At Berkeley in the Sixties
The Making of an Activist
Publication Year: 2004
This book is a memoir and a history of Berkeley in the early Sixties. As a young undergraduate, Jo Freeman was a key participant in the growth of social activism at the University of California, Berkeley. The story is told with the "you are there" immediacy of Freeman the undergraduate but is put into historical and political context by Freeman the scholar, 35 years later. It draws heavily on documents created at the time -- letters, reports, interviews, memos, newspaper stories, FBI files -- but is fleshed out with retrospective analysis. As events unfold, the campus conflicts of the Sixties take on a completely different cast, one that may surprise many readers.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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List of Illustrations
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A Note on Nomenclature
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Acronyms and Abbreviations
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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In 1994 I started a feminist memoir of the sixties to show through personal experience how feminist consciousness emerged in that contentious decade. I had participated in three major sixties movements—the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (FSM), the southern Civil Rights Movement, and the early Women’s Liberation Movement—and observed or ...
1 The Train to Berkeley
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The train trip from Los Angeles to Berkeley took twelve hours. I later learned that the bus took only eight, but my mother wanted me to take the train; in those days, I generally did what she wanted. I had been admitted as a freshman to the University of California at Berkeley, one of the elite universities of the world but one which welcomed the children of ordinary people—at least those who were moderately bright residents ...
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Nestled at the foot of the Berkeley hills, the flagship campus of the University of California slopes from east to west. There are many ravines and few plains. One is always walking up or down, entering the large buildings at different levels. On the Berkeley map it occupies a large rectangular area with a couple of rough edges. Hearst Avenue marks the northern and Bancroft Way runs along the southern boundary, with some ...
3 Politics and the University
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The university administration had long trod a ¤ne line between the academic tradition of full and free inquiry and the pull of the public purse. Article IX, § 9 of the state constitution declared that the University of California was to be “entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its ...
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The Greek system—fraternities and sororities—survived wartime retrenchment. Most of the student political groups did not. Since the Greeks shared living quarters and gave their members points for extracurricular activities, they dominated the governing body of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) and ran most student activities. Nonetheless, as the student body grew in size and new dormitories and co-op units provided alternative housing, fewer students ...
5 Exploring the Political Bazaar
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Before Berkeley, the only worlds I knew were the suffocating conformity of the San Fernando Valley—where Valley Girls set the standard long before the song was written—and Helen’s Alabama family, which demanded conformity of a different kind. Berkeley was a whole new world; it made me realize that there was more to life than I had seen in my sixteen years. Eager to explore it and very shy, almost frightened, I ...
6 The Young Democrats
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The UYD was a member of the California Democratic Council (CDC) and the California Federation of Young Democrats (CFYD). Officially founded in late 1953, CDC was one product of the reform movement that swept the Democratic Party in the wake of the 1952 election. Although Adlai Stevenson lost to Eisenhower, his wry humor, elegant ...
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Berkeley was not a commuter school. I met very few students who lived with their parents in the Bay Area. Seventy percent of the undergraduates lived within a ten-minute walk of the campus.1 The available dormitory space could house only a fraction of resident students, so most lived off campus, generally sharing space in apartments. In some ways ...
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Student discontent that had been bubbling under the surface began to erupt in the spring of 1960. It began in the South. On February 1, 1960, four Negro students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at a white lunch counter in the Woolworth five-and-dime and demanded to be served. After they were arrested, massive publicity spread the sit-in movement throughout the South, involving over 50,000 people ...
9 Summer Vacation in Washington, D.C.
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As I entered my second semester, I decided it would be great to get a summer job in Washington, D.C., where I could see all the politicians I had read about. With three aunts and two cousins in the D.C. area I wouldn’t be going there cold. The federal government hired students for summer jobs as a way of interesting them in government service. Helen ...
10 Crossing the Line
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My room in 804 Davidson Hall was waiting for me when I returned to Berkeley. I placed into the honors courses for Chemistry and Western Civilization, as well as the toughest version of Introductory Zoology. Next to politics, the life sciences were my passion, and I had some vague idea that I might make my career there. I was particularly interested..
