Peace Union: 1958-67
The heyday of the Student Peace Union (SPU) was between 1959 and 1963 when a nuclear test ban treaty was signed between the Soviet Union and the U.S.

The SPU led numerous campus meetings, rallies and demonstrations against nuclear testing during that period.

The group spearheaded national demonstrations in Washington, D.C. in November 1961. A second “Washington Action” drew 5,000 to the city in February 1962 in a protest sponsored by Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), A tiny Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the SPU.

In October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the group spearheaded a demonstration of about 2,000 students in Washington, D.C. against the burgeoning confrontation that appeared to be leading to nuclear war.

During its peak in 1963, the group had about 3,500 members on dozens of campuses nationwide.

The signing of a partial nuclear test ban treaty in 1963 caused the group to lose focus and its leadership fell victim to factional struggles between the so-called Shachmanites (who advocated some type of “third way” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union) and another leftist tendency that called for a labor party.

The group dissolved in 1964, but was resurrected as a smaller group based on smaller college campuses while SDS took off on the larger campuses. The new SPU ultimately merged with the campus Americans for Democratic Action to form the Independent Student Union in 1967.

Its brief existence on the activism stage was marked by its spearheading campus activism against nuclear testing and nuclear war and for popularizing in the U.S. the peace symbol:



The peace symbol was designed in 1958 by British artist Gerald Holtom for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which was having its first major march in England. Holtom explained that the symbol superimposed the semaphore letters “N” and “D” over each other. The SPU spread the symbol across U.S. campuses.
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