Seven hundred people dancing, drinking wine, lighting fireworks and doing wheelies on motorcycles? This would hardly be a normal occurrence on South University Avenue today.

Jessica Boullion
A South University Avenue plaque memorializeds the rioting on the street in 1969. (PETER SCHOTTENFELS/Daily)

Back on a warm evening in June 1969, students and what the Ann Arbor News called “hippies” held an impromptu street party on South University near Good Time Charley’s. After a police officer ticketed a man for performing motorcycle stunts, students decided to have a “liberation party” and used cars to block off South University at Church and South Forest Streets.

From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. the group closed the street. Students and revelers sang, danced, drank wine and watched more motorcycle stunts. Ann Arbor police officers looked on but didn’t intervene, fearing arrests would spark violence.

In a summer filled with anti-war and anti-government protests, students were already filled with angst, University alum Grace Shackman said. Shackman was a University student during the riots and said students in the late 1960s were frustrated with everything from the failing Vietnam War to strict societal regulations.

When police ticketed the stunt-riding motorcyclist, they triggered pent-up student anger.

The next day, revelers returned, and this time there were nearly 1,500 of them. The higher numbers and complaints from store owners about the previous day’s party prompted police to patrol South University. For most of the evening, officers just watched the action.

Just after midnight, police began moving in to disperse the crowd. Officers used tear gas and riot sticks to control the students and arrested 45 people. Twenty-eight of those arrested were charged with felonies under a 1968 state riot law.

About 40 people were injured, including a city police officer who was struck by a Molotov cocktail. The Michigan Daily reported that the officer was “momentarily enveloped in flame” until other officers extinguished the blaze.

Only 300 people showed up for the third night of partying. They were met by more than 400 police officers. At 1 a.m. the police began chasing students away from the street toward East Quad Residence Hall.


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