11 The Speaker Ban
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In the spring of 1963 I paid my $1 dues to join SLATE, encouraged by Allan Solomonow and Ken Cloke. Ken had joined SLATE upon entering Cal in 1959, as did several of his friends from Reseda High School. Allan had pretty much moved on. At the time I joined, SLATE was going through one of its periodic identity crises over whether it should continue and what it should be. The Regents had made ROTC voluntary the previous June, and SLATE’s seldom-successful efforts to elect representatives to the ASUC did not bring activists into ...
12 The SLATE Supplement
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SLATE had more on its agenda than just the speaker ban. One of our ongoing concerns was the quality of education at Cal. Personally, I liked most of my classes because they made me think; in high school, rote memorization and repetition was what was required. But Cal was impersonal. With most of the introductory courses taught in auditoriums that held up to 1,000 people, it was easy to get lost. I never met most of the professors from whom I took required courses, even in my major; they were just distant figures on a stage or, occasionally, a TV screen. Our ...
13 Fair Housing
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Until 1963, housing segregation was the only issue which put Californians on the same moral plane as southerners. Indeed, housing segregation was more of a northern problem than a southern one. In the South, neighborhoods were interlarded with streets of houses occupied by whites alternating with streets inhabited by Negroes. This pattern was ...
14 Mexico and Central America
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A lot of SLATE activity took place during the summer, when the organization held an annual conference where activists often met with students from other campuses to share experiences. Because I missed these conferences I was not plugged into the national network that student activists were building in the early sixties. I spent the summer of 1962 in ...
15 The House on Parker Street
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A few days after my return, Helen and I drove to Berkeley to look for an apartment for me to share. Her car was full of stuff to set up housekeeping. It was late for apartment hunting, and for three days we found nothing. It seemed I might be back in the Berkeley Inn. Then Helen spotted an ad in the Daily Cal for an entire house for only $135 a month plus utilities and insisted that we look at it. That was three times my budgeted room rent; what did I want with a house? The small, plain house ...
16 The Assassination of JFK
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On November 22, 1963, I was in Professor Sheldon Wolin’s History of Political Theory class, listening to his elegant exposition of early Greek thought. A young man walked up to the podium and handed him a note. Wolin read it and paused for a very long time before telling us that President Kennedy had been killed. Class was dismissed. That night Professor ...
17 The Bay Area Civil RightsMovement
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The Civil Rights Movement came to the Bay Area with a bang in the fall of 1963. Until then, it was mostly a southern movement. We read about it, we sympathized with it, we raised some funds for southern projects, we applauded speakers from southern schools who described their experiences to us, but we were not participants. There was a brief flurry of activity in the spring of 1960 when the Greensboro, North ...
18 On Civil Disobedience
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I did not have to think twice about participating in civil rights demonstrations, but getting arrested was another matter altogether. Supporting the Civil Rights Movement was easy because I was raised on civil rights. Precisely because Helen was from Alabama and the movement started in Montgomery late in 1955, what it was doing and what it meant was dinner-table conversation. Although she didn’t like everything ...
19 The Sheraton-Palace
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After the arrests at Mel’s, things were quiet for a while. Then CORE took the lead again by organizing a “shop-in” at Lucky’s supermarkets. Lucky’s was an old adversary, having been picketed successfully by CORE as long ago as 1948. CORE had negotiated another agreement the previous summer, but no additional jobs for Negroes appeared. In February 1964, CORE set up picket lines at several markets. A week later it started the “shop-in.” Although new to us, it was a classic form of nonviolent ...
20 Auto Row
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I did not tell Helen I had been arrested. I knew she would not approve and hoped she wouldn’t find out. That was wishful thinking. The newspapers had published the names of those arrested. A daughter of a teacher at her junior high school who was a freshman at Berkeley read the fine print in the newspapers and recognized my name. She told her ...
