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Free Speech Movement

Memorial to the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was a student protest which took place during the 1964–1965 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley> under the informal leadership of students Mario Savio, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others. In protests unprecedented at the time, students insisted that the university administration lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students' right to free speech and academic freedom.


[edit] 1964â1965

[edit] Background

In 1958, activist students organized SLATE, a campus political party, to promote the right of student groups to support off-campus issues. In the fall of 1964, student activists, some of whom had traveled with the Freedom Riders and worked to register African American voters in Mississippi in the Freedom Summer project, set up information tables on campus and were soliciting donations for civil rights causes. According to existing rules at the time, fundraising for political parties was limited exclusively to the Democratic and Republican school clubs. There was also a mandatory "loyalty oath" required of faculty, which had led to dismissals and ongoing controversy over academic freedom. On September 14, 1964, Dean Katherine Towle announced that existing University regulations prohibiting advocacy of political causes or candidates, outside political speakers, recruitment of members, and fundraising by student organizations at the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph Avenues would be "strictly enforced." (This strip was until then thought to be city property, not campus property.)

[edit] Jack Weinberg and sit-in

On October 1, former graduate student Jack Weinberg was sitting at the CORE table. He refused to show his identification to the campus police and was arrested. There was a spontaneous movement of students to surround the police car in which he was to be transported. Weinberg did not leave the police car, nor did the car move for 32 hours. At one point, there may have been 3,000 students around the car. The car was used as a speaker's podium and a continuous public discussion was held which continued until the charges against Weinberg were dropped.

On December 2nd, between 1,500 and 4,000 students went in to Sproul Hall as a last resort in order to re-open negotiations with the administration on the subject of restrictions on political speech and action on campus. Among other grievances was the fact that four of their leaders were being singled out for punishment. The demonstration was orderly. Some students studied, some watched movies, some sang folk songs. Joan Baez was there to lead in the singing, and to lend moral support. "Freedom classes" were held by teaching assistants on one floor, and a special Channukah service took place in the main lobby.

At midnight, Alameda County deputy district attorney Edwin Meese III telephoned Governor Edmund Brown, Sr, asking for authority to proceed with a mass arrest. Shortly after 2 am on December 4th, police cordoned off the building, and at 3:30 am began arresting close to 800 students. Most of the arrestees were bussed to Santa Rita Prison, where they were released on their own recognizance after a few hours behind bars. About a month later, the university brought charges against the students who organized the sit-in, resulting in an even larger student protest that all but shut down the university.

[edit] Aftermath

After much disturbance, the University officials slowly backed down. By January 3, 1965, the new acting chancellor, Martin Meyerson, established provisional rules for political activity on the Berkeley campus, designating the Sproul Hall steps an open discussion area during certain hours of the day and permitting tables. This applied to the entire student political spectrum, not just the liberal elements that drove the FSM.

Most outsiders, however, identified the Free Speech Movement as a movement of the Left. Students and others opposed to U.S. foreign policy did indeed increase their visibility on campus following the FSM's initial victory. In the spring of 1965, the FSM was followed by the Vietnam Day Committee, a major starting point for the anti-Vietnam war movement.


The Free Speech Movement had long-lasting effects at the Berkeley campus and was a pivotal moment for the civil liberties movement in The Sixties. It was seen as the beginning of the famous student activism that existed on the campus in the 1960s, and continues to a lesser degree today. There was a substantial voter backlash against the players involved in the Free Speech Movement. Ronald Reagan won an unexpected victory in the fall of 1966 and was elected Governor; the newly elected governor directed the UC Board of Regents to dismiss UC President Clark Kerr because of the perception that he had been too soft on the protesters. The

Reagan had gained political traction by campaigning on a platform to "clean up the mess in Berkeley". In the minds of those involved in the backlash, a wide variety of protests and a wide variety of concerned citizens and activists were lumped together. Furthermore, television news and documentary filmmaking had made it possible to photograph and broadcast moving images of protest activity. Much of this media is available today as part of the permanent collection of the Bancroft Library at Berkeley, including iconic photographs of the protest activity by student Ron Enfield (then chief photographer for the Berkeley campus newspaper, the Daily Cal). A reproduction of what may be considered the most recognizable and iconic photograph of the movement, a shot of suit-clad students carrying the Free Speech banner through the University's Sather Gate in Fall 1964, now stands at the entrance to the college's Free Speech Movement Cafe.

