With the passion of youth and the decry of the Vietnam War, Columbia resident Betty Wilson felt she could change the world through activism.
Wilson was studying pre-law at MU when National Guardsmen killed and wounded student demonstrators at Kent State on May 4, 1970. She was 38, raising five young children, and recalls bringing her older children — who were 10 and 11 at the time — to join a demonstration May 11, 1970, on Francis Quadrangle.
Demonstrations and sit-ins against the war in Vietnam culminated on that day with the largest gathering to date when about 3,000 protesters stretched from Jesse Hall through the MU Columns.
“We felt very earnest about it,” Wilson said. “We were naive enough back then to think that being open and presenting ourselves at these demonstrations would make a difference."
Wilson, 82, remembers tensions and passions running rampant and the incredible amount of people gathering outside Jesse Hall.
“It was a time of heightened awareness of the democratic process, and it lead to conversations at every sphere of our lives about what was right and what was wrong,” Wilson said.
Wilson and her husband, former Columbia Mayor Clyde Wilson, attended numerous demonstrations and protests throughout the late 1960s into the 1970s. She thought of the experience as a way to teach a lesson to her younger children.
“It was important that they understood why we did these things,” Wilson said. “You need to exercise democracy peacefully, and violence is no part of protesting. As kids, sometimes, that's hard to understand."
Something about going to the protests left Wilson looking forward. The following year, she and many of her friends thought they should try to change the world another way.
She felt that something more in the system had to happen to make a difference.
“I went to law school — again naively thinking going to law school would be a way of changing the world — but as I grew older and became more realistic about the profession, I realized that there was never going to be an automatic way of changing the world,” she said.