Free Speech Movement

The Free Speech Movement was a student protest which began on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley in 1964 under the informal leadership of student Mario Savio and others. In protests unprecedented at the time, students demanded that the university administration lift a ban on on-campus political activities and recognize the students' right to free speech and academic freedom. The Free Speech Movement is often cited as a starting point for the many student protest movements of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Student activists, some of whom had traveled with the Freedom Riders and worked to register African American voters in the South over the summer, had set up information tables on campus and were soliciting donations for civil rights causes. Such political activity, or any political activity, on campus was against existing rules. 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.

On October 1, former graduate student Jack Weinberg set up a table in defiance of this ban and was arrested. However, a group of about 3,000 students spontaneously surrounded the police car in which the student was to be transported. Weinberg did not leave the police car, nor did the car move for 36 hours. During this period, 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. 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. The center of the protest was Sproul Hall, the campus administration building, which protesters took over in a massive sit-in. The sit-in ended on December 3, when police arrested over 800 students.

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.

Under pressure from California Governor Ronald Reagan, the UC Board of Regents dismissed UC President Clark Kerr for being too soft on the protestors. The FBI had kept a secret file on Kerr. Reagan had gained political traction by campaigning on a platform to "clean up the mess in Berkeley." This included the earlier protests of the House Committee on Un-American Activities meeting in San Francisco in 1960. There, protesters were washed down the steps inside the Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall with fire hoses, as shown in the conservative propaganda film "Operation Abolition," which became an organizing tool for the protestors.

One misconception about the FSM was that it was only left-wing oriented. The fact was that all political activity had been banned, including Students for Goldwater and other conservative groups. These groups also participated in the movement and benefited from it.

The FSM was followed in later years first by what some call the "dirty speech movement," which called for freedom to use well known profanity, and then in Spring 1965 the Vietnam Day Committee, a major starting point for the anti-Vietnam war movement.

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 called "Mario Savio Steps," may be reserved by anyone for a speech or rally.

See also

External links


  • Bander, Edward, J., ed. Turmoil on the Campus, New York: H W Wilson Company, 1970
  • Goines, David Lance, The Free Speech Movement: Coming of Age in the 1960s
  • Heirich, Max, The Beginning: Berkeley, 1964
  • Kerr, Clark, The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967
  • Lipset, Seymour Martin and Sheldon S. Wolin, eds. The Berkeley Student Revolt: Facts and Interpretations, Garden City: Anchor Books, 1965.
  • Rorabaugh, W. J., Berkeley at War: The 1960sde:Free Speech Movement

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