Berkeley to the End
of 1966 | Reagan Runs for Governor of California | First Years of the Black Panther Party, 1966-68 | End of the Sixties
Carmichael and the Panthers | Ruin for the Black Panthers, 1968-89 | The Seventies with New Activism and Old Problems
"Diogenes said: 'The most beautiful thing in the world is the freedom of spech.' And those words are in me, they're sort of burned into my sould, because for me free speech was not a tactic, not something to win for poltical [advantage].... To me, freedom of speech is something that represents the very dignity of what a human being is.... That's what marks us off from the stones and the stars. You can speak freely. It is almost impossible for me to describe. It is the thing that marks us as just below the angels. I don't want to push this beyond where it shold be pushed but I feel it." Mario Savio, 1994, in the photo above in front of the administration building at the University of California, Berkeley, 1966
Sather Gate, U.C. Berkeley.
Click to enlarge and for details
Joan Baez sitting-in at Sproul Hall,
supporting the right of students
to solicit on campus, especially
for civil rights issues. (Photo by
Richard Muller. Used with permission.)
In early 1964, students from the University of California were joining others on campus in supporting equality and jobs for blacks, including participating in demonstrations at Lucky's supermarket in Berkeley, auto-row and the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and at Oakland's major newspaper, the Tribune. Among the students at Berkeley were those who went to the Republican convention in San Francisco to demonstrate their support for Governor Scranton, Goldwater's rival for the Republican Party's nominee for President. Some conservatives in the Bay Area were disturbed by organizing on-campus for agitation off-campus. The leader of Californians for Goldwater and a political power in the area was Senator William Knowland, owner of Oakland's Tribune. It is rumored that Knowland complained to the university administration. Knowland was to deny this. At any rate, the university administration was concerned about the appearance of scruffy looking radicals at the main entrance to the university soliciting donations, passing out leaflets and creating a bad impression for visitors entering university grounds, and the university administration was determined to do something about it.
Among the student-activists attending the University of California at Berkeley were thirty to sixty who had gone to the South in 1964 for "Freedom Summer." And when they returned to campus in September they joined others in supporting local civil rights organizing. Political activity was forbidden on campus. Students, sitting behind card tables, were soliciting on the sidewalk at the entrance to the campus – on what was believed to be city property. The university administration discovered that this area was actually university property, and it included the area in its ban on soliciting. Students were upset, and believing that they had the right of free speech, they moved their tables onto campus. Having defied segregation in the South and having organizing skills that they had learned in the civil rights movement, they ably organized defiance against university policy. And against the students, the university administration vacillated as it tried to keep disruption and bad publicity at a minimum.
Then on October 1, the university attempted a showdown with the students by sending a campus police squad car to arrest a politically active student who had been sitting at a table for the Congress of Racial Equality. Students sat in around the police car through the night and into the following day. Some fraternity boys expressed their hostility verbally and by tossing lighted cigarettes and garbage onto people sitting-in, and those sitting-in responded with civil rights songs. Students who had stood on the roof of the police car to make speeches had left it dented, and the activist students took up a collection to pay for the damage.
On the second day, police were massed just off campus, waiting for orders to move against the sit-in. But rather than a messy confrontation that was sure to make the news, the president of California's university system, Clark Kerr, encouraged by the university's faculty, offered the demonstrators a compromise. The student still under arrest in the police car was to be booked and then released without the university pressing charges, and negotiations were to follow for establishing permanent rules. Spokespersons for the demonstrators accepted, and the sit-in ended.
But agreements on campus rules were not worked out between the administration and what was now a student organization called the Free Speech Movement. Kerr was upset that among the top half-dozen or so leaders of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) was Bettina Aptheker, daughter of a Communist Party scholar; Michael Rossman, a self-described "red-diaper baby," and a couple of people who could be described as Trotskyists. Kerr was concerned about appearing to be caving into Communists. Kerr complained about the FSM leadership, and the FSM rank and file were surprised that Kerr would, in their words, "resort to red-baiting." Kerr was under pressure from the university's board of regents, and he moved to suspend a few of the student leaders. The Free Speech Movement called for an overnight sit-in at the campus administration building (Sproul Hall). Their strategy was to force Kerr into bringing police onto campus, believing that this would help broaden their base of support. It would, they calculated, take fifteen hours for the police to arrest and take away all those sitting-in.
The sit-in began on December 2, with the movement's star speechmaker, Mario Savio, making a fiery speech. Savio was an impassioned former civil rights worker in Mississippi, from a working class family and an exceptional student. He spoke of "the machine" becoming so odious and making one so sick at heart that one had to put one's body on the gears and wheels. Then Joan Baez sang, and about a thousand people marched into the administration building.
Kerr and his associates were in contact with the state's governor, "Pat" Brown. A false report went to Brown that the students were "busting up" offices. Governor Brown called in the Highway Patrol – California's elite police force. Through the night and much of the next day 733 arrests were made, and the police cleared the building by dragging the arrested students down the stairs – bump, bump, bump. The movement's strategy of non-violence – learned from the civil rights movement – worked. They broadened their support. Many faculty members were upset by the police having come onto campus and using force, and they threw their support to the students' fight for the freedom to organize politically on campus. It was the first big student rising in the United States in modern times, and it was a sensation in the United States and abroad, and it set an example for other campuses.
Support for the students was, however, narrow. Television crews had been coming to campus, and most of their coverage was moronic in that it showed snapshots of the most sensational happenings without background information, and most of what description was added to the snapshots was unflattering toward the activists. Only journalists from the New York Times and one or two other elite news organizations tried to gather perspective by doing in-depth interviews.
