December 3, 1964 – Free Speech Movement

by carl on December 3, 2012

photo of Free Speech Movement Cafe at Moffitt Library, University of California at Berkeley

Free Speech Movement Cafe at Moffitt Library, University of California at Berkeley

700 from Free Speech Movement arrested at UC Berkeley

by Carl Stieren

On December 3, 1964, more than 700 students were arrested for protesting the denial of free speech in a nonviolent sit-in at Sproul Hall, the administration building of the University of California at Berkeley.

Their protest was against the sudden enforcement in September of regulations restricting the use of the area at Berkeley and Telegraph Avenues, previously believed to be city property, not university property.  The regulations prohibited political groups or fundraising groups – except for the campus Republican and Democratic student clubs – from speaking or  raising funds there. Previously, the area had been used to support the civil rights movement, particularly the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC).

To support their protest, students had formed the Free Speech movement in late September, led by Mario Savio, who had been a leader in the student support group for SNCC.

The university administration refused to budge, and by December 2, the students prepared to occupy Sproul Hall. Folk star Joan Baez appeared, led them in folk songs and told them,

 “When you go in, go with love in your hearts.”

The students planned to stay two or three days. They sang freedom songs, showed Laurel and Hardy movies, attended “Freedom Schools” in the hallways and watched “Operation Abolition.”

At 3:05 a.m. on December 3, Chancellor Edward W. Strong used a bullhorn to tell students in Sproul hall that they would face “disciplinary action” if they did not leave.

At 3:45 a.m., California Governor Edmund Brown issued a statement calling on students to leave Sproul Hall, and if they didn’t leave, he was calling on Alameda County officials to arrest them.

More than 635 police officers had assembled outside Sproul Hall and arrested nearly 800 students.

By January 3, 1965, with the support of the Academic Senate of the University, students won their right to free speech, and temporary rules to implement this decision by the University were implemented.

On January 4, 1965, the Free Speech Movement held its first legal rally on the steps of Sproul Hall at noon.

The victory had two major consequences: first, it became a landmark in freedom of speech at American universities. Second, it caused a backlash by California voters, who elected Ronal Reagan as governor in the next election.

Previous post:

Next post: