The concept of Free Speech began with the creation of our nation. Our ancestors immigrated to the “New World” for various reasons. Many traveled the seas for freedom, and the opportunity to be independent. Freedom of Speech is guaranteed in the first Amendment of the Constitution. It is the “right to express oneself, either orally or in writing, without fear of governmental restraint or retribution”(Freedom 1).When rights are challenged or prohibited people get very angry and take rash actions. In the 1930s and the 1950s there was great fear in the United States because of Communism. As a result, administrators of the University of California, Berkeley began to have a “more constricted view of campus free speech rights” (Buress 1). Society, government, and other organizations made sure that the ideas were not shared. In 1958,Clark Kerr had just become the new President at the University of California, Berkeley. Kerr authorized the building of a plaza for political groups to use on campus. Many groups used the property, even those who were not part of the University. It was illegal for those not part of the University to use the facility because the property that they were using for their demonstrations was in fact not “public property” but the University’s private property. In late 1963 and early 1964 civil rights demonstrations began to enter the young minds of those that lived in the bay area (Freeman 1). The Civil Rights Movement led to the Free Speech Movement, as political demonstrations became prohibited at the University of California, Berkeley. TheFree Speech Movement was a significant event that changed American Society in the 1960s.
The Free Speech Movement started in 1964. It began at the University of California, Berkeley when officials decided to limit Free Speech rights due to the Red Scares of the 1930s and 1950s. The Red Scares were linked to radical activity among students (Burress 1). It was the students that began to protest. The Free Speech Movement engaged students to become involved in the on-campus political advocacy (“Mario Savio” 5). Students decided that activism would be the best solution. Students wanted to fight for Civil Rights so they held demonstrations, handed out pamphlets and marched (“Students Right” 2). The University of California, Berkeley then took action and said that “advocates of the civil rights [were to remain] off of Telegraph Avenue, Bancroft Strip and the main gate to campus” (Burner 1).Students claimed that the restrictions violated the first amendment of the Constitution (“Freedom of Speech” 1). Berkeley became the first campus to have a student movement and within two months of this adoption, 773 students were arrested. One man stood behind all of the restrictions, UC Berkeley’s President, Clark Kerr, was known as the villain of the Free Speech Movement. Mario Savio, a student, was known as the leader of the Free Speech Movement.
The movement first became apparent when the President of the University of California, Berkeley, Kerr, closed the Student Activities center (Freeman 1). Upset over the closure students began to take actions against restrictions being made by officials. Students demanded that Kerr come to a compromise (“Clark Kerr” 1). President Kerr refused to compromise and claimed that the free speech rights that students demanded might “jeopardized state funding for the University of California, Berkeley.” Kerr also called demonstrators communists and other professors agreed and called those involved “Marxist-dominated” (Burress 1). Kerr grew frustrated and stated that the University had become like a factory and the students had become its’ protestors (“Mario Savio” 3). Kerr began to place more restrictions on the students. Several other things where to be prohibited on campus; President Kerr refused certain speakers on campus. Malcolm X was a “Sectarian religious leader”, or so Kerr claimed. Students were out-raged by the actions and words of their University President. Kerr balanced his actions by allowing other speakers such as Billy Graham, a “prominent evangelical preacher” and Herbert Aptheker, the editor “the American Communist party’s theoretical journal,” he claimed that “they were less controversial” (Burner 1). President Clark Kerr’s restrictions led students to fight for other rights. Matters began to get worse when on September 14, 1964, Dean K. Towle announced that student organizations could no longer collect funds, signatures, host public speaking demonstrations on Civil rights nor voice the “advocacy of political causes or candidates” (“Free Speech Movement” 1). Soon the movement became more than a fight for the right of free of speech for the University of California, Berkeley students; the movement extended to areas such as racial discrimination (Freeman 1). It also allowed students to voice their thoughts on the Vietnam War (“Student Rights” 5). The students at the University of California, Berkeley were not going to let restrictions stop them from voicing their views on politics and society.
