On June 15, 2020, we launched the Marshaling May Days online exhibit and website, the culmination of over a year of research on the law students who served as legal observers (“marshals”) in May 1970 at UVA. This project represents the official rebirth of the law school’s oral history program, originally spearheaded by Frances Farmer (law librarian from 1942 to 1976 and first female professor at UVA Law). Since then, the law library’s oral history collection has remained dormant, until now. This is the story of how an idea became a year-long research quest, full of inspiration and occasionally disappointment (spoiler: COVID-19). From Boynton Beach, Florida to Aspen, Colorado, I describe here the making of Marshaling May Days. It is my hope that those interested in starting their own oral history projects will find wisdom in our process; both in our successes and in our challenges.
Chapter 1: The Beginning
February 2019—May 2019
Our story begins in early 2019, when Ted Hogshire (Law, Class of 1970) reached out to Special Collections Librarian Randi Flaherty about a pseudo-organization he was involved with fifty years ago at UVA Law: “legal marshals.” In the spring of 1970, protests erupted around the country in response to the Nixon administration’s decision to expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia and as a reaction to the National Guard shootings at Kent State University. The legal marshals, Hogshire explained, were a group of law students, mostly third years, that banded together to ensure the First Amendment rights of student protesters at UVA. He believed the legal marshals played a role in ensuring that UVA demonstrations did not turn physically violent, and as such their story should be told. Further, 2020 would mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Class of 1970.
Randi conducted the first oral history of the May Days Oral History Project that February with Ted Hogshire, and that was that for a couple of months.
At this time, I was a third-year student (in the College) studying abroad in Lyon, France. It was not until I applied for a slew of positions through the Institute for Public History (IPH), including one at the law library, that I became mildly aware of Law Special Collections, though I didn’t get that position. However, in April, Randi emailed me. She was impressed with my oral history experience (I interned with Monticello’s Getting Word and contributed to UVA’s Oral History Initiative, Reflections, the previous summer) and asked if I was interested in breathing new life into UVA Law’s oral history program, starting with Hogshire’s request to interview former legal marshals. Flattered and thrilled, I joined the team.
Chapter 2: The Kneedler Investigation
May 2019—November 2019
While I finished my study abroad experience, Randi sent me a handful of preliminary research materials to familiarize myself with the era. However, my research really began when I returned home. During our initial meeting, Randi and I established two research questions: who were the legal marshals, and what did they do?
To get started, Randi pointed me to the “Papers of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Student Affairs Pertaining to the Student Strike of 1970 [manuscript] 1970” (the “Kneedler Investigation”). Long story short, then-Assistant Dean of the Law School H. Lane Kneedler was charged with conducting an investigation on the facts and key players of the May 1970 strike. During the summer months of 1970, he completed interviews with undergraduate and law students and compiled heaps of legal precedent. At the request of President Edgar Shannon, a final report was never produced.
I requested a digital scan of the investigation, which our friends at Small Special Collections gladly fulfilled. That summer, I read through the Kneedler Investigation, the Cavalier Daily, the Charlottesville Daily Progress, an invaluable pictorial account of the May strike (May Days: Crisis in Confrontation), and one student’s thesis from 1977. I compiled every name I came across into an Excel spreadsheet, which I then color-coded based on if the individual was arrested, a law student, or a legal marshal (or, as I found, all three!).
We decided early on that we wanted to focus on third-year legal marshals so that we could present our research in the form of a physical exhibit at their 50th reunion in May 2020. We separated out the 3L legal marshals from the rest, created a new tab in the Excel sheet, and produced a running list of potential oral history interviewees.
Chapter 3: Is this thing on?
November 2019—March 2020
This stage of the process was critical for two reasons: 1). Meggan Cashwell joined our team, gifting us with her oral history wisdom and editing skills, and 2). It was time to fulfill Ted Hogshire’s wish and get out there and interview his colleagues.
To make this happen, we sent emails, made phone calls, and even sent physical letters to everyone on our legal marshal list describing the project and our goals. While we waited for responses, Meggan, Randi, and I worked to develop a list of interview questions that we could send to our interviewees in preparation for a formal interview. We also reached out to other oral history, public history, and storytelling organizations for advice on best practices and methodologies, including JMU’s oral history team, Monticello’s Getting Word, UVA’s Reflections, The Museum of Durham History, and WTJU 91.1. Over the next few weeks, responses started to trickle in. We heard back from Bob Olson, who was willing to do an interview but was currently in Aspen, Colorado for the winter. We heard from Dan Sullivan, who was in Boynton Beach, Florida. And we heard back from a handful of others who were still practicing law in the DC area. Despite the distance, we were determined to conduct as many in-person interviews as our timeline and budget would allow.
