Today, the University of Michigan is known for its long standing history of student activism and its prominent role in Anti-Vietnam War Movement. The 1960s was an era filled with youth that had a desire to voice their discontent towards the government. As a result, various social movements formed and intersected with one another. On college campuses across the nation, the oppression of civil and free speech rights became a main concern. In 1965, another issue was brought to campus with President Johnson’s unexpected escalation of the Vietnam War. Escalation meant an increase in draftees, which made the Vietnam War a more tangible issue for the youth. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and the Free Speech Movement at UC-Berkeley, acted as an inspiration and a foundation for anti-war activism at the University of Michigan.
The first prominent University of Michigan anti-war activism occurred in March 1965. Receiving resistance for their original idea of a strike, faculty members at Michigan innovated the idea of a teach-in to educate students on U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam. Teach-ins quickly spread to campuses across the nation. Eventually, faculty leadership transferred to the students as they continued to stimulate not only local, but national attention as well. With the movement in the hands of students, the anti-war tactics quickly shifted from intellectual conversation to direct action. Direct action came in the form of a sit-in at the Selective Service Office in October 1965. It resulted in the arrest and reclassification of several University of Michigan students. The continuation of direct-action protests resulted in a push to force university divestment and military research/recruitment. As direct action protests became more militant and the ideological roots of the movement were lost, the war still dragged on. Even still, the efforts of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement resulted in open dialogue between students, faculty, university administrators and the government about foreign affairs issues. A concept very few could have predicted prior to the 1960s.
This exhibit begins with origination of the New Left, in the early 1960s, and explores the tactics used by anti-war activists from 1965-1972. The tabs on the right provide an outline of key episodes of the anti-Vietnam War movement--from the origination of the New Left, to using intellectualism as a form of speaking out against the war, to the direct action and resistance of the draft, to disrupting the University’s involvement in the war. The legacies section considers the impact of the anti-Vietnam War movement at the local and national levels from the perspective of organizers and participants. For the first time, this website explores the political activism and intellectual discussions that took place on the University of Michigan’s campus during the Vietnam War era.