21 Clogging the Courts
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There were many reasons that the sit-ins ceased. Employers were more amenable to negotiation with civil rights organizations once they assessed the alternative consequences. The mayor of San Francisco encouraged employers to do a better job of recruiting Negroes and arranged agreements with them to do so. CORE was torn apart by racial strife as more Negroes joined what had been a heavily white organization. The ...
22 On Trial
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The trials were more of a circus than the sit-ins had been. When picking a jury, each side can challenge prospective jurors, some for cause and some without cause. The DA’s office systematically challenged all Negroes in the jury pool, either by getting them to admit sympathy for us during voir dire or with a preemptory challenge. On some days “the challenges were so thick and fast” that the jury pool became depleted. Some ...
23 Freedom Summer
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On the second of June, the sky fell. Alan Cranston lost the primary election for the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Senate to Pierre Salinger.1 This not only poked a big hole in my political hopes but portended economic disaster for me. I no longer had a job, or much hope of getting another one. The few summer jobs around were already taken, ...
24 Summer Session
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The second week in June, after the semester ended, Helen came to Berkeley to make sure that my house was left clean and to get her deposit back from Mrs. Roberts. She was in a foul mood, angry about my forthcoming trial and angry that I intended to complete my last fourteen units in summer school and earn my degree in August, a decision which would ...
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I stood on the shoulder of the highway with my thumb out, half frightened of and half excited about what promised to be a great adventure. I lugged a large plaid suitcase, the only one I owned, which was much too large for a 5,000-mile trek. I had filled it with everything I could think of that I might need—buttons, camera, film, and clothes. It ...
26 The Democratic Convention
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The MFDP was pursuing a legal strategy separate from the vigil on the boardwalk, which was organized by CORE and SNCC. From its headquarters at the Gem Hotel on 505 Pacific Avenue, it lobbied the credentials committee and the delegates to replace the regular Mississippi delegation with its own. It made three arguments: 1) The Mississippi ...
27 New York City
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...The previous spring, CORE had focused several demonstrations on the World’s Fair. Three hundred were arrested for blocking the New York City Pavilion. A brief sit-in on the Triborough Bridge halted traf¤c for a while. Brooklyn CORE, which regularly broke new tactical ground, threatened to block access to the Fair for the opening ceremonies on April 22nd by having hundreds of cars run out of gas on the access roads. ...
28 First Week of the Fall Semester
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The previous spring, CORE had focused several demonstrations on the World’s Fair. Three hundred were arrested for blocking the New York City Pavilion. A brief sit-in on the Triborough Bridge halted traffic for a while. Brooklyn CORE, which regularly broke new tactical ground, threatened to block access to the Fair for the opening ceremonies on April 22nd by having hundreds of cars run out of gas on the access roads. ...
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On September 14th, Dean of Students Katherine Towle mailed a letter to the heads of recognized off-campus student organizations registered with her office. It said that beginning on September 21st these groups could no longer set up tables, put up posters, distribute literature “to support or advocate off-campus political or social action,” or collect money...
30 Who Done It?
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Throughout the week there was growing suspicion that the origin of our troubles was the Oakland Tribune. That night our fears were confirmed. When someone asked Chancellor Strong at a reception for Regents scholars why the sudden change, he referred to a phone call from the Oakland Tribune. Dean Towle had made a similar statement to Jackie. While no one could remember Strong or Towle’s exact words, by ...
31 Capturing the Car
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On Thursday, after my first class ended at 11:00, I went to the Political Science Department office in the newly opened Barrows Hall to talk to the chairman, Robert Scalapino. The United Front had decided that we needed faculty support to make the administration pay attention to us, so we assigned ourselves the task of talking to the faculty in our own ...
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The sit-in around the police car occurred exactly two weeks after we first met with Dean Towle. From representatives of eighteen student groups begging for our lives, we had gone to 3,000 determined people occupying Sproul Plaza. None of us anticipated this. The more experienced among the political activists expected nothing to happen. SLATE ...
