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Berkeley Students Fight for Free Speech
You may take for granted the freedom to have a conversation without being put in jail, but that right exists because of our constitution and the people who have fought to uphold it — people like the students at University of California Berkeley who, in the 1960s, fought back when our right to free speech was threatened. As Lynn Hollander, an alumnus of Berkeley who attended in the summer of ‘64, says,“It was passion that fueled the free speech movement.”That year, the issue of civil rights was on everyone’s mind. Many Berkeley students spent the summer of 1964 in parts of the South taking part in voter registration drives. When they returned to school in the fall, they were eager to expand the civil rights movement there. But as they began to distribute flyers and set up information tables to share the importance of civil rights, they were told by school administrators that they couldn’t give out that type of information on campus. At the time, political activity was banned from UC campuses.
A few weeks later, another sit-in was organized to protest the college’s limitation of free speech. One of the leaders of the movement, Mario Savio, spoke to the rest of the students. As more students gathered, police cars arrived and intervened. They shoved students, pushed them down stairs, and beat them. After seeing this happen on their campus, the university decided enough was enough — the faculty voted to end all restrictions on political activity. The Free Speech Movement was victorious, and students from every political party, from young Republicans to Socialists, cheered. Today, the legacy of that movement stands as a hallmark of Berkeley. According to Berkeley freshmen Marisa McConnell, “Berkeley has such a huge history behind it, and being able to come here is such an honor because you’re walking in the footsteps of some really amazing, influential people.”
Thousands watched as one student, JackWynberg, was arrested for passing out literature on civil rights. As he was put in the back of a police car on campus, one student shouted to the others,“Sit down!”The sitting students blocked the police car from leaving, keeping it on campus for the next 30 hours. Students chanted,“Let him go,” during the sit-in, and the Free Speech Movement was launched.
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