Friday, November 15, 2019

CMU and the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam: 50 Years Later

by Bryan Whitledge

50 years ago, during the height of the Vietnam War, people from across the spectrum of American society joined in the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. Moratorium had two major components: The first was local demonstrations and programming that took place in communities across the US on Wednesday, October 15. These were followed one month later by a large demonstration on the National Mall in Washington, DC. For the October 15 Moratorium, activists and students at CMU worked through the summer of 1969 and into the fall to organize local events in Mt. Pleasant.

October 15, 1969 Moratorium Event at Finch Fieldhouse
The organizers planned a day of teach-ins, lectures, films, music, arts, peace vigils, and activism. Support came from all corners of the CMU and Mt. Pleasant area—businesses, activists, Greek organizations, student government, the Young Republicans and the College Democrats, the student newspaper, and even the President of the University and chair of the Board of Trustees. IM sports were cancelled, freeing up students from having to choose between skipping their games or participating in Moratorium.

CMU President Bill Boyd (center) during
the candlelight march, October 15, 1969
By all measures, the Mt. Pleasant event was a success. The October 15 Moratorium in Mt. Pleasant brought out thousands—students, faculty, staff and administration at Central, as well as members of the surrounding community. Among the highlights of the day was the candlelight vigil and march during the evening (pictured).

The CMU organizers achieved their goal for October 15. The next step was supposed to be figuring out how to get those CMU students who wanted to go to Washington for the November 13-15 events to connect with the other Michigan delegations and head to the nation’s capital. The national organizers made those connections easier for the CMU activists—they asked Central students, led by Paul Puma, to head up the coordination of all of the activists in Michigan who wanted to go to Washington. Michigan State University organizers may have led a march to the State Capitol and the University of Michigan Moratorium may have brought in 50,000 to Michigan Stadium, but the Central students garnered the attention of the National Moratorium Committee for their energy and organization.

As the statewide leaders, on November 1, a conference was held at the CMU University Center, with 25 Michigan colleges and universities represented. Throughout the planning process, a CMU office and a Detroit office were established to provide services for Moratorium organizing efforts across the state. Signatures from people throughout Michigan who did not travel to Washington were collected on a 75-foot-long banner to be taken to the National Moratorium.

75-foot-long signed petition
For Central specifically, planning meant transporting activists from Mt. Pleasant to Washington, DC safely. Each student who was traveling was advised to pick up a sheet with information about where to go if one encountered trouble, the location of the meeting point for all Michiganders, who to contact in case of emergency, and more.

Planning also meant raising funds: Students could catch a round trip on a chartered bus for $24. The Moratorium committee sold photo books from the October event. They sold handmade holiday cards. They sold baked goods. Student government pledged a loan of up to $2,500 to fund travels if the money couldn’t be secured from other sources, but that pledge wasn’t needed because the Moratorium committee secured loans from other CMU students and faculty members in short order. The organizers hoped to host a “kegger” to raise money, but the police informed those planning the event that charging a cover fee to a venue serving alcohol required a liquor license—so, five bands showed up, day-glo body paint was suppied, and they held a dry party instead. Moratorium organizers also asked Greek organizations to donate the cost of one party to the Moratorium effort, and many came through with the funds.

Poster from Washington, DC, Moratorium
All of the planning efforts culminated on Friday, November 14, when five buses left CMU, to return on the 16th. Originally, organizers thought they had seven buses to use, but President Boyd made it clear that the two CMU-owned buses would not be used because Moratorium was not a CMU event and CMU didn’t operate motor coach company. While CMU couldn’t supply buses, the administration and staff supported the trip in other ways. Food services made sandwiches and snacks for every student on the buses—not enough for the whole trip, but enough to lighten the burden on the activists. President Boyd told students that a member of the administration, Harry Travis, was attending a different meeting in Washington, DC, and would be available to students in case of emergency.

In Washington, approximately 1,000 Central students joined hundreds of thousands of other activists in the national Moratorium events. With so much going on, Central students came back with a variety of experiences. Some remember the hospitality of families who opened their doors and gave them a place to stay. Others returned with ephemera from the event (pictured above). Others were caught up caught up in DuPont Circle when police broke up a conflict with tear gas. And some remember Pete Seeger leading hundreds of thousands in singing “Give Peace a Chance” near the White House.

Michigan Delegation in Washington, November 15, 1969
Back at Central, President Boyd acknowledged that missing classes was not something that should go without consequences, but he urged professors to lighten up on punitive action for those who missed class to participate in Moratorium events in Washington or on the CMU campus. At Central, students placed 1,900 crosses on the Warriner Mall to mark each Michigan service member killed in action. A documentary film was shown and lectures were given by activists, religious leaders, politicians, and community members.

In October and November of 1969, the “fired up and focused” activists and students at CMU stood up for what they believed and made a lasting impact in Michigan, Washington, and beyond.