On Saturday, September 19, 1970, a series of events led to what was hailed as a militant demonstration at the front gate of Chanute Air Force Base, leading to police engagement and general unrest. In the preceding weeks, an African American airman from Chanute was arrested on false charges in Rantoul. This arrest sparked an uprising form the 47th Student Squadron, a predominantly black squadron. The uprising that week coincided with a boycott of Dining Hall P-23. In July of 1970, 600 airmen signed a petition to improve the quality of the food at the dining hall. After the petition was ignored, a rumor circulated that hepatitis was being spread through the food served in P-23. This culminated in a boycott of the dining hall. The boycott saw three civilians and two airmen join forces to successfully dissuade the majority of the evening diners from subjecting themselves to the food. Military Police were called, and the three civilians were escorted from the base and given a strong verbal warning not to return, while the two airmen were arrested and held for two days.
As G.I.’s were being held without charges, racist actions of police went unaddressed, and the food quality remained abysmal at P-23; September 19 saw a demonstration at the gates of Chanute. Represented at this demonstration were members of the 47th student squadron, the Chanute chapter of the American Servicemen’s Union, and a Champaign Urbana coalition FIST. The strength of the demonstration was praised in the October 1970 issue of a periodical published by airmen with more radical than traditional views: A Four-Year Bummer: The Airman’s Voice. These same events are highlighted in official reports from Colonel Ford. In the weeks following the demonstration, the Inspector General of the hospital toured the dining court and found the conditions to be subpar.
The materials mentioned above can be found in the History Files Collection in a folder titled 1969-1971: Anti-War. The folder also contains a full run of A Four Year Bummer. The journal provides a fascinating look at dissenting opinions and accounts of resistance at Chanute. Articles and columns address issues of race, imperialism, propaganda, the morality of the Vietnam War, international solidarity rights violations of the military, and local acts of resistance in Champaign County.
In the January 1971 issue of A Four Year Bummer Bill Roundtree, one of the airmen arrested for boycotting the dining hall, published a radical piece, “Serve the People.” Here is an excerpt that succinctly expresses much of the solidarity steeped ideology circulated in this publication:
“When the military is sent into a Black community or onto college campuses, they’re sent there to protect the businessmen’s interests, not yours. When you’re sent to Vietnam you’re not there protecting the freedom of the Vietnamese people but instead helping to exploit those people. … So take a good look at the system you’re serving under, because you’re not serving the people, but are being used to oppress them—and keep that greedy vicious pig in power.”