A student named Mario Savio became the leader of the Free Speech Movement. Mario was the son of a Roman Catholic and was extremely committed to social justice (Burress 1). Mario was new to politics and had been studying physics and philosophy when he just so happen to stumble across politics. Young Savio was a Queens, New York native who had transferred to the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s. Mario was inspired by Martin Luther King’s actions in the Civil Rights Movement (Freeman 2). Savio wanted student rights for freedom of speech, academic freedom and most importantly political activity on campus (“Free Speech Movement” 1). In 1964, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Mississippi project. The project was to encourage black sharecroppers to register to vote; Mario remembered how courageous the sharecroppers as they were “belittled, threatened, [and] humiliated.” This project was Savio’s first major involvement and motivation (“Mario Savio” 6). Mario Savio became the leader of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley. Mario “led by example, not by telling people what they ought to do….“ (Snapp 2). On October 1, 1964 Mario Savio climbed a police car with activist, Jack Weinberg, in front of Sproul Plaza (King 1). The movement gave “birth to the campus sit-in” (“Mario Savio” 2). The sit-in lasted for thirty-six hours and Weinberg was arrested. Weinberg had set up a table to inform others that they should oppose the collection of funds for campus entrance (“Free Speech Movement” 1). On November 13, 1964, six out of eight students that were suspended were reinstated, it was claimed that their suspension was a “mealy-mouthed liberal no decision” (Burner 2). Sproul Hall became the main place to protest for Free Speech activists. Sit-in participants began to rise from eight-hundred people to fifteen-hundred, participants sang songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “The Times Are-A Changing” (Burner 3). On December 2, 1964, folk singer Joan Boaz joined students on the sit-ins (Snapp 2). This sit-in was the most successful because only seventeen to eighteen percent of students attended classes (“Mario Savio” 3). On January 3,1965, Chancellor M. Meyerson set a new provisional rule for political activity at the University of California, Berkeley; only certain hours would Sproul Plaza be open for discussion. When Mario Savio died in 1996 of heart disease the Sproul steps were named after him and reserved for noon speeches and rallies (“Free Speech Movement” 1).
The Free Speech Movement attracted attention from across the country and many different people. Groups that were involved were: the Campus Congress of Racial Equality, the DuBois Club, Students for a Democrat Society, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (Burner 2). Hundreds of people protested the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (Burner 1).The House Un-American Activities Committee wanted to “neutralize groups and individuals. The student sit-in turned violent when police used “ batons and fire hoses to push the crowd down” and thirty-one students were arrested (House Un-American 1). On December 4, 1964, eight-hundred protestors were arrested (“Free Speech Movement” 1). Students from other campuses like the University of California, Los Angeles, Harvard, Michigan State, the University of Wisconsin, and Columbia University became actively involved. The movement grew much attention from a varying “political spectrum,” fraternity boys, sorority girls and young republicans became actively involved for the cause (Snapp 1). Students that protested were often beaten, arrested, and suspended (“Student Rights” 2). However, students that were arrested, once released were seen as heroes (Snapp 3).
The Free Speech Movement changed lives and made the youths realize the true importance of Freedom of Speech. Women also rose and became leaders. It opened the gates for women to be more than just an “envelope licker” (Snapp 3). Women such as Bettina Aptheter and Jackie Goldberg came on into the scene (Snapp 4). Jackie Goldberg later convinced State Legislature to declare October first “Free Speech Day in California” (Snapp 2). Students became involved in the Free Speech Movement because they saw that they became more successful taking a moral stand against the “struggle for all Americas” (Weinberg 5). Now there is a week dedicated to the Free Speech Movement once a year at the University of California, Berkeley with over fifty events (Burress 2). President Kerr was quickly replaced after he had set restrictions on “free speech” at the University of California, Berkeley (“Student Rights” 2). The memory of the Free Speech Movement lives on as students are now practice the right of freedom of speech and American society has grown for the better because of the movement.