Monday, October 6, 2014

Free Speech Movement

In the fall of 1964, on-campus political issues which had been brewing at UC Berkeley for at least four years converged with national events in ways which would forever change Berkeley and the nation.

Inspired by their participation in Mississippi’s Freedom Summer of 1964, Mario Savio and other Berkeley undergraduates sought to continue their civil rights activism on campus as the Fall semester began, by setting up tables and handing out literature near the entrance to the university and on Sproul Plaza, just off Telegraph Ave.

On Sept. 14, 1964, campus administrators banned political activity from UC property, sparking swift student protests. The most notable of the protests was a 32-hour standoff October 1, at a police car parked on the Plaza which held student Jack Weinberg, arrested for staffing a table on Sproul Plaza, and the historical mass arrest of over 700 students at Sproul Hall on December 4.

The term “Free Speech Movement” was coined early on in the protests, and would come to symbolize the beginning of an era of protests over free speech, civil rights and the war in Vietnam.

The accompanying undated note by Savio, part of CHS’ ACLU Northern California collection, was likely written during the fall of 1964, as university officials sought ways to prevent certain student organizations from holding rallies and distributing literature, and students sought paths around these new rules.

Mario Savio letter, undated, MS 3580, California Historical Society
For more information on the Free Speech Movement see the Bancroft Library's chronology here.

Alison Moore
Reader Services Librarian
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