On this date in 1969, the Vietnam Moratorium Committee staged one of the biggest anti-war protests in American history. It followed a month after a massive demonstration and teach-in dubbed the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. As many as half a million people gathered for this day’s event, the Moratorium March on Washington. Protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Washington Monument, where they listened to speeches by anti-war politicians and sang John Lennon’s new anthem “Give Peace a Chance,” led by Pete Seeger. Arlo Guthrie; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and the cast of the musical Hair also performed. The Moratorium March followed immediately after the three-day March Against Death, in which 40,000 silent protestors walked in single file down Pennsylvania Avenue, each carrying a sign bearing the name of a dead soldier.
“The predominant event of the day was that of a great and peaceful army of dissent moving through the city,” the New York Times reported. The Times also described the crowd as “predominantly youthful” and a “mass gathering of the moderate and radical Left … old-style liberals; Communists and pacifists and a sprinkling of the violent New Left.”
Other protests were held around the world in support of the Washington moratorium. A quarter of a million people gathered in San Francisco. Future U.S. president Bill Clinton organized an anti-war event in Oxford, England, where he was a Rhodes scholar.
President Nixon had promised during his 1968 presidential campaign to withdraw from Vietnam, but —10 months into his term — had so far failed to deliver. He was not swayed by the protests, and said, “As far as this kind of activity is concerned, we expect it; however under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.” He watched sports on TV in the White House while the demonstration was taking place.