I ran across this photograph in the UNC-Chapel Hill Image Collection and was surprised to see an anti-war protest not from the mid 1960s, when college students across the country demonstrated against the Vietnam war, but from three decades earlier. The photograph is in a folder labeled “Anti-War Activities, World War II, Late 1930s.”
Memories of World War I were still fresh in the minds of many Americans when tensions were beginning to escalate in Europe in the 1930s, building toward the conflicts that would lead to World War II. Pearl Harbor was still several years away and some college students were wary of the idea of getting involved in another European war. At UNC, students formed local chapters of two national anti-war organizations: the American Student Union, a left-wing organization associated with the Communist and Socialist parties, and the Veterans of Future Wars, a satirical group asking for compensation for future military service.
The photo shown here is probably from a rally held on campus on April 22, 1936. It was described as a “strike,” with classes cancelled for about an hour. The rally started at South Building and continued to Memorial Hall for speeches. The description in the Daily Tar Heel said, “Placards and tableaux expressing antipathy to war will make their appearance at the anti-war strike.”
The featured speaker at the rally was Dick Whitten, president of Commonwealth College in Arkansas, who descried “capitalistic imperialism” as the driving force behind war. An estimated 700 students and local residents attended.