33 The October 2nd Pact
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Early the next morning, Jackie took me aside and said that things were getting dicey. Saturday was Family Day. She knew the administration would not permit all those parents coming on campus to see a student occupation of Sproul Plaza. Heads would be bloodied first, most likely those of the kids holding the car. The administration would not talk to the demonstrators, and the faculty weren’t getting through either. ...
34 The FSM Is Born
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We all knew that this was not the end. At best it was a beginning. All we had done was postpone the conflict until after Family Day. Whether it would continue with deliberation and debate or erupt into another physical face-off remained to be seen. No one felt victorious. Mario phoned me at 5:00 a.m. to say that Syd Stapleton and Brian Turner
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Although he stayed in touch with the campus, Kerr left fulfillment of the October 2nd agreement to Chancellor Strong and returned to running the university system. He assumed that the chief campus officer and his staff would follow the spirit as well as the letter of that agreement. However, once again the military model failed. Chancellor Strong had ...
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As is typical of emergent social movements, the FSM released a large burst of spontaneous energy. This fueled the movement and also lit ¤res under people who weren’t coordinated by it or even direct participants. The FSM quickly became a 24-hour operation with a large volunteer staff. Not having an office, it turned Mario’s abode at 2536 College into FSM Central. During the sit-in around the car, Marilyn Noble, a grad student at Sacramento State College, had walked up to Mario and asked ...
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The enlarged and revised SCCPA began meeting on October 20th. Bettina and Syd were the voice of reason, while Mario often lost his cool and yelled a lot. Jack came as an observer; in between meetings he conferred with the FSM negotiators. The FSM took the position that the only rule governing political activity and speech should be the U.S. Constitution; what was okay off campus should be okay on campus. This ...
38 The “Right Wing” Revolt
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Monday morning dawned gray and overcast. By the time I got to campus, the wind was cold and gusty. Half a dozen tables had sprouted like mushrooms below the Sproul Hall steps: SNCC, CORE, Women for Peace, FSM, YSA, ISC, and others all solicited donations and members. On Sunday, Central had phoned to ask if the UYDs would man our own table or if Central should supply people. “No one will be setting up a YD table,” I replied. “Certainly not FSM Central.” At the spot where the ...
39 The Secret Negotiations
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Depressed and defeated, we walked out into a very damp day. “Even God voted no,” Brian said, looking at the sky. Despondently he disappeared into the drizzle. Dick Roman suggested that the left wing of the “right wing” go for coffee. This was the two of us, Jim Burnett of ...
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I did lie low for a while, skipping Ex Com meetings to catch up on my schoolwork, but I stayed in touch. Both the Ex Com and the more important Steering Committee underwent changes in personnel as some members shifted from protest to course work and others were energized or disgusted with what was essentially a stalemate. Before our showdown over the tables, the Steering Committee was functionally reduced ...
41 Mutual Misconceptions
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Neither the FSM nor the administration had a realistic assessment of each other, nor did either try to see the world from the other’s point of view. The FSM leaders thought of the administration as a monolith and administrators as adversaries with very different ideas about and goals for the university than those held by faculty and students. Nor did it view administrators as role models. At best they were weak-kneed wimps, sacrificing principles to the whims of the legislature. At worst they were ...
42 The Heyman Committee Report
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On Friday, November 13th, the Academic Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Suspensions, otherwise known as the Heyman Committee, released its report. After thirty-five hours of hearings and deliberations, the five faculty members recommended that six of the eight suspended students be reinstated as of the date of their suspension ...
43 The Regents Meet
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Friday was a brilliant day. The Regents, who rotated their monthly meetings among the campuses, fortuitously held this one at University Hall. As a welcoming party, the FSM organized a massive noon rally on Sproul Hall steps. To ensure a large turnout, it asked folksinger Joan Baez to come and sing. She had given a concert on campus in the Greek ...
