The Financial District’s “hard-hat” riot of 1970

hardhatriot2New York has some ugly riots in its history.

One of the strangest is the Hard Hat Riot, a clash between construction workers and war protesters in May 1970.

The spark was the Kent State University shootings. After the deaths of four students at the hands of National Guardsmen there, antiwar protesters here announced a rally memorializing the dead at City Hall.

Early on May 8, hundreds of peace activists gathered at Wall and Broad Streets. After their numbers swelled to about a thousand, they marched to the steps of Federal Hall and demanded the U.S. get out of Vietnam.

That’s when about 200 workers, carrying American flags and pro-USA signs, approached the protesters. Police reportedly did nothing as the hard hats chased protesters and beat them with their helmets for an hour.


“The workers then stormed City Hall, cowing policemen and forcing officials to raise the American flag to full staff from half staff, where it had been placed in mourning for the four students killed at Kent State University on Monday,” wrote The New York Times.

An estimated 70 people were injured, and six were arrested. Mayor Lindsay slammed the police for not stopping the rioters.

This earned the wrath of union leaders, who said the riot was a spontaneous act by workers who were tired of antiwar activists criticizing their country . . . an explanation disputed by some witnesses, who claimed to see two men in suits directing the rioters with hand motions.

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10 Responses to “The Financial District’s “hard-hat” riot of 1970”

  1. wendy Says:

    This is a good lesson on how people with the same interests can be pitted against one another. The Viet Nam war like the Iraq war took our treasure, both literal and figurative, and sapped lives and our economy because a cultural war was whipped to a frenzy.

  2. RED DAVE Says:

    I was at that one. It was a disaster and a tragedy. Some of the unions were so against the war that they actually took one-day work stoppages. Clash was heart-breaking: of a piece with the UFT-community conflict in ’68.

  3. Ellen Levitt Says:

    Which movie was about a hard-hat? (early 1970s)

    • RED DAVE Says:

      Too easy: “Joe” starring Peter Boyle. Funny thing is that Boyle was himself a lefty and tended bar for awhile in the East Village.

  4. Not Red Dave Says:

    Of course he was a lefty he was an actor not a construction worker.
    Now NY is more and more a city of the wealthy and the dependent.
    What would Karl say?

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  6. not not red dave Says:

    Not all actors are liberal and not all construction workers are conservative. How did being Reagan democrats work out for the transfers?

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