Earlier protests against the House Committee on Un-American Activities meeting in San Francisco in 1960 had included an iconic scene as protesters were literally washed down the steps inside the Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall with fire hoses. The conservative film Operation Abolition, which depicted this scene, became an organizing tool for the protesters.

[edit] Reunions

The 20th anniversary reunion of the FSM was held during the first week of October, 1984, to considerable media attention. A rally in Sproul Plaza featured FSM veterans Mario Savio, who ended a long self-imposed silence, Jack Weinberg, and Jackie Goldberg. The week continued with a series of panels open to the public on the movement and its impact.[1] The 30th anniversary reunion, held during the first weekend of December, 1994, was also a public event, with another Sproul Plaza rally featuring Savio, Weinberg and Goldberg, and panels on the FSM and current free speech issues.[2] In April 2001, UC's Bancroft Library held a symposium celebrating the opening of the Free Speech Movement Digital Archive. Although not a formal FSM reunion, many FSM leaders were on the panels and other participants were in the audience.[3] The 40th anniversary reunion, the first after Savio's death in 1996, was held in October 2004, and featuring columnist Molly Ivins giving the annual Mario Savio Memorial Lecture, followed later in the week by the customary rally in Sproul Plaza and panels on civil liberties issues.[4] A Sunday meeting was a more private event, primarily a gathering for the veterans of the movement, in remembrance of Savio and of a close FSM ally, professor Reginald Zelnik, who had died in an accident in May.[5]


Today, Sproul Hall and the surrounding Sproul Plaza are active locations for protests and marches, as well as the ordinary daily tables with free literature from anyone who wishes to appear, of any political orientation. A wide variety of groups of all political, religious and social persuasions set up tables at Sproul Plaza. The Sproul steps, now officially known as the "Mario Savio Steps," may be reserved by anyone for a speech or rally. An on-campus restaurant commemorating the event, the Mario Savio Free Speech Movement Cafe, resides in a portion of the Moffitt Undergraduate Library.

The Free Speech Monument, commemorating the movement, was created in 1991 by artist Mark Brest van Kempen. It is located, appropriately, in Sproul Plaza. The monument consists of a six-inch hole in the ground filled with soil and a granite ring surrounding that hole. The granite ring bears the inscription, "This soil and the air space extending above it shall not be a part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity's jurisdiction." The monument makes no explicit reference to the movement, but it evokes notions of free speech and its implications through its rhetoric.[1]

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Lynn Ludlow, "Savio Breaks 20-year silence about Free Speech Movement," San Francisco Examiner, September 30, 1984, p. A10; Stacy E. Palmer, "Berkeley, Birthplace of 1960's Unrest, Tries to Preserve Its Activist Image," The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 26, 1984, pp. 12-14; and Lynn Ludlow, "The Free Speech revolutionaries, 20 years later," the first of six parts, San Francisco Examiner, December 9, 1984, pp. A1, A14-15.
  2. ^ Elaine Herscher, "Echoes of Free Speech Movement Heard 30 Years Later," San Francisco Chronicle, December 2, 1994, pp. A19, A23.
  3. ^ "Taking Part: FSM and the Legacy of Social Protest," brochure published by the Bancroft Library for the April 13-14, 2001 symposium.
  4. ^ Charles Burress, "UC's change of heart - celebrating transformation of a pariah into an icon," San Francisco Chronicle, October 6, 2004, p. B1, B5; Charles Burress, "Celebrating 4 decades of mouthing off," San Francisco Chronicle, October 8, 2004, p. B5; Charles Burress, "Free speech returns to Sproul," San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 2004, p. B1,B5; Meredith May, "40 years on Free Speechers talk all they want," San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 2004, p. B5.
  5. ^ Wolfgang Saxon, "Reginald Zelnik, 68, Historian of Labor Movements in Russia," The New York Times, June 1, 2004, p. C13.

[edit] References

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index

Alternatives  –  Left History  –  Libraries & Archives  –  Social Change  –  Civil Rights Movement (U.S.)  –  Free Speech  

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