Charlottesville native Jim Carpenter landed a job as a staff photographer for the Daily Progress right after high school in 1968. He had been sending photos to them for some time and, in many respects, was self-taught. In July, he joined the Army Reserve and began active duty the following year. Carpenter was with the Daily Progress and Army Reserve for twenty years before opening his own photography studio in Charlottesville.
Carpenter covered several May Days events, including one of the Maury Hall occupations (May 4th and 6th) as well as the Lawn arrests on May 8th/9th. With regard to the former, he recalls that protesters filled every corner of the building. “If there was an open space, there was a body,” Carpenter says. On the evening of May 8th, Carpenter received a tip from a friend who urged him to get to Grounds right away as state police had surrounded the area. When he arrived, he saw police officers lined up along University Avenue. In a moment, the police gave a warning and then yelled “Move out!” Carpenter was standing behind the police on University Avenue when they began running towards the Rotunda. One officer turned and cautioned Carpenter not to flash the camera in his face or he too would be detained. Yelling and screaming were audible, he remembers. People were running into the Lawn rooms to seek shelter. A Mayflower moving van waited nearby to haul arrestees off to the police station. As a photographer, Carpenter tried to concentrate on his surroundings and capture the moment. He was not overly concerned about being arrested as a member of the press, although he counts himself lucky to have been standing behind the officers.
"You know, to chronicle history sometimes, it’s like it’s fun, but it’s hard to believe that you’re in the middle of something like this."
The moment of the arrests stands out in Carpenter’s memory. He was facing the Rotunda with his back to President Edgar Shannon’s office [Madison Hall]. An official announced from a bullhorn that the crowd must disperse. Then the police charged. The loud screams and panic of protesters paired with the running of state police dressed in riot gear and armed with billy clubs was jarring. Time stood still. Police herded arrestees like “cattle” into the van. Then, in a matter of minutes, it was all over. He met the van at the police station where arrestees were corralled into the small courtroom. He was not permitted inside.
Back at the Daily Progress office on Market Street, Carpenter developed his pictures and called in his findings to the Associated Press. Sleep was not an option. He remembers his elation when he received word some of his photos would appear in national papers. Later that weekend, Carpenter attended President Shannon’s address on the steps of the Rotunda on May 10th and took the photograph below.
Carpenter looks back with gratitude that no one was killed during May Days. UVA was not Kent State, but student protests still had a lasting impact.