Berkeley Free Speech Movement

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The Berkeley Free Speech Movement occurred in 1964 at the University of California at Berkeley. It is one of the most recognizable free speech movements in United States history. The two-month-long movement got Berkeley's campus administration removed, resulted in the arrest of 773 people for occupying an administration building, and led to a huge increase in the rights of students to use the University campus for political debate and activity.

Background[edit]

Fearful of communism, the University of California took measures to keep politics off the system's campuses. Berkeley students were being recruited to participate in Bay Area civil rights demonstrations and soon political activity involving protesting the Republican National Convention in San Francisco reached the campus and was found out by the administration.

Beginning of the movement[edit]

In September 1964 the Dean of Students told student political groups that they could not use the campus to promote off-campus social and political action. The student groups, calling themselves the "United Front," set up tables in defiance of the university's new policy and when several of the students were called into the administration building for discipline, 400 others joined them.

The following day, alumnus Jack Weinberg was arrested in a university plaza for refusing to comply with campus police orders. He was taken to a police car which was then surrounded by students to protect Weinberg from being taken away. Protests around the car and administration building continued until an agreement was reached on October 2.

The "Free Speech" part[edit]

The United Front was replaced by the Free Speech Movement, which included both students and off-campus individuals. A committee from the Movement met with faculty and administrators to discuss reforming the rights of student groups. The most problematic issue was whether or not students could advocate illegal off-campus actions.

Negotiations fizzled out and eventually some 2000 students reoccupied the administration building. When the police were called in to clear the building, 773 were arrested. After another strike, faculty and students finally reached an agreement placing no restrictions on speech or advocacy.

Aftermath[edit]

With the new revisions to students' rights in place, a couple of students put the new regimen to the test by saying and displaying the word "fuck", and were arrested for their trouble. A few rallies in support of them were staged and the University Regents were outraged. With the Regents and public believing the Berkeley students needed more discipline, some of the students involved in the various protests were fined, put on probation, or received a brief jail sentence.

Eventually student groups could exercise their expanded right of free speech and hold less restricted campus demonstrations. Soon, however, civil rights protests at Berkeley were replaced by Vietnam protests.

Effects of the movement[edit]

The movement was not only an important highlight of the tumultuous 1960s, it brought to light the restricted nature of free speech and political activity on university campuses at the time. The Movement led to the introduction of reforms on university campuses that made freedom of speech more consistent with how it is guaranteed by the First Amendment. It set a precedent for dismantling some of the more restrictive censorship on university campuses.

See also[edit]

References[edit]