The Berkeley Free Speech Movement
The Free Speech Movement (FSM) at the University of California at
Berkeley during the Fall 1964 semester was the first of the 1960s campus student movements to make headlines all over the world. Lasting a
little over two months, it ended with the arrest of 773 persons for
occupying the administration building, the removal of the campus administration,
and a vast enlargement of student rights to use the University campus
for political activity and debate. In the longer term it contributed
to the election of Ronald Reagan as Governor of California in 1966,
and the firing of University President Clark Kerr the following January.
From the 1930s onward, largely in response to fears generated by Communism,
the University-wide administration imposed numerous rules designed
to keep politics off of all the University campuses. By the time Berkeley
Chancellor Clark Kerr became University President in 1958, student
groups could not operate on campus if they engaged in any kind of
off-campus politics, whether electoral, protest or even oratorical.
At the Berkeley campus students spoke, leafleted and tabled on the
city sidewalk at the campus edge. When the campus border was moved
a block away, this activity moved with it. Since the sidewalk at the
new boundary was too narrow for much activity, Kerr authorized the
creation of a small plaza just inside the new boundary for student
political groups to use. The Regents of the University voted to give
the 26 x 40 foot strip at Bancroft and Telegraph to the City of Berkeley,
but the transfer never took place. For the next few years student
groups of all persuasions used this strip as though it was public
property when legally it was still part of the University.
In the Fall of 1963 and the Spring of 1964 the Bay Area was rocked
with civil rights demonstrations against employers who practiced racial
discrimination. Vast numbers of Berkeley students were recruited for
these protests from Bancroft and Telegraph, and they were numerous
among the 500 arrests made over several months. This led to demands
by some state legislators that the University discipline and control
its students. In July, students were recruited to demonstrate at the
Republican Convention being held just outside of San Francisco, as
well as at several employers in Oakland. An Oakland Tribune reporter
found out that this political activity was taking place on the campus
proper; when word reached the campus administration, it decided to
put a stop to it.
On September 14, 1964 Dean of Students Katherine Towle, at the insistence
of Vice-Chancellor Alex Sherriffs, wrote a letter to the student
political groups telling them that they could no longer use the plaza
at Bancroft and Telegraph to solicit support for "off campus
political and social action." Realizing that this would deprive
them of the one good spot to reach students and raise funds, 18 student
groups from across the political spectrum asked the Dean to reverse
the ruling. They soon discovered that she didn't have the power to
do this. Calling themselves the United Front the student
groups defied the policy by setting up their tables as before, and
also in front of the administration building facing Sproul Plaza,
where they had never been before. Several students led a rally and
march against the "new" regulations without getting prior
permission — required by the old rules — to do so. When five tablers
were ordered to go to the Dean's office, some 400 students signed
a petition of complicity and filled the halls of the Administration
building demanding that they too be disciplined. The Deans announced
that three names had been added to the "cited students"
list and all eight were "indefinitely suspended." At 3:00
a.m. the crowd left the building.
next day tables were again put up in front of the Administration building.
This time the campus police arrested Jack Weinberg, who was sitting
behind the CORE table, after he refused to give his name or show his
student card. Jack Weinberg was an alumnus, not a current student,
and didn't have a card. He did have a long record of civil rights
activity, including several arrests the Spring before. The police
brought a car onto Sproul plaza and after he went limp, carried him
to it. Students spontaneously surrounded the car to keep it from moving
and deflated the tires. The police temporarily retreated while thousands
of students took over the Plaza.
car was held hostage for 32 hours. With Jack inside, the police car
became the platform for a continual rally. Art Goldberg and his sister
Jackie, both experienced student activists, were the leaders of the
United Front, but from the top of the car new people emerged who captured
the loyalty of the crowd. Mario Savio, a junior who had transferred
from Queens, New York the year before, was soon recognized as the
most charismatic speaker.
Having no plan or strategy, the United Front made it up as they went
along. Students once again occupied the Administration building, clashing
with police when they tried to close it early, but they left the building
to spend the night around the car. Near midnight, about one hundred
fraternity boys surrounded the few hundred students still there to
heckle and pelt them with eggs and lighted cigarettes. They finally
left after a Catholic priest pled for peace from the top of the car.
The United Front selected a negotiation group, but the campus Administration
refused to meet with them. Instead it arranged with several local
police forces to arrest everyone who did not leave the plaza by 6:00
p.m. Several hundred police were brought on campus and lined up behind
adjacent buildings. In the meantime, Governor Pat Brown ordered President
Kerr to seek a peaceful solution with the protestors. Kerr invited
them to meet with him at 5:00 p.m. in his office. After a contentious
meeting, in which the students disagreed among themselves on what
to do, the pact of October 2 was signed by Kerr and the United Front.
