In 1964 thousands of students at the University of California Berkeley protested against the University’s ban on on-campus political activism organised by the Free Speech Movement (FSM). Protests began in September of that year when the Dean of Students Katherine Towle told student political groups that they could no longer use the plaza at Bancroft and Telegraph to campaign for “off campus political and social action”.
On 2 December protests culminated in a 2000-people strong sit-in or sleep-in in an administrative building on campus. The police attacked the peaceful occupation at midnight on 2 December, and arrested almost 800 people (735 students). Even bigger protests erupted on campus when the university brought charges against these students in January 1965. Soon after the campus administration backed down, designating the steps of Berkeley’s Sproul Hall as a free-speech zone. But this victory came at a significant cost – leaders of the FSM were sentenced to several months in prison, while other student arrested in the December raid faced fines.
Much of the history of the FSM is digitzied and available online. You can download an audio file of FDM leader Mario Savio speaking to a campus crowd from The Freedom Archives. The Free Speech Movement Digital Archive hosts a searchable collection of over 300 images and 1000 text documents. Plenty of material to write a great essay for the next issue of the History in the Making Journal!