Dan Sullivan grew up in New York and attended St. Michael’s College in Vermont. He later enrolled at UVA Law, motivated in part by the automatic deferment status awarded to university enrollees during the Vietnam War. Sullivan remembers his arrival at UVA as an eye-opening experience in more ways than one. His law classes were rigorous and forced him to shift his priorities. He also found a diversity of opinion about race, politics, and the war that took him by surprise. Law students represented many different political backgrounds, but the air of “southern integrity” shaped any discussion of protest and reactions to it.
Sullivan developed a “political consciousness” during his years at Law driven by his desire to understand the many forces that shaped the war and the implications of invading Cambodia. When protests erupted at UVA after National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State he, along with his roommates and other law students, formed the “legal marshals.” For several marshals, the idea emerged from their training with the Legal Aid Society. As with Legal Aid, they would offer legal advice and legal services to those in need. Each arrestee would have their Miranda rights read and receive their one phone call. That was the goal, at least. Sullivan notes that a number of legal marshals (including him) were arrested during the protests
"How do we protect legal rights in this demonstration, as opposed to how do we invest ourselves in a political protest against an immoral war."
When UVA President Edgar Shannon heard of their plans, he invited several legal marshals including Sullivan to have lunch with him—presumably on Saturday, May 9th. Back at Law, Associate Dean H. Lane Kneedler became their official liaison. Sullivan recalls that the marshals’ intentional decision to abstain from protests was misinterpreted by some students and the administration as a conservative pro-war stance. Legal marshals felt this “tension.” According to Sullivan, he and others were in fact against the war in Southeast Asia, but they had also witnessed police brutality and violent protests at other campuses and strikes. They did not want UVA student protesters to suffer a similar fate.
Sullivan was present for several significant May Days events, including the Maury Hall occupation on May 4th; William Kunstler and Jerry Rubin’s speeches on May 6th; the Honk-for-Peace on May 8th; and the Lawn arrests on the morning of May 9th. Alongside the “Honk-for-Peace” demonstrations, Sullivan and his roommates added what he calls a “Frisbee-for-Peace.” As cars drove by, they would toss white frisbees across the road to get drivers to honk in protest of the war. The “Frisbee-for-Peace" turned serious when state police who had surrounded the area charged at protestors without warning. Sullivan was standing next to Kneedler at the time. The two “ran like hell” to the law school. Kneedler encouraged Sullivan to hurry back to the Lawn and help. Sullivan hopped on his motorcycle and rode to Grounds where he approached an officer and pleaded their case. He was quickly detained and thrown in the Mayflower moving van with fellow students, legal marshals, fraternity members, the night superintendent of the university, and a Shakey’s pizza delivery man. Inside the van, there was a “mixture of anger and total disbelief,” Sullivan says. Many—like the Shakey’s delivery man—were innocent bystanders.
"So the van was chocked full, you know, and so one of the first people I met was a guy with a pizza. [Which] actually had been eaten by the inmates of the Mayflower van, but it was a Shakey’s pizza man in a red and white Shaker shirt. And I said, ‘What the hell did you get arrested for?’ And he said, ‘Well, the babysitter for the president of the university ordered a pizza and I was delivering it and they arrested me.’"
When Sullivan and his fellow arrestees arrived at the Charlottesville police station, they were ushered into the courthouse and lined up in rows. The district attorney and other legal officials came around to each of them to record their story. The atmosphere in the courthouse was one of confusion and chaos, Sullivan recalls. He also remembers Professors Charles Whitebread and Charles Woltz offering assistance. To Sullivan’s recollection, Woltz put his house up for bail. When the district attorney dropped the charges against him and most other arrestees (a decision that was later reversed), Sullivan went to Washington for an anti-war march where he was teargassed.
Meanwhile, Sullivan worried that he had jeopardized the beginning of his career at the prestigious Boston firm Ropes & Gray. He called the managing partner, Ernie Sargeant, to inform him of his arrest, hopeful his record would not be a deal breaker. Sargeant responded, “You know, we probably have to get used to more and more of this sort of thing.” Neither Sargeant nor Sullivan ever brought it up again. Sullivan says the protests eventually stretched beyond an anti-war campaign. Student unrest at UVA came to encompass general dissatisfaction with the administration and the lack of diversity on campus. The war forced law students and undergraduates to examine the racial, social, and gender inequalities the war and draft magnified. In reflection, Sullivan feels he lost his “political innocence” during that time:
"I was caught up in the event so much that I didn’t have time to reconcile what’s going on with me, but I think when I look back…it was like the end of some innocence that…life was really a lot more complicated than I’d realized."