Free Speech Movement

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Memorial to the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley FreeSpeechCafe3.JPG
Memorial to the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley

The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was a massive, long-lasting student protest which took place during the 1964–65 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. [1] The Movement was informally under the central leadership of Berkeley graduate student Mario Savio. [2] Other student leaders include Jack Weinberg, Michael Rossman, George Barton, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Michael Teal, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others. [3]

Student protest wide range of activities that indicate student dissatisfaction

Campus protest or student protest is a form of student activism that takes the form of protest at university campuses. Such protests encompass a wide range of activities that indicate student dissatisfaction with a given political or academics issue and mobilization to communicate this dissatisfaction to the authorities and society in general and hopefully remedy the problem. Protest forms include but are not limited to: sit-ins, occupations of university offices or buildings, strikes etc.

University of California, Berkeley Public university in California, USA

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. It was founded in 1868 and serves as the flagship institution of the ten research universities affiliated with the University of California system. Berkeley has since grown to instruct over 40,000 students in approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs covering numerous disciplines.

Mario Savio American activist

Mario Savio was an American activist and a key member in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. He is most famous for his passionate speeches, especially the "put your bodies upon the gears" address given at Sproul Hall, University of California, Berkeley on December 2, 1964.


With the participation of thousands of students, the Free Speech Movement was the first mass act of civil disobedience on an American college campus in the 1960s. [4] 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. The Free Speech Movement was influenced by the New Left, [5] and was also related to the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. [6] To this day, the Movement's legacy continues to shape American political dialogue both on college campuses and in broader society, impacting on the political views and values of college students and the general public. [7]

Academic freedom is the conviction that the freedom of inquiry by faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy as well as the principles of academia, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment.

New Left political ideology

The New Left was a broad political movement mainly in the 1960s and 1970s consisting of activists in the Western world who campaigned for a broad range of social issues such as civil and political rights, feminism, gay rights, abortion rights, gender roles and drug policy reforms. Some saw the New Left as an oppositional reaction to earlier Marxist and labor union movements for social justice that focused on dialectical materialism and social class, while others who used the term saw the movement as a continuation and revitalization of traditional leftist goals.

Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War

Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War began with demonstrations in 1964 against the escalating role of the U.S. military in the Vietnam War and grew into a broad social movement over the ensuing several years. This movement informed and helped shape the vigorous and polarizing debate, primarily in the United States, during the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s on how to end the war.



In 1958, activist students organized SLATE, a campus political party meaning a "slate" of candidates running on the same level – a same "slate." The students created SLATE to promote the right of student groups to support off-campus issues. [8] 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 causes connected to the Civil Rights Movement. 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. Sol Stern, a former radical who took part in the Free Speech Movement, [9] stated in a 2014 City Journal article that the group viewed the United States to be both racist and imperialistic and that the main intent after lifting Berkeley's loyalty oath was to build on the legacy of C Wright Mills and weaken the Cold War consensus by promoting the ideas of the Cuban Revolution. [5]

SLATE, a pioneer organization of the New Left and precursor of the Free Speech Movement and formative counterculture era, was a campus political party at the University of California, Berkeley from 1958 to 1966.

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 and subsequent years to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. The Southern states had ignored the rulings and the federal government did nothing to enforce them. The first Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17.

Freedom Summer, or the Mississippi Summer Project, was a volunteer campaign in the United States launched in June 1964 to attempt to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi. Blacks had been cut off from voting since the turn of the century due to barriers to voter registration and other laws. The project also set up dozens of Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses, and community centers in small towns throughout Mississippi to aid the local black population.

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." [10]

Telegraph Avenue street in Oakland and Berkeley, California

Telegraph Avenue is a street that begins, at its southernmost point, in the midst of the historic downtown district of Oakland, California, and ends, at its northernmost point, at the southern edge of the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California. It is approximately 4.5 miles (7 km) in length.

Jack Weinberg and sit-in

On October 1, 1964, 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. This was a form of civil disobedience which became a major part of the movement. These protests were meant to illustrate that the opposing side was in the wrong. The police car remained there for 32 hours, all while Weinberg was inside it. 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. [10]

Jack Weinberg is an environmental activist and former New Left activist who is best known for his role in the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964.

Congress of Racial Equality United States civil rights organization

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is an African-American civil rights organization in the United States that played a pivotal role for African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. Founded in 1942, its stated mission is "to bring about equality for all people regardless of race, creed, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or ethnic background."

Mario Savio leading a rally on the steps of Sproul Hall in 1966 MarioSavio.JPG
Mario Savio leading a rally on the steps of Sproul Hall in 1966

On December 2, between 1,500 and 4,000 students went into 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. [10] Among other grievances was the fact that four of their leaders were being singled out for punishment. The demonstration was orderly; students studied, watched movies, and sang folk songs. Joan Baez was there to lead in the singing, as well as lend moral support. "Freedom classes" were held by teaching assistants on one floor, and a special Channukah service took place in the main lobby. On the steps of Sproul Hall, Mario Savio [11] gave a famous speech:

Joan Baez American singer

Joan Chandos Baez is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and activist whose contemporary folk music often includes songs of protest or social justice. Baez has performed publicly for over 60 years, releasing over 30 albums. Fluent in Spanish and English, she has also recorded songs in at least six other languages. Although generally regarded as a folk singer, her music has diversified since the counterculture era of the 1960s, and encompasses genres such as folk rock, pop, country, and gospel music.

