Historic Resources Commission calls for historic markers for 1970 protests, police killings of 2 young men
The Lawrence Historic Resources Commission is recommending that the city create markers for two young men who were killed in confrontations with police during civil unrest in the summer of 1970.
As part of its meeting Wednesday, the HRC voted 6-0 to recommend that historic markers be created to memorialize the deaths of Rick “Tiger” Dowdell and Harry Nicholas “Nick” Rice, and that recommendation will now be sent to the City Commission for consideration. Board members agreed that the city should recognize the killings and also include an educational component where people can learn more about that period in the city’s history.
“I am excited that this conversation is beginning,” said board member Brenna Buchanan Young, adding that she thought the project could go beyond just historical markers. “There needs to be a way for whatever this is to tell people where to go to dive deeper, to really understand what happened there.”
The killings came amid a period of anti-war, civil rights and other protests in 1970 that were at times destructive — including the firebombing of the University of Kansas Memorial Union — and led to arrests and uses of force by police, according to information on the Watkins Museum of History website. The National Guard was sent to Lawrence, a citywide curfew was put in place and classes at KU were called off early.
The topic is before the commission following a letter from Rice’s brother, Christopher Rice, who is requesting that a marker be created for the 50-year anniversary of his brother’s death. Dowdell was killed on July 16, 1970, by Lawrence police officer William Garret in the alley between Rhode Island Street and New Hampshire Street, according to a memo to the HRC from Historic Resources Administrator Lynne Braddock Zollner. Rice was killed four days later on Oread Avenue between West 12th Street and West 13th Street when police in riot gear were attempting to disperse a crowd gathered to protest Dowdell’s death, according to the memo.
Dowdell, a Black 19-year-old, was shot in the back of the head by Garret while attempting to run from police, with police alleging they exchanged gunfire with Dowdell in the moments before his death, as the Journal-World has previously reported. During the protest four days later, Rice, a white 19-year-old, was also shot in the back of the head after police reportedly fired into a crowd of assembled protesters.
The memo to the HRC states that successful historic markers include context and identify an unbiased history of the person or place inclusive of all members of society regardless of their race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status. The memo states the deaths of Dowdell and Rice are intertwined with the events of 1970.
The memo also provides more information about both men. It states that in August 1967, Dowdell complained to the Lawrence Human Relations Commission of police harassment. The memo also states that Dowdell participated in the Black student walkout that occurred at Lawrence High School in 1968 and that Rice had just finished his first year at KU when he was killed.
The board is recommending that two or more historic markers be created for Dowdell, Rice and the context surrounding their deaths. Board member Kelly Erby said that she thought markers for Dowdell and Rice should be located near the places they were killed, and that a third, more centrally located marker should provide more information about the events of 1970.
“I think we have to tell that story,” Erby said. “We do a really good job in Lawrence of telling the story of our more progressive history related to the Free State cause, but we need to also tell this other story.”
As part of its meeting, the board also voted 6-0 to recommend to the City Commission that a process be created for future requests regarding historic markers. The board is recommending that the HRC create a subcommittee that reviews such requests, makes a recommendation to the HRC, which then would decide on a recommendation for the City Commission. The HRC is recommending the subcommittee include a representative from the Human Relations Committee, Parks and Recreation Department, and the Watkins Museum, as well as the historian position of the Historic Resources Commission.