Few protest leaders have burst upon the American political scene more dramatically than did Mario Savio in fall 1964 when he was a twenty-one-year-old Berkeley student. The University of California had become the scene of nonviolent political warfare, with the administration enforcing and students defying a campus ban on political advocacy … Coming at a time when student civil rights activism was surging, the ban seemed an attack on the civil rights movement and a gross violation of the right to free speech …
This was the first revolt of the 1960s to bring to a college campus the mass civil disobedience tactics pioneered in the civil rights movement … Savio’s charismatic leadership in this new form of rebellion and his eloquence, highlighted in the press, made him seem larger than life.”
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, a nonviolent protest against the university administration’s attempts to silence its students’ outspoken political activism. Historian Robert Cohen traces the life and legacy of its young spokesperson, Mario Savio, in Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s.
Image: Mario Savio on Sproul Hall steps at UC Berkeley in 1966, by Mjlovas .CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.