Free Speech Movement Short Histories

We call ourselves “veterans,” not of a war, but of a movement. On October 1, 1964, hundreds of us surrounded a police car on the Berkeley campus of the University of California and refused to allow the police to arrest Jack Weinberg, a graduate student in mathematics who was ‘manning’ a table for the Congress of Racial Equality on the campus’s central Sproul Hall Plaza. We held the car for 32 hours with Jack inside and 950 police massed just outside the campus’s main entrance waiting for orders to commence an assault to break us up. Shortly before 7 PM on Friday, October 3, student negotiators led by Mario Savio, who was to become the primary spokesperson for the Movement, had reached an intermediary agreement with the University President. The Free Speech Movement was born. It lasted through mid-December. In the end, after a sit-in in the main administration building that resulted in the arrests of nearly 800 students, a strike of faculty, graduate students, and staff sanctioned by the local labor council that paralyzed the campus, and the support of the entire leadership of the Black-led Civil Rights Movement, beginning with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we won our central demands.  On December  14, the Regents of the University of California stated that, “henceforth, regulations governing freedom of speech on university campuses will not go beyond the purview of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.” Regulations governing freedom of speech changed on virtually every campus in the country, ending the Communist Speakers’ bans, and most importantly allowing students and faculty to engage in political dialogue and organizing with less fear of arbitrary administrative reprisal.
--Bettina Aptheker

In September 1964 the University of California administration abruptly banned political advocacy at Berkeley's traditional student free speech area at the campus' main entrance on Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue. Students viewed the ban as part of the backlash against their participation in the Bay area civil rights movement, especially the sit-ins against racially discriminatory employers, which had made headlines and upset powerful conservatives in the state legislature and the press. A broad coalition of students -- from Goldwater Republicans to socialists -- sought to negotiate an end to the ban. When negotiations failed mass protest erupted and a semester-long struggle for free speech ensued, which after a non-violent police car blockade, a march on the Regents meeting, a mass sit-in and mass arrest at the administration building, and a student/TA strike triumphed as Berkeley's faculty in its Academic Senate voted by a 7-1 margin on December 8, 1964 to back the Free Speech Movement's demand for an end all campus restrictions on the content of political speech.
--Robert Cohen

At the start of the fall semester in 1964, the University of California at Berkeley announced that students would no longer be allowed to distribute flyers anywhere on campus or engage in any other activity that could be considered political or social advocacy. Student activists who were involved in the civil rights movement and in advocacy for other political and social causes protested the ban. They organized themselves into the Free Speech Movement (FSM) and began a semester long series of non-violent protests that included a thirty-two hour blockade of a police car, a sit-in at the university administration building with some 800 arrests, and a campus-wide strike with support from a majority of the students and graduate teaching assistants. The Berkeley Academic Senate then voted overwhelmingly in support of the FSM’s demand for an end all campus restrictions on the content of political speech. The university administration finally acquiesced and the FSM declared victory. In addition to winning its immediate demand for student free speech rights, the FSM also became a catalyst for other university reforms and was an inspiration for the nationwide wave of student and youth-led social and political protest movements that followed.
--Jack Weinberg

The 1964 Berkeley FSM was not the first univerity Free Speech Movement

Bancroft Library

Bettina's medium history

Jeff Hirsch's What Was The Free Speech Movement (pdf)


Robert Cohen, Teaching about the Berkeley Free Speech Movement