The Miracle Mile March of 1970
Text and photographs by Dewey Livingston
My favorite class at Redwood High School was Miss Orendorff’s photography lab. Here we learned how to shoot better pictures, develop film, make prints in the school darkroom, and show our work. Armed with a single lens reflex camera loaded with Tri-X or Plus-X, I wandered the county looking for subjects. Upon getting a coveted 200-millimeter lens at Seawood, the field narrowed: now was the time for a shy kid to seek out people subjects, shot from farther away and with professional-type results.
The summer before my senior year, organizers announced a nonviolent protest march, or parade, in support of striking typographers at Marin’s daily paper, the Independent-Journal. Held on July 25, 1970, the march would start at The Hub in San Anselmo and, after passing the I-J building in downtown San Rafael, end with a speech by Cesar Chavez and other dignitaries at Albert Park. It was a perfect event to try out my 200-mm lens and get a glimpse of Chavez, the famous United Farm Workers Union organizer best known for the grape boycott of the 1960s. What resulted was a good grade in photography class, and a cub photojournalist’s record of a historic moment in Marin.
Police and news outlets estimated the crowd of marchers at around 1,200–1,500 people, many of whom were representatives of other unions and some traveling from southern California. Led by a contingent flying American flags and a flatbed truck carrying a jazz band, the marchers headed up the Miracle Mile, over the low summit and into San Rafael. People watched from their homes and businesses as the throng passed by, and the participants were peaceful, laden with signs and dressed for the occasion.
There was a strong police presence, largely because violence had broken out at a protest the previous February, and the I-J building was vandalized during the strike, which began on January 7 when members of the San Francisco Typographical Union Local №21 walked out in a contract dispute at least partly spurred by technology changes as the paper moved from older linotype to offset printing processes, resulting in potential union job losses. I-J employees were threatened, some sabotage occurred, and an I-J production manager was murdered by gunfire outside his home earlier in July under suspicious circumstances at the height of the strike. A member of a sympathetic union in San Francisco was later convicted of that murder.
“More than 175 riot-ready police from San Rafael and neighboring communities were on hand to quell any violence,” reported the Associated Press, “but were not needed as marchers peacefully circled the Independent-Journal building and continued to Albert Park where the demonstration ended. Witnesses said the marchers were lighthearted, with many carrying balloons and a wide variety of placards in the hot sunshine.”
According to AP reports, Chavez told the crowd, “We come in peace.” He continued, “I would like to see a totally nonviolent boycott that will bring the Independent-Journal to its knees.” The boycott occurred, but the conclusion of the strike after almost two years proved to be challenging for the union and its supporters. The advertiser boycott largely backfired as Marin businesses experienced vandalism and threats, and the tide turned in public sentiment.
The strike ended in the fall of 1971, followed by a series of lawsuits against the union and others by the Independent-Journal, which charged conspiracy by union leaders and damage to their business by the boycott. A contempt conviction against union leaders reached the U. S. Supreme Court, which the union lost.
In the meantime, the high school project negatives depicting the peaceful summer protest march were filed away and stored in a closet, only to see the light of day more than fifty years later.
(Author’s note: The term “Miracle Mile March” is intended as the headline for this article, not a name given to the march at the time.)
More photos of the march follow.