Although anti-Vietnam War activism at Hopkins goes back at least to 1964, the most significant and well-documented period of antiwar activism occurred in the 1969-1970 school year. A September 23, 1969 memo to President Lincoln Gordon from his executive assistant, Frederick DeKuyper, as well as an article in the Baltimore Sun, document a student-led moratorium on October 15, 1969 at multiple universities. At Hopkins, the moratorium was organized by the Hopkins Peace Action Committee and involved an all-day suspension of classes as well as a series of planned events in protest of the Vietnam War.
An administrative memo from October 31 indicated plans for a second, similar moratorium in mid-November, which was planned by the same student group at Hopkins. Noting the importance of the issue to the Hopkins student body, several faculty members including Provost William Bevan planned a panel discussion on the Vietnam War, scheduled for the same day. The scheduling conflict created some controversy, as the Peace Action Committee did not wish to promote discussion of any Vietnam War policies other than a complete withdrawal of troops.
The spring of 1970 brought a significant escalation of anti-war activism, as several anti-war groups became active on campus. The most radical of these was called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS advocated an end to on-campus military recruitment, ROTC, and defense research at Hopkins’s Applied Physics Lab. It released a pamphlet in early 1970 extensively detailing its worldview and objectives. The pamphlet described the purpose of the Vietnam War as “to increase the exploitation of the Vietnamese people by corporate profits,” and accused Johns Hopkins University of advancing the interests of “Corporate-Imperial America” by participating in defense research and allowing “recruitment by the Military, Imperial Government Agencies, and corporations which produce war and social control materiel.” According to the SDS, ROTC served to train “elite officers to fight America’s imperialist and racist wars, to oppress GI’s and lead working class men into battle against their class brothers and sisters.” In its Statement of Direction, SDS even accused President Lincoln Gordon himself of aiding a coup while US Ambassador to Brazil, which deposed Brazilian President Joao Goulart.