On Nov. 20, 1965 the Free Speech Movement (FSM) of the University of California, Berkeley, organized a protest of several thousand students outside a meeting of the Regents of the University of California. The regents were gathered to discuss how to deal with the FSM. The movement had grown out of students involved in the Civil Rights movement and became a sign of the power of student activism that would be a trademark of the 1960s.
The FSM had its beginnings with students involved with CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) and the Southern Civil Rights movement. In the summer of 1964 some U.C. Berkeley students had gone south to work with CORE and returned for the new school year in September 1964. The CORE students set up tables on the Berkeley campus asking for donations and new members. The school president, Clark Kerr, banned political activity and suspended eight students of CORE. One of those suspended was Mario Savio who had taught at a freedom school run by CORE in McComb, Miss. during the summer. Savio would later become the spokesman for the movement. California and the United States were in the middle of the Cold War at the time, when any political activity outside of the norm was considered subversive and labeled as communist. Kerr and many other Californians saw the spread of the Civil Rights movement to the U.C. campus in this light and tried to stop it.
On October 1, Jack Weinberg was arrested for running a CORE table on campus. Spontaneously, hundreds of students surrounded the police car Weinberg was being taken away in. Weinberg, the squad car, and hundreds of students would stay for the next 32 hours until Weinberg was released under a compromise worked out between President Kerr and the students. In response, the FSM was formed on October 4 with the goals of gaining the right to free speech for student activists.
Over the next several months the FSM had a running battle with the school administration using rallies, marches, petitions, and arrests to press their point. By December, 1964, the students had won their demands and opened up political activity on the U.C. Berkeley campus.
The FSM not only symbolized the power of student activism, but the influence of the Civil Rights movement on California students. The students that were initially cited and arrested by the school were all members of CORE, a national Civil Rights organization dedicated to ending racism. The FSM also used nonviolent tactics learned from students who had gone South to help African Americans. The FSM also marked the beginnings of the New Left, young activists who felt that society and democracy had been compromised by America's fear of communism and new ideas like those of the FSM and the Civil Rights movement. In opening up the right to free speech and political activity on the U.C. Berkeley campus, these students showed the far-reaching influence of the Civil Rights movement outside of the South. Their activism would pave the way for future students in California who would focus on the Vietnam War, and political power for people of color.
- Students analyze the development of federal civil and voting rights.