The Hearst newspapers focused on the Marxist influence on campus, and people across California were complaining that they had not been able to go to college because they had to work and here were these ungrateful kids at Berkeley rioting. Hate mail had arisen, describing the students as rotten beatniks, as malodorous, over-privileged, under-brained, bleeding-heart megalomaniacs and as serving the Communist plan to take over the country.
Television and newspaper coverage of events on campus was helping to radicalize students on campus – some of them from Republican families. So too was the fact that it had been a liberal governor, "Pat" Brown, who had ordered the police onto campus. Some students began looking for alternative sources for an understanding of events and to those to the left of liberalism. Some of Berkeley's illustrious faculty members, discomforted by the tactics of campus leftists and by politicization of the campus, began looking elsewhere for employment, among them the liberal-leftist sociologist, Nathan Glazer.
The new year began with students returning to their routine schoolwork, while rules were being worked out for the orderly administration of university life. The Free Speech Movement had called for the administration to be responsible for no more than maintenance, such as sweeping up, while letting the faculty and students run things. This did not happen, but the Free Speech Movement did win for students the right to maintain tables, to organize on campus and to use a microphone for speeches at Sproul Hall during the noon hour.
As those arrested for sitting-in at Sproul Hall were attending court together and facing fines, probation or light jail sentences, student activism was shifted to opposition to President Johnson's policies regarding Vietnam. Johnson had easily defeated Goldwater in November, 1964. Goldwater had done well among whites in Southern cities, but Johnson had won urban blacks in the South – who had voted heavily for Richard Nixon in 1960. Johnson had won with 61 percent of the popular vote, the greatest margin of victory by any contender for the presidency. Goldwater had come across as a man interested in abstract principles and as most uncompromising regarding Communism. Johnson had won portraying himself as the man interested in the well being of all Americans and as less likely than Goldwater to get the United States involved in a nuclear war. And Johnson had campaigned stating that American boys should not fight a war that Asian boys should be fighting.
Instead, Johnson began sending regular military units to Vietnam to prevent the fall of the regime in Saigon, which was losing its war against Communist forces. In the summer of 1965, demonstrations began on the train tracks that ran through Berkeley taking recruits to the Oakland Army Depot. In the fall of 1965 a teach-in was held on the Berkeley campus, with well known speakers such as Normal Mailer, Norman Thomas, Isaac Deutscher and Paul Goodman. The teach-in ended with people pouring off-campus onto Telegraph Avenue for a planned march to the army base in Oakland. The demonstrators filled the avenue from curb to curb and were still pouring off campus when the front of the march reached Ashby Avenue a mile away.
Meanwhile, with all of the publicity that Berkeley was receiving across the nation, it and San Francisco were becoming a Mecca for restless youths. Some of them had long hair and were called hippies. Some of them believed in sharing. Young people crowded together in apartments, living off the nation's affluence, with food that was discarded by supermarkets because it was not fresh. And some of the new arrivals were receiving checks from parents. Timothy Leary, a psychologist expelled from the faculty at Harvard University, was advocating that young people "tune in, turn on and drop out." People were beginning to try marijuana, speed and the substance that Leary championed: LSD.
What had been a community of students and intellectuals became more of a place of strangers, with some young people walking down Telegraph Avenue – the main street just off campus – looking for peace and serenity and some others looking for action of some sort. Before 1966, around campus, parties sometimes spilled out into front yards and one could step inside and be welcomed, nibble cheese, drink wine and dance. That had changed. Parties were now behind closed doors and consisted of smoking marijuana and staring into space.
To Berkeley had come people who were opposed to all authority, a few of them perhaps philosophical anarchists, the others just intuitively anarchistic – kids who had probably had problems with their parents. They were Berkeley's equivalent to the anarchists that plagued the Russian Revolution. They were eager to chant "pigs" to the police. And during demonstrations against the war, these anarchist-types were happy to smash windows, amid pleas from other marchers not to do so. During a demonstration on campus one of their acts of revolution was to raid a Coca-Cola delivery truck while the driver looked on, despairing and feeling helpless. An off-campus activist set fire to the Berkeley campus' Wheeler Auditorium, angering faculty and students. Another off-campus activist invaded the Airforce recruitment office in downtown Berkeley and shot and killed an African-American Airforce recruiter.
In Berkeley, the crime rate was rising – from 5,037 major offenses in 1963 to 12,252 in 1968. In San Francisco, the Diggers, a political group dedicated to sharing, were being harassed by thrill-seekers and tourists, and they decided it was time to get out of town. They paraded with a casket symbolizing the death of their movement, and then they headed north into Mendocino Country, where not long before a young man with long hair who drifted into a bar might be beaten up.
Additional Online Reading
The Diggers and the Haight-Ashbury
Exit the Stage
Bettina Aptheker on the rise
of the Women's Movement in Berkeley
Rebellion against the oppression
of gays in New York – the Stonewall riots, a CNN report
Brown V. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy, by James T. Patterson, 2001
The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s, edited by Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik, 2002
Berkeley at War, the 1960s, by W.J. Rorabaugh, Oxford University Press, 1989
A Taste of Power: a Black Woman's Story, by Elaine Brown, 1992
Revolutionary Suicide, by Huey P. Newton, Harcourt Brace Javoanovic, Inc., 1973
Copyright © 1998-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.