Joe Melchione Photography
Year of Rebellion: The 1970 Isla Vista Riots

Bill Allen And The First Isla Vista Riot

Bill Allen and William Kunstler There are many possible explanations for the explosive protests on the campus of University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the surrounding Isla Vista community (IV). Prior to the 1970 rebellion, racial tensions between the University and its minority students became heated, disagreements between the students and the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department on drug enforcement policies became more prevalent, students were increasingly disenchanted with IV's absentee landlords and discontent with the nation's conduct of the War in Vietnam was rampant. All these factors coalesced when a professor, Bill Allen, was denied tenure.

Bill Allen (next image), an unconventional teacher of anthropology, was denied the renewal of his teaching contract and a hearing from the UCSB Administration despite a petition signed by 7,776 students.

"Students are charging that the decision is related to his radical politics and not to academic merit. Allen was sympathetic to charges of University racism made by the United Front and was prominent among supporters of the two-day strike during the recent Berkeley occupation. Senior members of his department, however, were mostly in the other camp on these issues." (El Gaucho, June 20, 1969)

What followed were mass rallies and sit down protests in front of the Administration Building resulting in injury to twelve students and three policemen, some broken windows and several arrests.

"In the final days of February, student unrest had spilled over into Isla Vista, and it had become clear that its roots went far deeper than the Allen case. Both the depth and scope of student grievance, particularly their feelings about the police, were dramatized by the events surrounding an especially acrimonious encounter between sheriff's deputies and I.V. residents on the afternoon of February 24." (Jack Whalen and Richard Flacks, Beyond The Barricades; The Sixties Generation Grows Up, ©1985 Temple University Press, P. 23).

The sparks started flying when deputies arrested a black student activist on a Los Angeles warrant and one of the sheriff's vehicles was attacked. Gasoline was poured on one of its tires and ignited. Another student activist was beaten by deputies and arrested in front of the crowd. Throughout the rest of the day and late into the night windows were broken at realty offices and at the Bank of America in Isla Vista.