Berkeley's Free Speech Movement marks 50 years

Lyanne Melendez Image
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Remembering 50 years since the Free Speech movement
The Free Speech Movement which started at UC Berkeley is about to mark 50 years in October.

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- From Friday night through next week, UC Berkeley will celebrate 50 years since the birth of the Free Speech Movement.

On Oct. 1, 1964, students sat down at Sproul Plaza demanding the university lift its ban on political activism.

Students attending UC Berkeley today know they are being raised in the cradle of the free speech movement. For most though, the details are sketchy.

It was October 1, 1964, when Jack Weinberg, a student activist was trying to push for racial equality. He did so on the steps of Sproul Hall, knowing he could be arrested.

"I had the good fortune of being the one they selected and when I wouldn't cooperate, they called in a police care to haul me away," said Weinberg.

Students who had gathered at the plaza, quickly surrounded the police car.

"When the police car was brought on campus and people sat down on it somebody yelled 'sit down' and everybody sat down because we were used to sitting in. We had action at the Sheraton Plaza and other places," said Lynn Hollander former student activist.

The car became the speaker's podium and no one delivered the message more effectively than Mario Savio.

Weinberg was held in the police car for 32 hours. During that time he gave an interview to a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner.

"He was trying really, I felt, to get out of me that some older somebody or other was pulling our strings and I got mad and said, you know, here we have a saying in the movement we don't trust anybody over 30. It was mainly a putdown," said Weinberg.

It became one of the most memorable expressions of the 60s.

The university eventually gave in lifting the ban on all political activity and fundraising on campus.

"All over the country, universities did not want to have the same fight Berkeley had, so the rights of students to express themselves on campus was established," said Weinberg.

Richard Muller was a student at the time. He took pictures of students inside Sproul Hall being arrested. Fifty years later and today a professor at Cal, he feels the movement on campus is not what it once was.

"Now you can't even have a Republican come on campus and give a talk without being shouted down. Condoleezza Rice can't come here because the right of freedom of speech today is interpreted as the right to shout someone down and that's a really tragic," said Muller.

Today these steps are named after Mario Savio. Those who go by here are reminded that any student can spark change anytime.