The 1913 Lectern

Could the Class of 1913 have known the voices of influence, controversy and power that would one day stand at this very lectern?
  1. Chapter 1 Point of Contention

    For nearly 100 years, Hill Auditorium has been Michigan’s most prestigious venue for rhetoric and debate. And for that same century, speaker after speaker has gripped, pounded, caressed and leaned upon an oak lectern given to the University by students.

    Could the Class of 1913 have known the voices of influence, controversy and power that would one day stand at this very lectern?

    Looking back, it seems only fitting that a piece of furniture that would support some of the society’s most provocative speakers was itself a point of contention.

    When leaders of the 1913 literary class began brainstorming about a class gift, the men suggested something for the Michigan Union. This raised the ire of senior women, who were not about to contribute money to buy a gift bound for a building that was reserved for men.

    The women prevailed—Ann Arbor and Detroit newspapers reported on the “fine scrap”—and the seniors voted to give a reading desk for the University’s soon-to-open auditorium.

    Created by Detroit architect Albert Kahn to complement the great hall he designed, the Hill Auditorium lectern cost $250.

    As silent witness to the ideas and arguments that are the stuff of a university, however, the lectern has been priceless.

    Created by Detroit architect Albert Kahn to complement the great hall he designed, the Hill Auditorium lectern cost $250.

Image Gallery

  • Vaclav Havel (September 2000) The first president of the Czech Republic received an honorary degree during a special ceremony marking his visit. “Graduates of your University will soon become leading figures in various spheres of American public life. I would wish for them, as well as for myself, that they manage to remain faithful to truth in this information age and that they work in this spirit; in the hope, perhaps a foolish hope, that they will make the world a better place.”

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • Stokely Carmichael (September 1966) A Freedom Rider and civil rights activist, Carmichael chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He favored black nationalism over racial integration, and popularized the phrase “Black Power.”

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Ross Barnett (November 1963) To the jeers of the audience, the segregationist governor of Mississippi spoke out against pending civil rights legislation, calling it, “the most dangerous bill to come before Congress in the history of the United States government.” Barnett opposed the admission of James Meredith, an African-American student, to the University of Mississippi a year earlier. Deadly riots broke out when federal troops successfully escorted Meredith to class.

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Robert F. Goheen (May 1957) As president-elect of Princeton University, Goheen was on the brink of becoming the Ivy League school's third youngest leader when he spoke at U-M's Honors Convocation. He would lead Princeton for 15 years.

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Robben Fleming (September 1969) Calling his appearance “a matter of personal conscience,” U-M’s 9th president attended an anti-war rally with a full house. “I do not see how one can avoid the conclusion that our present involvement in Vietnam is a colossal mistake.” From Washington, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew responded by labeling Fleming “gutless.”

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Richard Hatcher (March 1970) As the first African-American mayor of Gary, Ind., he was a contrarian voice at U-M’s first teach-in on the environment. “It is no accident that blacks are absent from the peace and pollution movements. They have other things on their minds.”

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Right Rev. Richard S.M. Emrich (January 1962) The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan spoke to graduates at mid-year commencement. The University's honorary degree cited Emrich as “the conscience of his community, respected throughout the nation for his enlightened pronouncements on moral and political issues.”

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Rennie Davis (September 1969) A vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, Davis was the highlight of an anti-war teach-in. A week after his U-M appearance, Davis went on trial as a member of the “Chicago Seven,” charged in connection with violent protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Ralph Nader (March 1970) Michigan students helped launch the environmental movement in the United States, with the “Give Earth a Chance” teach-in attracting Nader and other activists such as Barry Commoner and Sen. Gaylord Nelson. “If an individual cannot relieve himself in the Detroit River, I don’t see any reasons corporations can be allowed to.”

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Max Lerner (September 1960) The syndicated columnist was also editor of The Nation magazine. He took time to speak to new students at orientation.

