"A new, fascinating, scholarly, and controversial account of the Free Speech
Movement in Berkeley....Although as an FSM participant myself, I found myself
arguing with many of her conclusions, in the end her brilliant and documented
contention that the Free Speech Movement was not a battle for civil rights as
much as a skirmish in the Cold War won me over and gave me much food for thought."
Margot Adler, NPR correspondent and author of Heretic's Heart: A Journey
through Spirit and Revolution
"Jo Freeman is one of our finest analysts of political and social movements.
In this vivid memoir, she reminds us of a time when people of all ages in Berkeley
imagined a different future, one that embodied social and economic justice and
an absence of war. As an active participant and adroit historical observer, she
skillfully recreates these unforgettable years."
Ruth Rosen, editorial writer and columnist, San Francisco
Chronicle, and author of The World Split Open: How the modern women's
movement changed America
New York Times
February 1, 2004
Books in Brief: Nonfiction
review also appeared in the International
Herald Tribune .)
AT BERKELEY IN THE SIXTIES The Education of an Activist, 1961-1965. By Jo Freeman. Indiana University, cloth, $49.95; paper, $21.95.
When Jo Freeman began her undergraduate education in 1961, the University of California, Berkeley, like many colleges then, took in loco parentis seriously. Administrative rules enforced curfews, banned political groups from operating on campuses and forced professors to sign loyalty oaths.
Freeman and other students joined Slate, ''a permanent student political party'' that began by protesting racial segregation in fraternities and sororities, then quickly moved on to demonstrate against the death penalty, for civil rights in the South and for fair housing in Berkeley. They joined the Urban League and the N.A.A.C.P. in picketing local hotels and auto dealerships ''because so many local Negroes complained that they could not get jobs in San Francisco that they had held in Southern cities.''
The more the university attempted to crack down on student unrest, the larger the dissident groups grew. The arrest of one alumnus for handing out leaflets at a student-only table led to the birth of the Free Speech Movement. At the height of the protests in the fall of 1964, 1,500 students occupied an academic building. Almost 800 were arrested and charged with trespassing. By the following spring, students were rallying and being arrested for the right to use four-letter words. Freeman, author of ''A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics'' and other works about feminism, brings enormous research to bear on her heady college days.
In a book that is less memoir than political history, the descriptions of some of the players and of her own life pale against the campus uprisings -- sparks that allowed later protests against the war in Vietnam to ignite.
Issue Number 2
Freeman, Jo. 2004. At Berkeley in the 60s: The Education of an Activist, 1961-1965. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
At Berkeley in the 60s: The Education of an Activist, 1961-1965, is Jo Freeman‚s sixth book. For those familiar with her previous books (sole-authored and edited), you will not be let down by this book. If anything, this is her best book to date. Freeman provides a comprehensive political memoir about her activist education at the University of California, Berkeley during the heyday of the Free Speech Movement. Freeman‚s modest assessment of her involvement in the activism during her undergraduate years provides the backdrop to the history. This book offers a thoroughly researched study about the Free Speech Movement and avoids the dry, academic history prevalent in many scholarly monographs. The study includes copious notes, interviews, historical documents that she pointedly procured from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other archival sources. Freeman has done her homework. The major strengths of this book are her candid reflections of the Free Speech Movement and her own wrestling with some of the politics endemic to being both a participant and observer.
Freeman explains her justification for getting involved in civil disobedience and ever the political scientist in training, she ruminates about her actions and the consequences. She ends the book duly noting that the students confrontations with the UC Berkeley administrators, UC Regents, and others was not so much a Civil Rights Movement action, but rather a showdown with Cold War politics of the era. She states,
In the early sixties, Berkeley saw political concerns expand beyond the political class as the numbers of people soared who thought their personal participation could make a major difference. They were prodded by the twin prongs of Cold War and cold truth. It was in the growing gap between rhetoric and reality that the radicalism of the sixties was born. (285)
For readers interested in Social Movement literature, the Free Speech Movement, UC Berkeley history, the Civil Rights Movement from a participant-observer viewpoint this book offers a definitive account. A wide audience will appreciate the depth of her research and the clarity and honesty of her writing. For readers familiar with Freeman‚s work, this book is a must read and we can only hope that she will pen a similar book that recounts her days at the University of Chicago and her involvement in the women‚s liberation movement.
