Activists and Authorities: The May 1970 Protests | About

Peace RetreatSite Creators

About Our Project

In 1964 NC State transitioned from a college to a university; gaining a liberal arts department and almost doubling in size. This addition was a fundamental change and altered the make-up of the student body. Throughout the turbulent 1960s the more liberal campus argued against the Vietnam War with increasing regularity. John Caldwell, Chancellor of the university (1957-1975) was instrumental throughout the early period of this change. Though firm on the primacy of education, he was flexible with student's concerns. His leadership during the May 1970 protests highlighting this skill: while his relationship with Cathy Sterling could be rocky he worked with her and other activists for a peaceful reaction to the invasion of Cambodia and Kent State shootings. The protests of May 1970 are a perfect example of the changes wrought by the liberal arts additions. Inspired by the double whammy of Nixon's invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings, students on campus were furious and vented their anger. Correlating with the write-in election of Cathy Sterling for student body president, the protests and election showed that students were unsatisfied with their local and national government. 

The Peace Retreat, brain child of Cathy Sterling, was an important event for NC State. Straddling the border between outright violence and apathy, the Peace Retreat gave all students the ability to voice their opinions regarding the war. This success--Sterling and Caldwell's leadership along with the peaceful student response--meant that NC State had greater opportunity for introspection and discussion than most campuses in the region.

Methodology & Technology

The majority of research for the project was done through the Special Collections of the NC State Library. Digitized editions of the Technician were of particular importance  to each of individual exhibit. This resource was incredibly useful to understanding the day to day events on campus. Of note among the physical collections were the personal papers of John Caldwell and Cathy Sterling, which were available through special collections employees, and either photographed by members of the group or scanned using the DocScan app on iPhones.

There are no direct secondary sources on the Peace Retreat or NC State's reaction to the Vietnam War. Instead, we relied on books and articles covering American campus activism in the 1960s and 1970s. This gave a broader context in which to work regarding protests, reaction to the war and relations between the administration and student body.

Statement of Intellectual Property and Copyright

The photographs and documents featured in Activists and Authorities were obtained with permission from North Carolina State University Special Collections. To request a transcript of Cathy Sterling’s interview, contact Samantha Smith. The State of History is created by the History Department of North Carolina State University and powered by Omeka

Proper Citation Guidelines 

All primary and secondary sources are cited using the Chicago Manuel of Style. Items in the collection follow Dublin Core standards for metadata.