Free Speech Movement

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The Free Speech Movement was a student-led protest that took place in the University of California, Berkeley, during the 1964-1965 academic year. The movement was a reaction against the university's ban on campus political activities. Students involved with the protest wanted the university to recognize the right of free speech. As a result of the movement, campus administration was removed and the University President at the time, Clark Kerr, was fired. It even contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan as the governor of California. During the movement, over 750 arrests were made. The leaders of the movement were Mario Savio, Michael Rossman, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, and Jackie Goldberg.


The movement had its roots in the year 1958 with the founding of SLATE, a political party focused on off campus issues. The prominent issue of the time was the civil rights movement, particularly by 1964, and students, many working with the Freedom Summer project, were collecting donations for the civil rights cause.

On October 1st, 1964, former graduate student Jack Weinberg was arrested for refusing to bring identification as he was questioned by cops during his work at the CORE (congress of racial equality) table. Thousands of students would try to open negotiations on student speech in the months to come, with numbers ranging from 1,500 to 4,000 students coming into Sproul Hall during negotiations in December 2nd, 1964. With passionate speeches from students such as Mario Savio, the sit in demonstrations for free speech would grow to the point that the campus was on the brink of shutting down. 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, police cordoned off the building, and at 3:30 a.m. began arresting close to 800 students. University officials would eventually back down and establish the Sproul steps as an acceptable place of political and open discussion. The free speech movement has a impactful legacy, potentially aiding Ronald Reagan's campaign with his promise to clean up the mess in Berkeley and the present establishment of the Free Speech Movement Cafe.