Outside the entrance to The Michigan Union hangs a bronze memorial plaque with a bas-relief image of President John F. Kennedy. It reads: “Here at 2:00 a.m. on October 14, 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy first defined the Peace Corps.” A new multimedia exhibit at Hatcher Graduate Library tells the story behind Kennedy’s visit to Ann Arbor and the University’s early involvement with the Peace Corps.
U-M and the Peace Corps: It All Started Here
Through Nov. 30
8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Hatcher Graduate Library, Room 100
The exhibit, titled “U-M and the Peace Corps: It All Started Here,” is part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebration of Kennedy’s speech, which included a special ceremony on the steps of the Union last month.
Karen Jordan, the director of programming and community engagement for University libraries, said the exhibit “tells that story and tells what an incredible role the University of Michigan students and faculty had in getting (the Peace Corps) off the ground.
“It’s been a great thing in (the University’s) history and it’s been a great thing for the country.”
The exhibit is the brainchild of Kay Clifford, the program coordinator for the Peace Corps’s 50th Anniversary. Clifford, a University alum who graduated in 1969 and then served in the Peace Corps in Uganda, spent the past two years researching and collecting information for the exhibit.
With the help of the Michigan Daily, the former Ann Arbor News, the Bentley Historical Library and private donors, Clifford amassed a pile of articles, documents, photographs and artifacts. Clifford also did some detective work tracking down alumni who had been at the Union on the night of Kennedy’s speech or had been involved in the early Peace Corps.
“She pulled and dug to get this information,” Jordan said. “I don’t think it was actually pulled together anywhere else.”
As visitors approach the exhibit, they are greeted by an enormous black-and-white photo of Kennedy on the steps of the Union. To the right and left are scrims with images of the smiling crowd of students that came to hear Kennedy’s speech in 1960. Exhibit visitors can also listen to a recording of Kennedy’s speech, transporting them to that historic night and makesFgra them feel as if they were actually there.
The exhibit continues with a detailed account of the events that followed Kennedy’s speech, illustrated by photographs taken and donated by former Michigan Daily photographer David Giltrow. One wall of the exhibit describes the efforts of Alan and Judith Guskin, two University alums who, inspired by Kennedy’s speech, founded a service organization called Americans Committed to World Responsibility (ACWR). The ACWR gained nationwide support from college students, encouraging Kennedy to sign the Peace Corps into being on March 1, 1961.
One section of the exhibit recreates the ACWR’s work room. Clippings from the Daily detailing the organization’s activities are pinned up on a bulletin board and copies of original documents are spread out on tables for visitors to peruse.
The last major section of the exhibit covers the Peace Corps training programs that took place at the University, specifically a trip to Thailand in 1962. Photographs show the intense physical and cultural training volunteers underwent, and a Thai language manual on display is a testament to the volunteers’ difficult task of learning to speak a new language in only a few months.
The exhibit includes dozens of personal stories from Peace Corps members and University alumni, yet these are only a small fraction of the stories and experiences that Clifford collected in her research.
“They started it, they were dedicated, they got people (involved), they got them to send letters,” Clifford said.
She added, “I think for students today, the lesson is whatever time you’re in, you can achieve something.”