Everyone returned to Sproul plaza where Mario Savio mounted the car
and told the students to disperse.
THE FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT
Jack Weinberg was booked, released, and the University did not press
charges. The fate of the eight cited students was referred to a specially
created faculty committee, which conducted a hearing that lasted for
several weeks. The United Front met and dissolved. In its place the
Free Speech Movement was created. It consisted of an Executive Committee
of about 50 or so, including the cited students, representatives of
existing student groups, plus some new entities (e.g., independent
students, grad students, non-students, off-campus religious groups).
From its members was elected a Steering Committee of twelve, to monitor
negotiations over new rules for student groups.
The composition of the Steering Committee varied over the next two
months. In addition to Jack and Mario, Bettina Aptheker and Steve
Weissman played key roles. There were no officers, though an informal
division of labor developed. Mario was the chief spokesperson; Jack
the top tactician, while Steve chaired most of the meetings and Bettina
was the voice of reason. An administrative apparatus grew up at Mario's
apartment, soon called FSM Central, where meetings were planned, leaflets
were drafted and phone calls made. Hundreds of students were energized
by the conflict, and on their own produced numerous documents, an
FSM button, and even a recording of FSM Christmas carols. Sales of
the latter two items were the primary source of funds, plus donations.
An 18-member Campus Committee on Political Activity (CCPA), with
equal representation from the administration, the faculty, and the
students (four of whom were FSM leaders), met for three weeks without
coming to an agreement. The committee favored removal of most of the
old rules, permitting students to meet on campus, put up tables, pass
out literature, collect funds, and discuss issues. The sticking point
was whether students could advocate illegal off-campus actions (i.e.
getting arrested at civil rights demonstrations). The FSM held that
the only limits on advocacy should be those of the U.S. Constitution,
as interpreted by the courts, and the only punishment should be that
dispensed by a judge after a criminal trial. The administration maintained
its right to discipline students, and for conduct other than a criminal
The negotiations collapsed over this issue, and the FSM resumed picketing
on campus on November 4. In the interim a moratorium of sorts had
existed. The student groups did not put their tables up on campus
(even in the previously permissible plaza at Bancroft and Telegraph),
or leaflet or collect funds, except on the city sidewalk. The Steering
Committee decided to end the moratorium and escalate the conflict
by putting tables up on campus the next Monday, November 9. This precipitated
the biggest spit within the ranks of the FSM.
Ostensibly the final decision maker, the Executive Committee met about
once a week. After extensive discussions lasting for several hours,
votes were taken among the few who were left. Most decisions were
in fact made by the Steering Committee, which met every day, and at
some points, decisions were made by Mario and Jack, after consulting
with whomever they thought it important to consult with. This plus
the escalation in confrontation cracked an existing fault line within
the FSM and led to some acrimonious ExCom meetings at which the moderates
lost very close votes. As a result the conservative student groups
dropped out of the FSM and the liberal groups were sidelined. The
radicals were firmly in charge.
The dispute within the FSM over whether to resume negotiations was
mooted when the campus Administration disbanded the CCPA and cited
a few dozen more students for sitting at tables. Tabling continued,
but was ignored by the Administration. In the meantime the faculty
committee on the eight cited students recommended that six be retroactively
reinstated with only a censure on their records, and that Mario and
Art receive six week suspensions. The committee criticized the administration's
handling of the matter, especially the "indefinite suspensions"
prior to a hearing.
Meeting on November 20, the Regents endorsed the University administration's
proposed revision of University rules, which would permit most political
activity previously prohibited but allow for discipline of those who
used the campus to pursue unlawful off-campus action. Buried in these
recommendations was a warning that further disciplinary action would
be taken against organizations and students who had violated the old
rules after September 30. The FSM's request to address the Regents
was denied, but it was allowed to send five observers. Outside, students
held a rally and debated what to do. The FSM observers who reported
on the Regents' meeting were angry and urged action.
Undecided on how to respond to a partial victory, a bare majority
of the FSM Steering Committee voted to occupy the Administration building
on Monday, November 23. At the noon rally, Steve Weissman announced
that those assembled would debate whether or not to sit-in. After
a contentious debate, about 300 students entered the Administration
building where the debate continued. Three hours later they decided
Depressed and demoralized, most within the FSM thought it was dying.
However, student anger revived a week later when the campus administration
sent letters to four key students — Mario Savio, Art Goldberg, Jackie
Goldberg, and Brian Turner — charging them with violating university
regulations for leading the October 1st and 2nd demonstrations.
