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Posted on Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

A look back at University of Michigan political activism empowered by the Port Huron Statement

By Kellie Woodhouse

University of Michigan hosted a three-day summit this week to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, a landmark political manifesto penned by Ann Arbor students in 1962.

The 75-page document, which in large part called for peace and rallied against a myriad of civil rights affronts, embodied the frustration of hundreds of thousands of young people throughout the nation. At the time, the voting age was 21 and large groups of young people felt disenfranchised and disenchanted with the political landscape that surrounded them.

The statement's principal author, Tom Hayden, began writing the creed while a student at U-M. Hayden was beaten and jailed while working with the Freedom Riders to register black voters. The experience struck a nerve in Hayden, whose words helped spark the New Left movement.

"The Port Huron Statement represented the dawn of an era, which began with the student sit-in movement and the Beat Generation, and didn't end until 1975, with the fall of Richard Nixon and Saigon. Students in Ann Arbor played a leading role in defining this era," Hayden wrote in a column published by the Michigan Daily last week, reflecting on the statement's legacy.

U-M's campus, which spawned the Peace Corps in 1960, was a hotbed of protests and rallies in the 1960s and 1970s. Partly encouraged by the 75-page statement, U-M students demonstrated against many perceived injustices, from on-campus military recruitment to the low level of minority enrollment on campus. In one case, a group of students went as far as locking employees out of buildings to get their message across.

Related Michigan Memories: University of Michigan students have long history of rallying.


University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

Students, pictured here on April 9, 1968, stage a sit-in at the U-M administration building. Three students were rallying in support of 150 black students, according to archives. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was an effort by the Black Action Movement and supporters to bring more minority students to the campus.

According to U-M archives, students chained the doors of the building and prevented anyone from entering except Robben Fleming, the university president. The group listed its desires to Fleming, who promised to try to increase minority presence on campus. Later the Martin Luther King Scholarship and Professorship were created, but many students remained unsettled and BAM launched another protest and rally in 1970.


File photo

Hundreds of students demonstrate against the Vietnam War during a Sept 20, 1969, peace rally on the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus.


file photo

Picture above on Sept. 25, 1969, anti-Vietnam War activists were arrested for taking over a University of Michigan building. The students were searched before loaded into buses and taken to jail.


University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

Robben Fleming led the university from 1968 to 1978, during an era of protests and political activity in Ann Arbor. Pictured here on June 18, 1969, Fleming surveyed a student demonstration.

According to Michigan Today, a group of self-identified hippies had assembled around South University Avenue the day before and held a party that later caused a riot between partiers and police. Tensions continued on June 18.

"The University of Michigan was not damaged during that period of unrest but rather made stronger, and I believe it was because of Robben’s matchless personality," current U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said in 2010, shortly after Fleming's death.


Ann Arbor News

In September 1987 more than 200 members of the New Left movement at U-M in the 1960s gathered again in Ann Arbor for a reunion.

"The people who formed a commitment 25 years ago have continued to live out that commitment," Barbara Haber, a U-M student from 1962 until 1967, told the Ann Arbor News at the time.

The reunion brought together key New Left leaders like Ann Arbor activist Alan Haber, a cofounder of Students of a Democratic Society at U-M, and Bill Ayers, who eventually became in involved in the radical and controversial Weather Underground group.


Ann Arbor News

Tom Hayden and Lana Pollack —two key leaders of the early New Left movement at U-M— are pictured above, at a fundraiser hosted by former U-M regent and current Center for Michigan executive Philip Power, 23 years after drafting the Port Huron Statement.

Hayden, a 1961 graduate of U-M, drafted the majority of the statement himself while a student in Ann Arbor.

"We wanted to write an agenda for our generation," Hayden told Michigan Today, which also stated that the Port Huron Statement sold 600,000 copies from 1962 to 1966.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 7:48 p.m.

Yesterday's activists became today's leaders. Seems like it turned out OK.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

I was there participating in these events back in the late 60's when I was idealistic and young. I even had a private confeence with Robin Fleming as a leader of part of the movement. Although my opinions have changed greatly, I remain very proud of helping end the Viet Nam war. Sadly, government contiues to mislead American citizens with the difference being that it is now the Left that is the enemy. Our freedoms are at stake as much as ever.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 11:57 p.m.

The escalation of American involvement in Viet Nam could have been prevented in August 1964. An obvious failure of that generation.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

Good post OutfieldDan. No one seems to be able to end the endless wars. I guess they feel we need them for economic prosperity, huh? Everything comes down to money.

Dog Guy

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

I remember seeing that "WE SUPPORT BLACK STUDENTS" banner. I was a new teacher very much impressed by the large tax withholding on my check and thought, "We support lots more than that."

Michigan Man

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

One big problem with the picture - No black people in it!


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

To me, the point is, that for the first time in the history of our country, young people, (probably due to economic prosperity), were able to join together to influence the course of the government and work to end a war. That happened whether you want to admit it or not. Before that youth pretty much "walked the line". If you got too out of line you were labeled a JD (juvenile delinquent). Generations after can thank the boomers for that. The downside of the "revolution" to me was the eroding of the American family unit. Women decided that they no longer needed fathers to raise children. Flame away.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

What war did they work to end? The one that started after the sds was founded? And by the way hayden and haber are not "boomers".


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 9 p.m.

No flame justcurious, we all wonder what if. To wit, this generation did assist in ending US INVOLVEMENT in Vietnam. The WAR however, continued into the killing fields.

Arno B

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

I think that it's rather sad that the UM is sponsoring a commemorative event of this sort. I suppose that it reflects the tilt of its administration. I thought Patty Hearst would be eulogized too - how come she was left out?

Jeffersonian Liberal

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

Let's all put on our Che tee shirts and celebrate the radical leftists that brought us the Black Panthers and Bill Ayers. After all they helped elect the Marxist that is currently infecting the White House.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

I was a student at U-M in 1962. I'm all right with peole having different opinions and ideas. That said, many of these people were simply violent criminals. Thay also encouraged mob violence that led to other criminal acts on campus. Do you remember telephone booths exploding? Do you remember students taking over the Michigan Union tower or the presidents office? This is not something we should remember fondly unless its the jail sentences they received.

Michigan Man

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

AA - Well said - The father of a very good friend of mine headed up the ROTC Air Force effort on the U of M campus. It was his personal office (will leave name of family out) which was bombed by some clown - weatherunderground - as I recall up by the Dental school? Fortunately, no one was in the office at the time. Not sure for all those are the good old days?

Michigan Man

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 11:57 a.m.

Live in the past, lean backwards and dream about the days when Ann Arbor was an annual winner of All American status.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 8:11 p.m.

50 years later SDS members are still devoting their lives to making things better. You might disagree with their version of better, but it can't be said that they're living in the past.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

I wasn't able to attend all of the sessions but made a few, including Tom Hayden's talk. It was a great conference that covered a wide range of subjects and looked at activism past and present.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 11:40 a.m.

How long are you going to milk this story about those self-absorbed hippies?


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

The defining trait of SDS members was concern for large issues: the threat of nuclear war, the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam. I can understand someone disagreeing with their politics but to say they were self-absorbed is laughable.


Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

How long are you going to complain about it? What (I ask again) is your generation known for?