Debate Sparks Protest


Confronting controversial issues and hosting disputed figures is an important aspect of the open forum movement. Whether hosting a debate between pro-ERA feminist Karen DeCrow and anti-ERA conservative Phyllis Schlafly, or having white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke speak amid public outrage, the Forum has remained a platform where controversial speakers  can debate their ideas with the public. 


Ford Hall Forum poster featuring Ayn Rand, 1973

Ayn Rand, novelist and founder of the objectivist movement, was a staple of the Ford Hall Forum for twenty years, beginning in 1961.


Newspaper clipping, "Ford Forum's Faux Pas", 1979

In 1979, during the second wave feminist movement, the Ford Hall Forum invited prominent conservative and Equal Rights Amendment challenger Phyllis Schlafly to speak at the Forum.  Ford Hall was overrun with letters in opposition, demanding that equal time be given to a supporter of the ERA.  The Forum responded by hosting a debate between Schlafly and pro-ERA feminist Karen DeCrow. Read a partial  transcription of the discussion.


Ford Hall Forum program featuring Friedrich Schoenemann, November 1933-1934


Friederich Schoeneman's 1933 Lecture at Ford Hall Forum, Why I believe in the Hitler Government, transcript and poster


In 1933, the Forum invited Harvard University professor and Nazi supporter Frederick Shoenemann to speak and take questions.  His lecture entitled "Why I Believe in the Hitler Government" drew a large audience as well as a group of some 5,000 protestors.  The event eventually led to a riot on Beacon Hill, with protestors and police clashing outside, while the lecture continued on.


David Duke Protest Flyer, 1991


Newspaper clipping, David Duke political cartoon, 1991

In 1991, Ford Hall hosted former Grand Wizard of the KKK and noted white supremacist, David Duke.  Duke aimed to speak out against affirmative action and welfare.  His attendance was widely opposed, first with letter writing campaigns and then with all-out protests the day of the lecture.  His lecture was mostly drowned out by protesters in the hall, some of which were eventually removed by police in riot gear.  Coming days after confederate flags were flown by students at Harvard University, Duke’s speech highlighted the racial tensions which still held strong in Boston and across the country.  Ford Hall stood behind their choice of speaker, noting that Duke was only one in a long line of controversial speakers aimed at reflecting the Forum's commitment to freedom of speech.  The public was split on this defense.