... But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to be — have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product! Don't mean — Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings! ...  There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all. [12]

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 a.m. on December 4, 1964, police cordoned off the building, and at 3:30 a.m. began the arrest. Close to 800 students were arrested, [10] most of which were transported by bus to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, about 25 miles away. 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.


After much disturbance, the University officials slowly backed down. By January 3, 1965, the new acting chancellor, Martin Meyerson (who had replaced the previous resigned Edward Strong), established provisional rules for political activity on the Berkeley campus [13] . He designated 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 Free Speech Movement. [14]

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, [10] a major starting point for the anti-Vietnam war movement.


For the first time, disobedience tactics of the Civil Rights Movement were brought by the Free Speech Movement to a college campus in the 1960s. Those approaches gave the students exceptional leverage to make demands of the university administrators, and build the foundation for future protests, such as those against the Vietnam War. [15]


The Free Speech Movement had long-lasting effects at the Berkeley campus and was a pivotal moment for the civil liberties movement in the 1960s. 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 individuals involved in the Free Speech Movement. Ronald Reagan won an unexpected victory in the fall of 1966 and was elected Governor. [16] He then 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 FBI kept secret files on Kerr and Savio, and subjected their lives and careers to interference under COINTELPRO.

Reagan had gained political traction by campaigning on a platform to "clean up the mess in Berkeley". [16] In the minds of those involved in the backlash, a wide variety of protests, 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 ). [17] 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 of 1964, now stands at the entrance to the college's Free Speech Movement Cafe. [17]

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 anti-Communist film Operation Abolition [18] [19] [20] [21] depicted this scene and became an organizing tool for the protesters.


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. [22] 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, Goldberg, panels on the FSM, and current free speech issues. [23] 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. [24] The 40th anniversary reunion, the first after Savio's death in 1996, was held in October 2004. It featured 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. [25] 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. [26]


Free Speech Monument Sproul Plaza Berkeley California Free Speech Monument Sproul Plaza Berkeley California.jpg
Free Speech Monument Sproul Plaza Berkeley California

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 of any political orientation who wishes to appear. 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. [10] 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 it. 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. [27]

See also


  1. Sources:
    • "Berkeley FSM | Free Speech Movement 50th Anniversary". Retrieved 2017-08-18.
    • "The Free Speech Movement". Calisphere. Retrieved 2017-08-18.
    • "Free Speech Movement Archives". Retrieved 2017-08-18.
    • "Days of Cal | Berkeley in the 60s". Retrieved 2017-08-18.
    • "Unforgettable Change: 1960s: Free Speech Movement & The New American Left | Picture This". Retrieved 2017-08-18.
  2. Sources:
  3. "Notable Bios | Berkeley FSM". Retrieved 2017-08-18.
  4. Sources:
  5. 1 2 Stern, Sol (September 25, 2014). "The Free Speech Movement at 50". City Journal.
  6. Sources:
  7. Sources:
  8. Holz, Dayna. "SLATE History". SLATE Archives. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  9. "Hearing echoes of Berkeley in student activism today". PBS. October 16, 2014.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Sixties Protest".
  11. Lovio, Grace (August 28, 2013). "'Berkeley in the Sixties' aims to affect the present". The Daily Californian .
  12. American Rhetoric - Mario Savio. See also Robert Cohen, Freedom's Orator, pp. 178-179.
  13. "Visual History: Free Speech Movement, 1964 | Berkeley FSM". Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  14. "Time, Place and Manner Statement". Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  15. "Visual History: Free Speech Movement, 1964 | Berkeley FSM". Retrieved 2017-09-22.
  16. 1 2 "Ronald Reagan launched political career using the Berkeley campus as a political target". 2004-06-08. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  17. 1 2 Elizabeth Stephens. "Free Speech Movement Archival Collection Guides". Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  18. "Operation Abolition," 1960 - YouTube
  19. "Operation Abolition", Time magazine, 1961.
  20. Operation Abolition (1960) - YouTube
  21. "Operation Abolition", and Time magazine, Friday, Mar. 17, 1961.
  22. 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.
  23. Elaine Herscher, "Echoes of Free Speech Movement Heard 30 Years Later," San Francisco Chronicle, December 2, 1994, pp. A19, A23.
  24. "Taking Part: FSM and the Legacy of Social Protest," brochure published by the Bancroft Library for the April 13–14, 2001 symposium.
  25. 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.
  26. Wolfgang Saxon, "Reginald Zelnik, 68, Historian of Labor Movements in Russia," The New York Times, June 1, 2004, p. C13.
  27. Free Speech Monument, Mark Brest Van Kempen

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Further reading