August 25, 2004
Reviewed by Tom Gallagher
At Berkeley in the '60s, by Jo Freeman, Indiana University Press, 358
With the 2004 presidential race down to two major party candidates
supporting a war widely opposed domestically and internationally, the events
leading up to the 1968 election take on a new relevance. The failure of George
McGovern's 1972 antiwar candidacy is remembered as proof that you can't get
elected president while opposing a war, yet the Democrats lost four years earlier
as well, when their candidate Hubert Humphrey supported the Vietnam War then
being passed from president to president, each of whom claimed that while they
didn't start it, they sure would finish it. Then, as now, the war's opponents,
although en route to majority status, were shut out of the election.
Jo Freeman's At Berkeley in the '60s is a thoroughly footnoted
memoir whose central event is the 1964 Free Speech Movement. Freeman, who went
on to become a sociologist and a lawyer, arrived in Berkeley in 1961 as a sixteen
year old freshman from southern California. Thirty-one Berkeley students had
been arrested in a protest outside a House Un-American Activities Committee
(HUAC) hearing in San Francisco City Hall the prior spring, and Freeman quickly
became one of the students chafing at the campus' restrictive speech code.
The Bay Area's Civil Rights Movement effectively began in the fall of 1963,
when an Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination picketed and then sat in at
Mel's Drive-In in San Francisco, demanding that its owner, Supervisor and mayoral
candidate Harold Dobbs hire more Negroes -- in the terms of the day.
The following spring, Freeman, who would go on to full time
civil rights work in Mississippi, committed her first act of civil disobedience,
being arrested at a sit-in for increased Negro hiring at San Francisco's Sheraton
Place Hotel. Demonstrations at the Palace grew to 3,000-4,000 and sit-ins for
increased minority hiring by car dealers on San Francisco's Van Ness Avenue
Auto Row followed.
In the fall, the action shifted back to the other side of
the Bay, when the rules about who could say what where on the Berkeley campus
led to Sproul Plaza's spontaneous occupation by 3,000 students and the arrest
of 768, California's largest mass arrest to that point.
Freeman hadn't previously known Mario Savio, "the philosophy
undergraduate who articulated our innermost feelings so well," but she quickly
recognized the ability to connect global and local issues that made him the
movement's prime orator. She also noted the weaknesses that would plague the
student movement as it turned its attention toward the war: a new "generation" of
activists coming along every two years, the dream of "revolution on one campus," and
the spirit of Savio's comment to her that "The difference between you and me
is that you would settle for a drab victory, while I prefer a brilliant defeat."
Journal of American History
Reviewed by W J. Rorabaugh
Jo Freeman's carefully researched. gracefully written, but curiously subdued book, part memoir and part scholarship. joins a growing list of works about the free speech movement (FSM) at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964. Other recent additions include President Clark Kerr's self-serving memoirs, the activist David Lance Goines's exuberant account, and the excellent collection of essays edited by the historians Robert Cohen and Reginald Zelnik.
The first half of Freeman's book is insightful about the years preceding the FSM. In 1957 Berkeley's radical students tried to win campus elections by founding SLATE (a name picked to field a slate of candidates). When an activist narrowly won in 1959, the administration banned graduate student votes, thus leaving conservative fraternities and sororities in control. In 1960 Berkeley radicals picketed the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in San Francisco. HUAC retaliated by producing an anticommunist film, Operation Abolition, which spurred radicals to move to Berkeley. Bettina Aptheker, daughter of a prominent Communist, arrived in 1962; Mario Savio, a devout social justice Catholic, the next year. Both became FSM Leaders. As Freeman emphasizes, the civil rights movement inspired Berkeley activists. In 1963 and 1964 numerous protests were held in the Bay Area to open jobs for African Americans. More than a hundred University of California, Berkeley, students, including Freeman, were arrested in these demonstrations.
