Berkeley Free Speech


I arrived in Berkeley like a character in some coming of age story stepping off of a bus from Kansas at the entrance to NYU. Welcome to the big city, hayseed.

The first month consumed all of my waking hours, first standing in lines: lines winding through Harmon Gymnasium to actually enroll at the University, then lines to get a medical exam, more lines waiting to enroll physically in classes — if there was a punched card remaining when you reached the head of the line, you were in. Otherwise, next line! At the end of this process, days later, I was officially a freshman and ready to stand in line at the bookstore for textbooks: calculus, Speech 1A, Chem 1A, and so on. If you didn’t attend Cal in the 1960s, it’s hard to imagine what it was like.

I didn’t get a room in the dorms. They don’t tell you when the application arrives in the mail, you must send it back within hours. By the time my application got to Berkeley, it was too late. So I shared a room in a house six blocks from campus, owned by a little old Jewish lady, a Holocaust survivor who rented out her bedrooms to college boys and slept behind a partition in her living room. My roommate came from Brooklyn, a world away from my semirural suburb of Los Angeles, a place only noted for having the world’s largest olive grove in the early 20th century. After the first month I found the office of the Daily Californian and convinced a skeptical Chief Photographer to try me out as a volunteer member of the photo staff.  

I got interested in photography about four years earlier and went through a succession of used cameras as I learned the skill set. I read books about Cartier-Bresson and David Douglas Duncan, Life Magazine photographers and stars of photojournalism.  With help from a friend I built a 4×8 foot darkroom from the ground up outside my garage, plumbed it with cold water and wired it for electricity. With running water, light, and an exhaust fan, it was all I needed. There was no hot water, so I used cold water for all the baths and adjusted the processing times for the ambient temperature. Over the next several years I developed and printed thousands of photos, mainly of amateur motorcycle racers who were willing to pay me for their pictures.

In high school I coasted through classes without extra effort, getting good enough grades for a scholarship to Berkeley. Once I started college classes it was a different  story. To be honest, I didn’t concentrate on the assignments properly. The ones I did, like philosophy or anthropology, I did well. But I once failed a final exam in Western Civilization because I disagreed with the professor’s premise on the test and wrote my own. Apparently he didn’t believe I supported my argument well.

On paper, my majors were Mathematics, then French, next Philosophy, Humanities, and finally Sociology. In truth, I majored in photography at the Daily Cal, the only thing that continued to interest me. Over the first two and a half years at Cal I learned to cover stories, taking pictures at campus events, recitals, concerts, football and basketball games, track meets, baseball, rugby, and soccer. By the spring of 1964 I was an experienced press photographer.

1964 was an election year, a time of heightened social awareness, with right-wing Barry Goldwater campaigning against Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination, to battle Lyndon Johnson for the presidency. Rockefeller appeared on campus during his campaign and was mobbed by enthusiastic crowds. The political nature of that event did not raise any issues for the administration.

1964 was also a time of heightened political tension, with voter registration drives and violence in the South, civil rights protests and demonstrations all over the nation. In San Francisco the Sheraton Palace Hotel was targeted for discrimination in hiring. Cal students joined with students from San Francisco State to picket and sit in at the hotel.

After picketing outside for several hours, the crowd entered the hotel and sat down in the hallways.

Police were prepared for that, and in the middle of the night arrested several hundred demonstrators.

The following fall, students returned to campus, many of them energized by Freedom Summer voter registration drives in the South. Activists traditionally used a strip of pavement on the campus next to Bancroft and Telegraph Avenues to pass out leaflets and recruit people for social actions.

The land was still owned by the University. Earlier plans to deed it to the City of Berkeley were never carried out. In the politically charged environment following the repressive 1950s, the University was sensitive to political pressure about using its facilities for controversial activities despite allowing a partisan campaign by Rockefeller on campus earlier that year, and issued a blanket ban against any political activities in that area. A coalition of student groups immediately protested.

Protesters set up tables not just at the edge of campus, but well inside at Sather Gate, and marched through a meeting the administration held to explain the rules.

The tables located at Sather Gate were the hub of the protest.

They soon attracted attention from the Administration, who took names in preparation for disciplinary actions against the students for violating their regulation. They encountered one man, a former graduate student named Jack Weinberg, and arrested him.

When the University Police put Weinberg into a car to take him away, students spontaneously surrounded the car and sat down.

A tense standoff followed.

At some points, protesters feared the police were about to make more arrests, and locked arms.

Estimates of the crowd ranged up to seven thousand people in the plaza around the car, including a few protesting against the protest, or just using the crowd as an audience for their own views.

The students and Administration reached an agreement to end the sit-in, but over the next few weeks it broke down. Students formed the FSM Steering Committee to plan and coordinate activities for what was now the Free Speech Movement.

The FSM held a rally and students again filled the plaza in front of Sproul Hall, then marched across campus to a meeting of the Regents to elevate their concerns.

After no satisfactory answer came from the administration, the FSM called for a rally on the steps of Sproul Hall and planned to occupy the administration building.

Charles Powell, President of the Associated Students of the University of California, spoke against civil disobedience.

Mario Savio, de facto spokesman for the FSM, delivered a fiery speech concluding with these famous words:

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes yo so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

 Joan Baez sang for the crowd, and urged them to engage in their protest peacefully.


The students filed into Sproul Hall to occupy the building.

At midnight, Alameda County deputy district attorney Edwin Meese telephoned Governor Brown asking for authority to proceed with a mass arrest. Around 3 a.m. Chancellor Strong ordered the protesters to leave or be arrested. Then arrests began.

Those arrested were loaded onto buses and transported to the Alameda County Jail 25 miles away.

The campus went out on strike.

Students at Oxford Hall, one of the residences of the Berkeley Student Coop, hung an effigy of Governor Brown.

After that, I stopped taking pictures and joined a picket line.

In the aftermath of the demonstrations and the strike, the faculty Senate passed a resolution supporting the students, and the University set up new regulations permitting most types of free expression in areas where once they were banned. Chancellor Strong, head of the campus administration resigned, citing health reasons.

Further demonstrations on campus followed, such as the Vietnam Day Teach-in in May, beginning years of anti-Vietnam War protests in Berkeley and all over the nation.

As that turbulent year wound up, I reassessed my own plans. I worked on a book project about the Free Speech Movement, which was published in April as The Trouble in Berkeley by Diablo Press (see the link below.) I lost interest in academics, and would have transferred to a photojournalism program if one existed in the University system. The closest thing I found, without spending much time asking for advice, was the film school at UCLA. I applied for a transfer and started classes in Los Angeles in fall 1965, graduating in December 1966.

What I did after that is the subject of my memoir INCORRIGIBLE, currently available from your local independent book store, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Online Resources

Free Speech Movement photographs;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&

The Free Speech Movement Archives

The Free Speech Movement (Wikipedia)


The Trouble in Berkeley

All proceeds benefit the Berkeley Student Coop.

The Free Speech Movement, David Lance Goines

Entire text is online for free.

Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the Sixties, Cohen and Zelnick

A compendium of essays on the FSM and related social issues from an academic perspective