Vietnam War protesters talk 1965 teach-in

Sam Mousigian/Daily
Activist Alan Haber and professor of philosophy Frithjof Bergmann discuss the culture of politics during the Vietnam War during the opening session for the "Teach-In for Peace: 50th Anniversary of the First Anti-War Teach-In" in Angell Hall on Tuesday. Buy this photo

By Alyssa Brandon, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 24, 2015

Fifty years since the historic “Teach-In Against the Vietnam War,” a dozen retired University faculty members and activists took the stage in Angell Hall Auditorium to reflect on their experiences with activism Tuesday.

Ruby Wallau/Daily

In 1965, approximately 50 University faculty members organized what they called a “Teach-In” — a protest and that would consist of University faculty discussing the negative aspects of war continuously for a night.

Frithjof Bergmann, a philosophy and romantic studies professor in 1965, was a main organizer of the protest. During the event, he said he and other University professors conceptualized the original teach-in after participating in an anti-war protest outside the White House.

“We thought, there has got to be something more we professors can do other than walking around until we had holes in our shoes,” Frithjof said during the event. “For me that was the beginning, and the idea that professors can do more than march in circles.”

Frithjof said more than 3,000 individuals attended the 1965 teach-in. The night consisted of debates, lectures and musical performances — all aimed at educating the University community about peace.

“It became obvious in that night, that actually one could make a difference in one night, and that was something that very few knew,” Bergmann said.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Thomas Mayer, who was an assistant professor of sociology during the teach-in, said participating in the protests propelled him forward in activism throughout his teaching career.

“It really convinced me that explaining an issue and giving people information about it can be very helpful,” he said. “I subsequently participated in about 20 different teach-ins on several different subjects.”

Mayer also said that revisiting the teach-in and other similar protests is important in inspiring students to engage in activism now.

“I’d like to see more student engagement with more issues of our time,” he said. “I think that the sense that one has an obligation to society as a whole is weaker today. We have an obligation to help society deal with the problems it has.”

Tuesday’s event kicked off a weeklong celebration of the first teach-in. On Friday, a Diag rally will feature a speech by activist Tom Hayden, a former editor at the Daily, and a march to Angell Hall.