February 2020 was full of travel for the oral history team. Randi, Meggan, and Micheal Klepper (our videographer) journeyed from the snowy peaks of Aspen to the sandy shores of Boynton Beach. I stayed behind to finish up my schoolwork, but had the chance to travel to Winchester, Virginia to meet former legal marshal Gerald MacFarlane. In each case, our interviewees graciously welcomed us into their homes and offices and spoke with us for about an hour, reminiscing on “those days in May.” They shared their ruminations and reflections with us, and in return we helped to shake the dust off some of their memories through the presentation of our research.
As we neared the end of February, we only had a few interviews left to conduct. We were set to proceed with them after my spring break in early March, and then we would begin pulling together a physical exhibit to present to the Class of 1970 during their reunion in May.
Everything was going swimmingly until, of course, COVID-19 gobbled up our plans and the end of my fourth year like a greedy shark.
Chapter 4: You’re muted. Your microphone is muted!
March 2020—May 2020
I found out that I would not be going back to school near the end of spring break.
I returned to my apartment in Charlottesville and transitioned to classes online. The May Days Oral History Project continued. We met virtually via Microsoft Teams. We conducted three interviews on Zoom with four individuals (Ed Finch, Frank McDermott, H. Lane Kneedler, and Jim Carpenter). We continued to upload our interviews to otter.ai, a transcription service, and some of our staff set about correcting the transcripts for our collections.
Then, near the end of March, it became clear that everything was going to be canceled for the rest of the semester, including the Class of 1970 reunion.
We quickly determined that we still needed to present our research and decided on making an online exhibit in the form of a website. Inspired by his work on the SCOS Archive and Charlottesville Statues, we enlisted Loren Moulds to create a stellar site.
All that was left to do was figure out how we wanted the site to look, write the content, edit the content, finish the transcripts, find and create all media, cite all our sources, and put it together by the end of May. Piece of cake.
Chapter 5: Let’s build a website!
May 2020—June 2020
We knew we wanted a timeline element and a map. We envisioned a site which allowed users to jump around the timeline, as opposed to scrolling through in a linear way. As users clicked around to different points on the timeline or map, text and images would pop up to match the event. We split the work: Meggan would write the exhibit content, I would find pictures and plug it into StoryMap, and Loren would incorporate the exhibit into a larger website.
The preliminary sketches looked like this:
Once the content was complete, I created Prototype 1 of the exhibit:
Technically, it had everything we wanted (map, pictures, timeline), but it did not feel like a modern museum exhibit. We found ourselves frustrated with what this version of StoryMap couldn’t do. We could do better.
I did a little more research, and created Prototype 2:
This version was cleaner. It felt more like a website from this century. However, we were unable to incorporate audio clips into the text panel without linking to an outside video player. It was time for the third and final Prototype, which you can see in its full glory at the Marshaling May Days website.
Now that we settled on our format for the exhibit, it was time to edit the content. We had multiple edit sessions for each page of the site to ensure that every link worked, every photo was clear and cited properly, and that the text made sense. Multiple days spent editing content whilst in quarantine turned my notebook into a doodle-y mess…
…but made my roommate’s cat very content.
During the editing period, we enlisted a few library staffers and are incredibly thankful that they momentarily stepped away from their own projects to provide a fresh set of eyes to ours.
As we prepared to launch our site amid ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations, we decided to delay the site’s release in order to take a step back and reflect on the work we had completed. We thought about the privilege the legal marshals held never to fear for their lives or safety during the demonstrations they attended or during their brief interactions with police. We changed the ending of our exhibit to speak to the role that UVA student activists have played in demanding greater systemic change and demographic representation both in the College and in the law school.
Conclusion: The actual, satisfying, gratifying end (for now)
The website is now live, and we are, again, so grateful for all the individuals who helped to make it happen, including our interviewees, our text editors, and our friends and family that did not shy away from providing their own critiques of the site.
In the immediate present, we will host a “Zoom Reunion” for our interviewees on June 23rd and invite them to reminisce together. We anticipate the moment we can see them in person during the combined Class of 1970/1971 reunion in May 2021.
In the future, we will be expanding our oral history collection to include a diverse set of voices. We will incorporate relevant interviews into the May Days website. We also plan to include a photo gallery so users can thoroughly explore the law library’s collection of May Days photographs.
We shift now to the centennial anniversary of women at UVA Law, and are excited to prepare programming to mark the occasion.
To round out the legal marshal story, I will share one final reflection:
I’ve attended two of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Charlottesville so far and noticed a handful of students standing around the edges, wearing neon green hats. Upon further inspection, those hats read “National Lawyers’ Guild Legal Observer.” I learned that UVA Law has their own chapter of the NLG. Seeing those individuals patrol the perimeter of the demonstration, recording their observations into their phones and small notebooks, I felt as if I had stepped into my research.
Time ticks forward, generations age and begin anew, but the power of protest lives on.