A quiet September day in 1969 at South Hills High School turned chaotic when roughly 100 out-of-state “hippie type” girls, as described by the Pittsburgh Press, rolled up in cars to stage a Vietnam War protest.
“Jail break! Shut down the school!” they urged in an attempt to get students to leave class and join the anti-war movement.
The girls, waving Viet Cong flags, went as far as to punch teachers and run around half naked before fleeing the school grounds.
Twenty teens were arrested, though officials remained unsure why South Hills was targeted for the demonstration.
Pittsburgh’s anti-war demonstrations did not garner the same numbers as those in Washington, New York, or San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean Steel City residents were silent about their thoughts on the war in Vietnam.
Thousands of Pittsburghers spoke out in various ways throughout the 1960s and early ‘70s, organizing marches and protests in downtown Pittsburgh and local college campuses.
As reflected in letters to the editor printed in The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh natives serving in Vietnam had mixed reactions to the demonstrations taking place both here and throughout America.
“What has irritated me and many others are Americans protesting against our being here and publicly demonstrating,” PFC Chester Austin Jr. wrote from Vietnam. He, like other soldiers, commended Pittsburgh for not speaking out against the war as actively as other American cities, but he was still disturbed by American anti-war sentiment.
Not all demonstrators took an anti-war stand. Protesters often found themselves in standoffs with those determined to express their admiration and support for troops abroad.
The largest rallies took place in 1969, where thousands took to the streets Downtown during the evening rush hour with hopes of attracting much attention.
Professors, housewives, students without beards, and veterans made appearances at all of these rallies, showing that young “hippie types” — like those at South Hills High School — were not the only ones spearheading anti-war protests in and around Pittsburgh.