The FSM told students to bring their sleeping bags to a noon rally
on Wednesday, December 2. After a spirited rally, featuring famed folk-singer
Joan Baez, about 2000 people once again occupied the Administration
building. In the middle of the night Governor Brown told the police
to clear the building. Arrests started at 3:00 a.m, and took 12 hours.
Although the newspapers reported that 801 had been arrested, the process
was so muddled that no one knew for weeks that it was only 773, including
735 students. They were collectively known to as "the 800."
A student strike began while the building was being cleared. Faculty
raised bail money and drove to the various detention centers to bring
the students home. Multiple meetings were held over the weekend by
everyone involved — except the Chancellor, who was hospitalized. President
Kerr canceled classes for Monday to hold a University meeting, where
his newly formed committee of department chairmen would read what
Kerr hoped were acceptable terms to end the conflict. While offering
amnesty for violations of the old rules during the prior two months,
they did not enlarge what the Regents had agreed to two weeks earlier.
These proposals were challenged by grad students at numerous departmental
meetings held Monday morning. By the time the University meeting was
held at noon, roughly one third of the departmental chairman no longer
supported the proposals. After Professor Robert Scalapino of the Political
Science Department read them to the 15,000 people assembled, Mario
Savio walked to the podium intending to speak. Several campus police
officers emerged from behind a curtain and dragged him in back of
it before he could do so. The audience erupted in dismay. Some rushed
to the stage, where they were tackled by the police. When the dust
settled Savio was permitted to speak, but he just invited everyone
to a rally at the Administration building. There, most of the speakers
were faculty, along with a few public officials who agreed with the
students that political activity should be allowed on campus.
The next day the largest Academic Senate meeting in anyone's memory
voted overwhelmingly for no restrictions on the content of speech
or advocacy. When the faculty left the hall, students cried, cheered,
Symbolically, the FSM had won, but the struggle was not over; only
the Regents could set policy. When they met on December 18, they voted
to support the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,
but insisted on law and order. The faculty felt the spirit of their
resolution had been met, but the FSM did not. When the new campus
administration wrote detailed regulations, content of advocacy was
ignored in favor of stringent time, place and manner rules. Scuffling
over the rules and how they were applied continued for some time.
In the Spring, Art Goldberg and eight others (but only three students)
were arrested for displaying and saying the word "fuck"
at the Bancroft plaza. The incident was precipitated by a young man
just arrived from New York who was arrested for holding up a piece
of paper with that word on it while on campus. There were three rather
small support rallies, but apart from these few arrests, little action
from either students or faculty. However, some Regents were outraged
and told President Kerr to expel the students. Instead, he and the
new acting Chancellor offered their resignations. These were withdrawn
at an acrimonious Regents' meeting three days later, but the press
had a field day. The student newspaper editorialized that "there
is absolutely no need for a Filthy Speech Movement." That phrase
was copied all over the country. The FSM, which had voted to stay
out of this conflict, was permanently stuck with the label.
The nine were convicted in municipal court and sentenced without incident.
The FSM only objected when the campus administration appointed a disciplinary
committee, which the FSM charged was double jeopardy. Lacking support
from students or faculty, only verbal protests were made when that
committee recommended that Art Goldberg be expelled and three other
students (two of whom had also been arrested) be suspended. However,
the "fuck" incident convinced the Regents, the Legislature,
and the public at large that the Berkeley students were irresponsible
and needed more discipline, not more freedom.
The "800" were tried in the Spring before a judge and convicted
on two of three counts. Most got probation and fines; FSM leaders were
sentenced to 30 to 120 days. After two years the final appeal was
denied and the "800" paid their fines and served their time.
The FSM dissolved. Its place was taken by new campus groups, especially
the Vietnam Day Committee, which organized one of the first campus
teach-ins in May of 1965. Protest against the war largely replaced
civil rights demonstrations, though some new issues also emerged.
The FSM was the beginning of what came to be called the "six-year
war" on the Berkeley campus. While student groups could now meet,
set up tables, distribute literature, raise money, and pretty much
say what they pleased at rallies and demonstrations on campus, skirmishes
continued over time, place and manner rules, as well as what non-students,
including drop-outs and alumni, could do on the campus proper.
Three decades later, a multimillion dollar grant from an alumnus paid
for a student cafeteria which memorialized the FSM and for putting
the FSM archives on line. The steps of the administration building
were officially named the "Mario Savio" steps, and an adjacent
campus was called the Clark Kerr campus of the University of California.
Published in the Encyclopedia of American Social Movements (4 vols) edited by Immanuel Ness, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004, pp. 1178-1182.
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