News

PHOTOS: July 4, 1970, Was Politicized in DC. And Things Got Crazy

The "Honor America Day" rally for Nixon supporters turned into a splitscreen as protesters bathed in the Reflecting Pool
PHOTOS: July 4, 1970, Was Politicized in DC. And Things Got Crazy
Hippies wade in the Reflecting Pool, July 4, 1970. Photograph from the Emil A. Press slide collection, Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

July 4, 1970, was ostensibly a day when America’s deep divides over the Vietnam War, civil rights, and the sexual revolution could be swept away in a massive “Honor America Day” rally on the Mall. But as William Greider and John Hanrahan reported for the Washington Post the next day, “Against all the official intentions, the events of the day demonstrated not just the principles and faith that unite millions and millions of Americans, but also the deep differences that divide them from the dissenters.”

The Rev. Billy Graham speaks from the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, 1970, as hundreds of thousands look on. Graham was the featured speaker in opening event on the religious and patriotic program on Honor America Day. (Photograph by AP Photo)

The problem was that for all its talk of healing divisions, Honor America Day was essentially a rally for President Nixon’s supporters. The Nixon White House sent “advance teams across the country to bring 350,000 members of Nixon’s Silent Majority to the capital by car, train and bus,” the historian Kevin Kruse writes. Events quickly developed into a splitscreen: Billy Graham urged Americans to reaffirm their faith in their institutions and Kate Smith sang “God Bless America.” Meanwhile, the National Socialist White People’s Party held its second day of demonstrations, and hippies bathed in the Reflecting Pool, chanting “Fuck the pigs!” and “Free Bobby Seale!” and flying Viet Cong flags.

The site of “Honor America Day” on the Mall, looking west. Photograph from the Emil A. Press slide collection, Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

The only time they and the squares were on the same page was at the end of the morning service, which was marked by a “thundering cascade of aerial rockets over the Lincoln Memorial,” Greider and Hanrahan reported: “While the Honor America crowd cheered, the startled hippies wading in the Reflecting Pool paused in awe, then cheered, not sure at first whether the noise was fireworks or enemy fire.”

Hippie protesters in the Reflecting Pool. This and preceding two photographs from the Emil A. Press slide collection, Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Someone (accounts differ on whether it was police or dissidents) fired tear gas into the protesters just as headliner Bob Hope was about to go on. “It looks like Vietnam, doesn’t it?” Hope joked. Honor America rallyers blocked TV cameras aimed at the chaos in the Reflecting Pool. Someone drove a pickup truck into the water, and several protesters raided concession stands. People handed out red, white, and blue rolling papers—a previously announced “smoke-in” merged seamlessly with the protests. “If we destroyed one of their rock festivals, I wonder how they would feel,” complained Mary Ellen Fredo of Takoma Park.

The album cover of Honor America Day recordings of the event. The album contains an iconic version of Kate Smith’s God Bless America, but does not recognize protests at the event. Photograph courtesy the Library of Congress.

President Nixon was in California, so he gave a prerecorded address instead. America, the President said, was a “symbol of progress, of hope, and of just and orderly growth.” Maybe that was true where he was.

Counter-demonstrators drown out Nazis in Lafayette Park on July 3, 1970. The National Socialist White People’s Party also rallied on the National Mall the next day, where Nazi speaker Robert A. Lloyd III said, “At the root of our domestic crisis is the racial crisis caused by the presence of two dangerous alien races, blacks and Jews. Unless we resort to drastic social surgery, we will die as a nation and a race.” Lloyd and other Nazi speakers were shouted down with laughter, jeers, epithets, obscenities and occasionally rhythmic clapping. There were no arrests and only minor confrontations. Photograph provided by Washington Area Spark, Photograph by Glenn Leach. Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection/Washington Post.
Letter from Richard Nixon to Bob Hope, July 13, 1970. Photograph via the Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress.

Photo research by Lauren Bulbin; text by Andrew Beaujon.

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.