The Hard Hat Riot of 1970 took place a few days after the shootings at Kent State. During that brief skirmish on Wall Street, construction workers from the World Trade Center site battle hippies who were protesting the deaths of their fellow students in Ohio.
The “hard hats” briefly came to represent Nixon’s “silent majority,” the “Archie Bunkers” whose sweat (and taxes) built the very nation which the ascendant Left seemed determined to destroy.
That same Left later more or less erased the Hard Hat Riots from the historical record. Photographs of the event are particularly rare.
This year, previously unseen photographs of the Hard Hat Riot emerged. Photographer Henry Gordillo spotted my articles on the event and contacted me. I’ve posted two of his photographs here — but there are more, and they are all terrific.
I asked Gordillo to tell me what it was like to be on the scene in New York that day.
This is his story:
“As a committed Communist at the time, I felt that world revolution (and peace and good times, etc.) could be achieved through Tri-X film- – if only I could take enough photographs. However Kent State seemed to prove that Fascism was on the march. We could be rounded up at any moment. It was all quite frightening and delightfully exhilarating and titillating.
“So I head down to Wall Street to photograph the anti-war demonstration. Like a good student Communist, I slept in and got there around 11:30am. I could not reach the anti-war demonstrators because of the large number of on-lookers and the lines of police protecting the demonstrators. Though I could see the demonstration’s large ‘Free Bobby’ (Seale) banner. So I wandered amongst Wall Street workers headed out to lunch. Because of my prejudices against suits and Wall Street, I thought the audience threatening, but looking back on the photographs there are lots of pictures of suits and long hairs debating, other folks just holding forth, and even one enterprising fellow selling anti-communist buttons, paraphernalia, and small American flags. It was fun. And nobody minded my taking pictures.
“The anti-war demonstrators occupied the high ground on the left steps of Federal Hall. From there they loudly chanted their point that everyone around them was a pro-war, Daddy Warbucks capitalist, fascist, uptight old person, and an all-round no-goodnik. No Kumbaya hugs. Wall Street was enemy territory and aggressively telling people off was the agenda.
“The steps of Federal Hall are divided into left and right with the statue of George Washington in the middle. The student demonstrators held the left side with reporters on the right side.
“Then the construction workers arrived singing patriotic songs and handing out broadsheets that had an American flag with the slogan ‘Rally for America.”
“The construction workers attracted a lot of attention. So the student demonstrators upped the volume of their chants and their condemnation of society.
“The intersection is small and narrow and was packed tight with people. It was hard to move.
“After a bit of point and counter-point chanting between the workers and the students, the construction workers rushed the right side of the steps where the reporters were. The workers chanted from their new vantage point and the students continued to respond from theirs.
“And then it all got quite confused. Maybe the workers crossed from their (right) side to the student’s (left) side by going behind the statue of George Washington. But the police seemed to be suddenly stuck in a small space with the students evacuating their position and the workers flowing into it. Scary, for sure, but more like a game of capture the flag than violent European-style fascist street fighting.
“After a bit more chanting from the workers on the Federal Hall steps, it seemed that lunch hour was over and folks started drifting away. I remember seeing a lot of sandals (especially Dr. Scholl’s!) on the pavement of the side street down which the students had retreated.
“Don’t know what happened elsewhere that day. I was busy quickly getting home to be first to announce to my comrades that I had seen fascism being born.
“My paranoid evaluations are memories of my own psychological state at the time; the objective view comes from looking at the photographs themselves especially in light of events that came later.
“The photographs are offered now ne prorsus interirent – lest they altogether perish and the past be lost.”