44 The Abortive Sit-In
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Sitting down, or sitting in, is precisely what the FSM decided to do. After a marathon 48-hour meeting, the exhausted Steering Committee voted early Monday morning, by 5 to 4, to hold a sit-in in Sproul Hall that afternoon. The usual noon rally on Sproul Hall steps was very unusual. In honor of the season, it began with Christmas carols. Not the usual ones ...
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By the time Strong announced his new rules the next day—which essentially gave us what the United Front had asked for in September but at more places than Bancroft and Telegraph—the FSM was consumed by a mood of despair. The optimists thought the movement was running out of steam. The pessimists thought it was dead. In just a few days, we had gone from our finest moment to our lowest point. Many, myself included, ...
46 The Real Sit-In
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Sproul Plaza was packed with people. They spread out from the steps, onto the terrace, down into the Student Union Plaza, and through Sather Gate across the bridge into Dwinelle Plaza. They filled the balconies of the Student Union and gaped through its glass windows. Gigantic speakers were set up on the southern ...
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...We were called “the 800,” but we did not know exactly how many had been arrested. Some people were arrested outside Sproul Hall; some arrested inside were released without being properly booked; some were juveniles and handled separately; some names were simply garbled. We were the largest mass arrest in California history, and the python couldn’t process the pig. Although most of us went to Santa Rita, two other jails...
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The largest Academic Senate meeting in anyone’s memory assembled in Wheeler Auditorium at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 8th. Loudspeakers were set up outside so the thousands of students who sat on the steps and lined the slope could hear the faculty debate about what to do about us. The only item on the agenda was a resolution presented by the ...
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As 1965 began, some things changed and some stayed the same. A few people left my house and I found new housemates. One of them was Steve Weissman. His wife had kicked him out and he needed a room, fast. My housemates thought it would be cool to have Steve in the house, but he was never there. However, he gave out the house phone number ...
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On March 3rd, a young man recently arrived from New York City borrowed a piece of lined notebook paper from Danny Rosenthal, who was sitting at the CCPA table at Bancroft even though he was no longer a registered student. He folded the sheet, wrote the word “FUCK” on it ...
51 The Trial
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Trial of “the 800” began on April 1st, an appropriate day, in the Veterans Memorial Building near the courthouse before Judge Rupert Crittenden after four months of legal maneuvers. It lasted forty-one days, spread out over ten weeks. When we were finally arraigned in February, the courts and the prosecutors had settled on our numbers: all 773 of us ...
52 On Regents and Rules
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One of the few things on which administration, faculty, and students all agreed was that the Regents should confine themselves to policy and not make specific rules. Many Regents thought otherwise and interpreted the administration’s inability to discipline disruptive students as an open door to ...
53 The State Legislature
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The Berkeley uprising provided many opportunities for the 120 members of the state legislature to strut their stuff. They didn’t have to guess about which bandwagon to jump on. The respected California Poll surveyed public opinion in mid-January and found that 74 percent disapproved of the “student protest movement.” Four percent approved strongly, and 14 percent with reservations. Knowing little about what we ...
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On Monday, April 26th, Mario Savio told the noon rally at Sproul Hall that he was leaving. After a speech denouncing the Meyer recommendations, he surprised us all by saying that the time had come for the movement to continue on its own. Wishing us “good luck and goodbye,” he walked down the steps, leaving us all to wonder what had happened. The following day he explained in a letter that “if the student ...
55 The FBI Files
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In June of 1975, when I returned from my three-day interview for the White House Fellows competition, I made an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for my FBI file. I’d long suspected I had one, but until the commissioners who selected the fellows let on that this was what had eliminated me from serious consideration, I had not been curious about ...
56 Aftermath, Afterword,and Afterthoughts
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The documents I got from the FBI and the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, plus the Burns reports, gave me a perspective on the Free Speech Movement’s place in history that I did not have at the time. We saw ourselves as part of the Civil Rights Movement and assumed that our opponents were trying to stifle our civil rights activity. This is only a partial truth. We were motivated by the Civil Rights Movement and a ...
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References and Sources
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Index, About the Author
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Publication Year: 2004