The book's less thoughtful second half concerns the FSM. In September 1964 the university administration declared a public sidewalk at the campus edge to be university property that could no longer be used by student groups either to collect money or to enlist volunteers for off-campus political activities. In effect, administrators attempted to restrict students‚ First Amendment constitutional rights. Enraged by the new regulations and experienced in civil rights tactics, activist students organized the FSM. Escalating protests culminated in a sit-in in Sproul Hall, the administration building, in which Freeman and 767 others, mostly Berkeley students, were arrested. The largest mass arrest in California history rallied faculty support for student rights and led the university to adopt free speech rules consistent with the First Amendment. Two years later Ronald Reagan denounced Berkeley radicals, became governor, and ousted Kerr. Times change. In 1997 the Sproul Hall steps were named to honor Savio, and the following year the Free Speech Café opened in the undergraduate library.
Freeman's retelling of the FSM is a worthwhile and readable narrative. Although the book uses new sources, including Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files, the work is not analytically deep. Too detached to be an inside account, it is too intimate to be a history. Freeman's own role in the FSM may explain the problem. She was a liberal Democrat, not a radical, and both administrators and radicals distrusted her. Although Freeman's arrest record warranted respect for her commitment, radicals scorned her willingness to compromise with the administration. She was never part of the core radical leadership. Savio told Freeman that she lacked principles. Political ambiguity suffuses the book, an odd result for a participant's study of a movement as passionate as the FSM.
W J. Rorabaugh
University of Washington
Western Historical Quarterly
Amy E. Farrell
In At Berkeley in the Sixties, well-known author, feminist activist, and "guerrilla scholar" as she calls herself on her website, Jo Freeman skillfully places the story of her own origins as a political activist within the context of the larger Berkeley Free Speech and student movements at the University of California, Berkeley. Freeman explains that her book began as a "memoir and evolved into a history" (p. Xxii). She augments her own memories, her personal collection of political materials and ephemera, and the letters she wrote to family and friends while she was a student with oral histories, FBI files, newspaper articles, and University of California archival material. Some of her most compeling evidence comes from surprising sources, such as the photos of student rallies taken by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, which sent informants to Berkely in the hopes of identifying potential agitators in the Civil Rights Movement in the South.
I know of Freeman primarily as a feminist scholar and activist, so the hints she gives in her book of the women's movement which was yet on the horizon, fascinated me; women's roles as "secretary and coffeemaker" in the various student organizations; the way she and other women activists thought of themselves as a "third sex,' neither male nor female; her futile attempts to organize a demonstration against the San Francisco cable cars on behalf of women passengers. Of this demonstration Freeman wrote, "Protests over sex discrimination would have to wait for another year and a better issue" (p. 229). I was intrigued by Freeman's youth when she began her life as an activist (she was only 16 when she entered Berkeley); her innocence (she didn't now what "fuck" meant until long after she had begun using the word with gusto), her idealism (she sought the advice of Thoreau and de Tocqueville before settling on the perspectives of Socrates to guide her decision to demonstrate and to be arrested and tried), and her courage (she hitchhiked solo both to Panama and to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta).
Freeman's perspectives on life at Berkeley in the early 1960s should captivate any historian of the 1960s, from her keen observations about the role that the built environment of the Berkeley campus played in shaping the movement to her overarching argument that the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964 was "not a battle in the Civil Rights Movement but a skirmish in the Cold War" (p. 269). The strengths of this book make one hope that Freeman will continue her work with similar volumes on the 1970s and 1980s.
Amy E. Farrell