KENT STATE MURDERS helping to organize the student strike while keeping things peaceful and orderly. Jimmie sent me these images from his archives of the time in lieu of writing anything to add to these diaries. The NIXON GRAHAM event was after his term was over. Jimmie was in a position to know the degree to which local cops and DA's were willing to go to crush students and make them "examples". Many people owe Jimmie a debt of gratitude for keeping things under control. These are Jimmie's pictures
The Republican leadership in Knox County exemplified by Attorney General Ron Webster were itching to use anxious UT and KPD police to bust heads and to make UT protesters into some dangerous communist inspired radical group in the wake of the KENT STATE MURDERS. Baxter helped keep the student strike and protests peaceful and orderly and saved many from clubs and jail cells. Jimmie Baxter is now just retired as a US Attorney living in Knoxville. So that's what radical commies end up doing with their lives?
Baxter followed Christopher Whittle as SGA President and you may know that Chris once owned ESQUIRE MAGAZINE and Whittle Communications and was the founder of Channel One News and the EDISON SCHOOLS
We had the only "all indicted for felony" primary field and eventual ticket in SGA election history. Gus Hadorn, Peter Kami, Steve Levine and I were all facing absurd charges for Felony Inciting to Riot for the Knoxville 22 protest of the selection process for the new UT President Ed Boling later reduced to 'blocking the entrance to a doorway' and a $25 fine.
Dave Dunaway was the YAF rightwing candidate, Gary Crawford was the Liberal, Bob Migliara was the centrist independent, I was the RADICAL and John Smith was my Phi Sig Fraternity brother and eventual winner of the race as the typical mainstream conservative UT fraternity type.
Smith got to meet with NIXON following the crusade appearance with Billy Graham and he announced that Nixon was "concerned about students and their problems".
Here is what GARRY WILLS had to say about John Smith in his brilliant piece about the NIXON GRAHAM debacle in ESQUIRE Magazine. - JESUS WEPT - BY GARRY WILLS How Nixon Used the Media, Billy Graham, and the Good Lord to Rap with Students at Tennessee U
And to cap it all, along came Smith, the Student President. He rode to Air Force One in the same car with Bebe Rebozo (who muttered, darkly, of the demonstrators. "There's only one way to handle them") and H. R. Haldeman's wife. Mrs. Haldeman asked Smith how the university's three-day strike after Kent State had been kept peaceful—he did not answer, what was the truth, that his black predecessor, Jimmie Baxter, kept the lid on, growling at students that they were outgunned by the cops.When you remember that this is Tricky Dick Nixon trying to fool the world into thinking he's welcome on any college campus in the wake of the KENT STATE MURDERS and the strikes that hit every campus in America. I guess that Liberty U., Oral Roberts and Bob Jones Universities were too obvious so a Graham Crusade in Neyland Stadium in Republican East Tennessee was the best option for this sham appearance.
On the plane, Nixon asked Smith what troubles the youth of today. Two things, he was answered—they think the war unconstitutional, and they need a higher goal than the merely material things. Smith had just heard both Nixon and Graham say, on the platform, that youth needs a higher goal than the merely material things. This is how the President discovers what is troubling youth. Smith, off the plane photographed, interviewed, sighed with relief that the President does understand and care for the youth. I talked, the day after, with Smith. Short, with a vacant fraternity face, his eyes bleared, he was suffering a political hangover after his bender of publicity. Did he think yesterday's Crusade a religious service or a political meeting? "Political." Was the aim to convince the nation that students would still welcome Nixon? "Yes." Is that a misconception? “Yes” Didn’t you help create that misconception with your telegram of welcomyou’re your praise for Nixon? "Well, I do believe he understands our problems." What about the telegram? I think most of the students here would welcome a chance to see the President." Even under these phony auspices? "Probably." Do you consider that an informed or an informed preference? "Uninformed I suppose." Yet you cater to it? "Well, I just wanted to size up the President for myself. I don't opinions about people I have not met." You satisfied your curiosity: "Look, didn't I get a chance speak out against the war?" About it’s unconstitutionality? "Yes." Don’t you think kids would still oppose the war as immoral even if it was legal? "Sure, but I could denounce the war the same way radicals do and never get a chance to see President. It is a question of sounding off before 23,000 students or giving my views on the war to millions of television viewers." bleared eyes had lit up, last night fuming once more into his brain, an intoxicant. I left with a strong impression I could not, at first, define -- but eventually it came to me, I had been talking to a twenty-year old Nixon.
During final exams we still got a nice sized crowd to put themselves on the line in front of 90,000 "christians", the Secret Service, and Knoxville cops who were more than happy to bust a few dirty hippie heads. Most of these students were raised in church going families like mine where my life long pastor Dr Charles Trentham had played golf with Graham prior to Nixon's visit that evening.
Tom Robbins in my favorite philosophical work SKINNY LEGS AND ALL expounds on the evil generated when politics mixes with religion. So much of what he offers there is pertinent to this example. For instance "The Divine was expansive, but religion was reductive. Religion attempted to reduce the Divine to a knowable quantity with which mortals might efficiently deal, to pigeonhole it once and for all so that we never had to reevaluate it. With hammers of cant and spikes of dogma, we crucified and crucified again, trying to nail to our stationary altars the migratory light of the world. Thus, since religion bore false witness to the Divine, religion was blasphemy. And once it entered into its unholy alliance with politics, it became the most dangerous and repressive force that the world has ever known." or "Conservatives understand Halloween, liberals only understand Christmas. If you want to control a population, don't give it social services, give it a scary adversary."
"Religion isn't the opium of the masses - it's the cyanide."
and "To emphasize the afterlife is to deny life. To concentrate on Heaven is to create hell. In their desperate longing to transcend the disorderliness, friction, and unpredictability that pesters life; in their desire for a fresh start in a tidy habitat, germ-free and secured by angels, religious multitudes are gambling the only life they may ever have on a dark horse in a race that has no finish line."
Liberal Progressives are too honest and sympathetic to use religion for a cynical political purpose. Republican's don't see the evil in their ways.
Once the Left Behind crew seeking Armageddon were considered marginal whack jobs but now they constitute the solid center of the Republican Party. This NIXON GRAHAM event was simply a preview of a far more terrible future of W saying that GOD told him to smite SADDAM or the Rapture and Creationism fans who prefer to lay waste to the environment in the name of Genesis "dominion theory" reinforced by their desire to hasten the Apocalypse and bring on the end of days.
In the face of that threat isn't it better to muse over a Tom Robbins quote than to face the outrage of Sarah and Rand in a bay of oil?
There will be additions to this series as soon as Bruce McCoy, shown here being arrested during the KNOXVILLE 22 protest after serving as a negotiator between the administration and the student protesters.
Chris Caron, a leader of the student protest people and the person most responsible for the campaign posters that helped elect Jimmie Baxter SGA president.and a couple of other participants get it together to add their reflections and recall to this accurate history of a moment in time some forty years ago. We examine our past to understand our present and avoid a painful future.
If nothing else the first installment of this history put me back in touch with a few people who were there and that was with only 64 who viewed the diary. My hope is that this second chapter will yield more participants who can reach me via the comments and our 1970 Protest and Activism at UT Facebook Group
I suppose that this type of situation at Tennessee was repeated across the country at institutions of higher learning from Maine to California and it's the common elements of our collective experience in that incredible time that we share. 40 years have passed and the participants are ending their careers that were just beginning in 1970. This was a part of our beginning and it shaped our lives in many deep and fundamental ways.