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Mary Sue Coleman (March 2007) Honors students heard from the University’s 13th president during the annual convocation that recognizes academic achievement. Coleman became the first woman to lead U-M when she was appointed in 2002. “Your brain is the most delicate and the most ingenious tool you possess.”

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (November 1962) The civil rights leader delivered an afternoon address on “Moral Issues in Discrimination” and an evening address on “What Does the Negro Citizen Want.” Years later, Hill Auditorium speakers would stand at the same lectern to extol King’s legacy at an annual symposium in his honor.

    Image: UM Media Resources Center Records 1948 - 1987, Bentley Historical Library

  • Lee C. Bollinger (September 2000) The former faculty member and dean of the Law School was named U-M’s 12th president in 1998. He announced the establishment of the Vaclav Havel Fellows Program during a visit of the Czech Republic president.

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • Architect Albert Kahn’s blueprint for the Hill Lectern (1913)

    Image: Albert Kahn Associates and Albert Kahn Papers 1896 - 2011, Bentley Historical Library

  • Julian Bond (January 2009) The NAACP chairman was the featured speaker at the University’s annual symposium honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Appearing a day before Barack Obama was inaugurated, Bond said, “People think now he's going to be president and everything's going to be OK. But you have to push these people—they want to be pushed.”

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • John Kenneth Galbraith (April 1966) The famous economist spoke to graduates of the Class of 1966. Commencement was held in Yost Arena, with the Class of 1913 lectern making a rare appearance outside of Hill Auditorium. Said the regents: “As fellow academics, we respectfully greet Professor Galbraith on the plane where he translates the tangled circumstances of our economy into intelligible principles.”

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • James J. Duderstadt (September 1990) The 11th president of the University, Duderstadt also served as provost and dean of the College of Engineering. He presented the first Wallenberg Medal to Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • Harlan H. Hatcher (December 1962) The eighth president of the University used Hill Auditorium to address the campus following a seven-week tour of Asian countries. Hatcher led U-M from 1951-67.

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • G.L. Mehta (July 1957) The Indian ambassador to the United States spoke to Indian students attending Midwest universities about their homeland. “Our individual and collective well-being and progress will depend finally on our willingness to work out our programs in our social environment and on the enthusiasm and discipline of the people.”

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • President Gerald R. Ford (September 2003) Using the Hill lectern during a ceremony at Rackham Auditorium, the president returned to campus for the site dedication of Weill Hall, home of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Ford graduated from U-M in 1935 and visited his alma mater many times. “Let me say with deep conviction how lucky I was to have the kind of first-class education.”

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • Elie Wiesel (September 1990) The Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate was the inaugural recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Medal, a humanitarian award honoring the 1935 alumnus credited with saving tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. “We are equally responsible for each other, and I more so—if I am indifferent to others’ suffering, I am an accomplice.”

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • Desmond Tutu (October 2008) The South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Laureate was awarded the University’s 18th annual Raoul Wallenberg Medal. “I have usually said that when I am given such awards I can really accept them only in a representative capacity, because the people you want to honor are the many, many millions who for a very long time were anonymous, extraordinary human beings in their courage, and I had the privilege of being their leader.”

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • Dr. Benjamin Carson (January 2002) A neurosurgeon and alumnus of the U-M Medical School, Carson delivered the annual address at the annual Martin Luther King Symposium. He is the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head. “When I open that scalp, take that skull off and open that brain, I can’t tell where people come from. It’s all the same. Even if our ancestors came to this country in different boats, we’re all in the same boat now.”

    Image: U-M Photo Services

  • Arnold Cantwell Smith (April 1966) The first secretary-general of the British Commonwealth of Nations spoke at Honors Convocation and also received an honorary degree. U-M’s regents noted his new job of coordinating Britain’s diverse territories “enlarges the domain of freedom and sanity in a world too largely devoted to obsession and madness.”

    Image: Bentley Historical Library

  • Angela Davis (February 1974) Calling for “unity in struggle,” the Communist and social activist spoke for more than an hour as part of the Third World People’s Solidarity Conference. 

    Image: Bentley Historical Library