Freedom of Speech Movement

Author- Matthew Iannucci


The Free Speech Movement was a student protest from 1964 till 1965 on the University of California, Berkeley campus. The informal leaders of the movement were Mario Savio, Bettina Aptheker and Jack Weinberg. The protest began in order to remove the ban preventing students from on-campus political activites and giving the students the right to freedom of speech.

The start of the movement occurred on September 10, 1964. A letter authored by “a former student” and distributed with the Slate Supplement Report called for an “open, fierce and thoroughgoing rebellion” on the Berkeley campus. On September 16th, a letter was sent out to students stating that tables would no longer be permitted in the 26-foot strip of University property at the Bancroft and Telegraph entrance, and that advocative literature and activities on off-campus political issues also would be prohibited. Students met to discuss the unfairness of the Universities proposal, and group wrote up a list of there own proposals.

One of the largest steps in the movements was taken on October 1st.  University Police Lieutenant approached and spoke to a man who was soliciting funds at the Campus CORE table. The man, later identified as Jack Weinberg, a former student, refused to identify himself or to leave the table. The Lieutenant arrested the man for trespassing. Instead of carrying Weinberg into police headquarters in Sproul Hall, University police moved a police car into the area where students were gathering for the noon rally, intending to remove Weinberg by auto. The crowd chanted “Release him! Release him!” About 100 students promptly lay down in front of the police car, another 80 or so sat behind it. Mario Savio removed his shoes and climbed on top of it, urging the gathering crowd to join in. It became the focal point and largest area of demonstration for the next 32 hours, Weinberg remained inside the captured police car throughout the two-day demonstration.

The following Friday students and faculty came to an agreement over campus gatherings. Mario Savio, one of the demonstration leaders who negotiated the agreement with President Kerr and who urged the students to accept the agreement, stated that “although the whole war is far from over, we have won the biggest battle.” That battle, he explained, was to gain “jurisdictional recognition” from President Kerr of faculty- student-administration committee to negotiate the “free speech” issue. 

Chancellor Edward W. Strong announced the Committee on Academic Freedom’s recommendations would go into effect on Monday, January 4, the first day of classes after the Holiday Recess. The Free Speech movement held its first legal rally on the steps of Sproul Hall


Mario Savio came onto the scene when he demanded Jake Weinberg’s release and the lifting of University prohibitions against soliciting funds and memberships on campus. He stated, “We were going to hold a rally. We didn’t know how to get the people. But, we’ve got them now, thanks to the University…”

Mario Savio became chief spokesperson of the social movement. His ability to public speak was unrivaled by anyone else in the movement. By being such a charismatic speaker he had the ability to connect with the audience and get the point across. At the heart of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement Mario Savio gave a passionate attention getting speech (See Speech Below). Mario’s apartment became a gathering spot for decisions, it was were meetings were planned, and where phone calls made.


Bettina Aptheker

Bettina Aptheker obtained her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkley. In the process of completing her degree she became a leader in the Free Speech Movement. She was an activist in the W.E.B. DuBois Club there, which was a young communist organization. Allow she made no official connection with the communist party, her political beliefs were well known. 

Jake Weinberg

University of California campus police arrested Jack Weinberg 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. This was the start of a major public protest that countined to grow.

Freedom of Speech Movement Pictures

Essential Parts of a Social Movement
Nonverbal and Symbolic Acts: The FSM did not use many logos, clothes, symbols or gestures to fight for freddom of speech. The movement strongly relied on sit-ins, marches, parades and picketing.
The “Devil”: The “devil” of the social movement was University of California, Berkley and its administrators. This devil provided a clear rhetorical target, and required a mass movement to conquer.
Identification: The mass group of people came together at first because they all went to the same college, which means they were on common ground and came together as “we” rather than “us”. The students and others fighting for freedom of speech worked as a group and took group actions. They all had the same feelings because they had the same values, beliefs and attitudes.
How leadership was attained: During the movement Mario Savio was perhaps the biggest leader, while Jack Weinberg was the inititor. Savio became well respected and well listened too because of his charismatic speaking ability. He was able to ralley the group up, bring them together and motivate them to fight for freedom of speech. Because of his charisma it appeared he knew the “truth”, so he was able to set the moral tone for the movement.

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